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Show #23/3610
Around Every Turn - Something New

Summary of Show

Eric Meets General Washington

ERIC MEETS OUR COUNTRY'S FIRST PRESIDENT, General George Washington on the grounds of Mt. Vernon. George Washington prefers to be referred to as General and welcomes Eric and the GardenSMART audience to Mt. Vernon. They have so many visitors at Mt. Vernon that Mrs. Washington has said that Mt. Vernon appears more like a tavern than a home. The General tells us about himself. He believes his life is intrinsically connected to the story of this young nation. He had been a happy and loyal British subject and believes that he and others had all the rights, privileges and franchises of Englishmen, at least those that were important to them. And their lordly masters in Great Britain pretty much left them alone for nigh on 150 years. All that changed in 1764 when the crown embarked upon a systematic application of tyranny and despotism, stripping them of freedoms, usurping liberties and reaching into their pockets.
For More Information Click here

The Naturalistic Movement

In 1759 Washington purchased a book written by Batty Langly, THE PRINCIPLES OF GARDENING. Langly was writing a book for people to learn how to landscape in a more grand and royal manner than ever before, which was basically the start of the naturalistic movement. Washington's early design was based on formal lines and geometric patterns. At that point the area where they're standing was a sunken road. Garden walls came much further into the bowling green than they are today. So, as one entered the estate you saw it all, you knew there were fine gardens, nothing was left to surprise. But the naturalistic movement incorporated the curved line, which is nature's gift. So, around every turn you found something new. You had lawns, curved avenues, trees, shrubs, shade. It created a wonderful expanse for the Washington family and their guests.
For More Information Click here

The Paths

The PATHS ARE AN IMPORTANT FEATURE OF THIS GARDEN. They're well done and lead one into the different pockets of this garden. These paths, meandering around the trees, remind Eric of walking through the woods. And that is all part of the naturalistic landscape. The curved line and not knowing what's around each bend makes for a very enjoyable walk, so much more so than a straight walk that allows one to see your destination the whole time. Washington created a very natural feel. What's particularly amazing here is that George Washington and his guests walked here 200 years ago. We know that because that was the thing to do in the evening - stroll the gardens and grounds. The walk tied it all together. Trees on either side provided good shade, his beautiful shrubs planted against the walls added a sense of warmth. It was a wonderful area to get away from the hustle and bustle of 18th century life.
For More Information Click here

The Bowling Green

And, the BOWLING GREEN WAS AN AREA OF ACTIVITY. Lawn bowling, the javelin throw or shot putting were popular. Even though one might not be participating in the activity as you strolled around the curved walk you could enjoy what was happening, you could see who was winning and losing, you could see the sights, hear the shouts, listen to the enjoyment of what was happening even though you weren't participating. It was a lot of fun. It was Washington's way of bringing people together.
For More Information Click here

The Ha Ha Wall

There are a lot of formal areas to the garden but it was a working farm. The working parts and formal areas were kept separate by what is referred to as a HA HA WALL. It's referred to as a Ha Ha wall because when looking from the house towards it you don't see the wall, therefore it blends into the naturalistic landscape. If this were a typical wall it would come up out of the ground and block the amazing view. It's not only aesthetic but utilitarian because it kept domesticated animals out, grazing where they were intended, not up on the bowling green.
For More Information Click here

The Flower Garden

Dean and Eric next visit a smaller private garden. It is beautiful and would have been the highlight of someone's stroll around the serpentine avenues. This garden started in 1885 as a fruit and nut garden, but when Washington was changing his entire landscape, he moved the fruit and nut trees to another area. This became AN AREA TO GROW FLOWERS, not for their use but for their beauty. So, this became a true pleasure garden of the 18th century and we know that when visitors came they commented about the beautiful flowers, the wonderful aromatic scents.
For More Information Click here

Plants For High Impact In The Flower Garden

There is a lot of playfulness in this garden today. They have done a great job of keeping HIGH IMPACT COLOR IN THE GARDEN and have incorporated a lot of plants that work well together. The Zinnias are great, there are tons of different colors. The Gomphrena isn't seen that much anymore, but it's a great plant. Celosia is a kind of old-world traditional plant and there are natives present as well. The Tridascantia is a great native that would have been around in Washington's time. In the 18th century color coordination just didn't matter. The gaudier the better. Classic design principles were used in this garden. And, height arrangement was very important.
For More Information Click here

Fleur de lis Garden

As playful as these beds are, there are also some other highly formal aspects of this garden. It's important to remember that Washington was changing to the naturalistic design. But ONE BED REMAINED PARTICULARLY FORMAL. And, there is nothing more formal than the French partier garden. It is comprised of Boxwoods which take Dean back to his early days as the Boxwood gardener at Mt. Vernon. Dean assures us that he was cute then, had hair then, but then met Boxwoods. It's been a tough road. But this garden was an important feature during George Washington's lifetime. Washington had a great affinity for the French. They helped us win a war and as well Washington had an adopted grandson in the Marquis de Lafayette. What better way to honor the French than with a partier garden with the motif of a French fleur de lis.
For More Information Click here

The Conservatory

THE CONSERVATORY IN THIS GARDEN IS THE CENTERPIECE. They were not common in the 18th century. It was quite unique and showed the level of society that Washington had risen to. It's second only, as far as structure, to the mansion itself. And, it's definitely the focal point for someone as they would have entered this garden. One recurring theme and highlight for estate visitors when writing in their diaries was the reference to the sub-tropical plants in this greenhouse. Eric notices Pomegranates, a lot of citrus and Hibiscus that are now coming into bloom. It was quite a luxury in Washington's time to have these tropical plants out on this veranda and that was made possible by having the conservatory which allowed Washington to bring them indoors during the winter to protect them. The greenhouse meant survival for these plants.
For More Information Click here

