Chris and I have started a tradition of doing something special for our anniversary, rather than settling for gifts – something we might not ordinarily do, where we can both learn something new and enjoy some time together. My waddling and growing girth limited us a bit this year, so we took a short drive north up to visit Mount Vernon, George Washington’s final estate. (It’s starting to seem as though we’re following President Washington around…)
It’s a beautiful mansion on the banks of the Potomac, and the organization that runs it has done an amazing job of preserving even the view from the grand veranda. Outside, as we waited in line for our tour, I admired the arcades on either side of the main house, leading to servants’ quarters and kitchen, respectively, and how what seemed to be honeysuckle had been trained to grow neatly along the columns. From a distance, the flowers seemed painted. Inside I was most impressed to see Washington’s study, because I do love a good library, and it was rather impressive to see the chair he sat in to pen many of the documents that helped dictate the course of our nation.
As our tour guides reminded us, ol’ George considered himself quite the farmer, and his gardens show his passion. The first we toured was the tiny test garden where new or exotic varieties of plants were grown before being moved to one of several other gardens. There was a large orchard that sloped beautifully toward the river. Then on either side of the front lawn were the walled Upper and Lower Gardens. Restorers have created in these gardens their image of what was standard for the time, with some basis in records that Washington kept.
The Upper Garden, which abutted the former greenhouse, was a fabulous mix of wild and tame. Here we found rows of cabbages and lettuce and peas and radishes and other veggies bordered by a hodgepodge of peonies and Siberian irises and tulips roses and goodness knows what else.
Yet on the side of the walkways closest to the greenhouse, restorers had created a fabulous expanse of topiary in all manner of unique designs.
It was a fascinating blend of discipline and untamed beauty.
Still, I think it was the Lower Garden that I most enjoyed, because practicality and beauty were combined hand in hand. More on that later…