The Vegetable Garden

THE VEGETABLE GARDEN is of particular interest to Eric so they're off to visit it. More and more people are growing their own vegetables, thus of interest to many. This area is a unique, enclosed area. It was the 1st garden laid out by Washington in 1760 and has been cultivated as a vegetable garden for over 200 years. This garden was the bane of Martha Washington. During his absences from the estate, Washington would write lengthy letters, the last paragraph would always be about this garden. He would prod her to make sure seed was collected or that plants had been sown. One of her responsibilities as the mistress of the plantation was the evening meal.
For More Information Click here

Cisterns

Another feature found in this garden that isn't commonly found anymore are THE LARGE CISTERNS. They were recommended by 18th century horticulturists because they promoted good plant growth. They watered plants with water that had been warmed and softened by the sun. These were above ground wells, would have been filled from water from the well and were put here to act as a dipping well. Bringing water from a deep well brings in cold water and when put on plants actually constricts the roots, throwing them into shock. This was a way to promote good plant growth.
For More Information Click here

The Groves

Dean and Eric next VISIT ONE OF THE GROVES at Mt. Vernon. George Washington loved groves. This one was one of the earlier planted features at Mt. Vernon. In 1775 he planted groves on either side of the house. Houses in the 18th century didn't have foundation plantings, but what was acceptable was to frame the house with trees and that's where groves came into play. This area was first planted with nothing but Locust Trees. Washington planted them rather thickly because he felt that they could always come in and thin them out later, which he did, and he planted some understory trees and other shrubs. This grove is what's called a closed grove because not only does it have trees but also the understory plantings. This was also an important area because not only did it keep the noise level down from the work areas but more importantly it screened the work areas from the most special part of the estate which would have been the east lawn that has an incredible view of the river and across the river.
For More Information Click here

LINKS:

George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens

Plant List

 

Complete Transcript of Show

Many consider George Washington to be the father of our country. But what many don't know is that the design principles that he utilized to create his Virginia showpiece, Mt. Vernon, are highly adaptable to today's gardens and landscapes.

ERIC MEETS OUR COUNTRY'S FIRST PRESIDENT, General George Washington on the grounds of Mt. Vernon. George Washington prefers to be referred to as General and welcomes Eric and the GardenSMART audience to Mt. Vernon. They have so many visitors at Mt. Vernon that Mrs. Washington has said that Mt. Vernon appears more like a tavern than a home. The General tells us about himself. He believes his life is intrinsically connected to the story of this young nation. He had been a happy and loyal British subject and believes that he and others had all the rights, privileges and franchises of Englishmen, at least those that were important to them. And their lordly masters in Great Britain pretty much left them alone for nigh on 150 years. All that changed in 1764 when the crown embarked upon a systematic application of tyranny and despotism, stripping them of freedoms, usurping liberties and reaching into their pockets. It got to the point where the British American Colonials could not stand it any longer and agreed to raise up arms against the king, something no colony in the history of humankind had done successfully before. Washington was commissioned as Commander in Chief of the continental army of the United Colonies of America, they would not declare independency for another 13 months. And the war was on. We know how that turned out. Eight and a half years later they were successful and the people raised up these United States. They then had to ask themselves what kind of nation they could be and make no mistake about that there were a wide range of options and opinions, including those ill-conceived that wanted to make him King George I of America. Ultimately they constrained themselves through the constitution to a democratic republic and the constitution calls for a chief magistrate, the President of the United States. He was elected unanimously. It is not a position he sought. What he wanted at that point of his life was to be back here at his beloved Mt. Vernon sitting under his own vine and fig tree. But after a long career of politics the General was finally able to get his wish and he did retire to his home, Mt. Vernon.

Mt. Vernon consisted of 5 farms, the home is on Mansion Farm. When he inherited this property it was a bit over 2,000 acres. Ultimately it grew to more than 8,000 acres. The General is very proud, if the truth be told, that he laid every inch, every foot of this place himself. But, it is a continual work in progress.

Eric thanks the General for opening his home and gardens to us and is looking forward to strolling the gardens. The General says it is his honor and invites Eric to come and see him at the house when finished to break bread together. Eric, enthusiastically agrees.

In Washington's day there was an emphasis on gardening and that tradition is alive and well today at Mt. Vernon which is evident by the well-maintained gardens. There have been 36 different gardeners at Mt. Vernon and we have the honor of speaking with the 37th, who is the Director of Horticulture, Dean Norton.

Dean tells us about himself. He started working here in the summer of 1969 when he was a sophomore in high school. He interviewed here, a big 5 minute interview and they hired him immediately. He was responsible for mowing the grass, picking up trash and chasing sheep, which was a lot of fun. But when they put him on a big tractor to mow a 12 acre field he knew this what he wanted to do the rest of his life. Also, the Horticulturist at that time took a liking to Dean and said, you know you're of the age that when I retire you might be in line to take my position. He said, OK, that sounded good. They used to bring a gentlemen over from France to graft fruit trees into the form of espalier and they allowed Dean to help with that. That prompted Dean to go to Clemson Univ. where he received a degree in ornamental horticulture. He then came back to Mt. Vernon and started his career as a Boxwood gardener. In 1980 he became Horticulturist and it has been an absolute delight to work all these years as Horticulturist of this beautiful Mt. Vernon estate. A great story, Dean.

The guys start the tour, Eric wants to see what the General has done with this place. They start in the middle of an expansive lawn right in front of the mansion. It's one of the focal points of the garden. Dean talks about Washington's philosophy of gardening and how he got started. Dean feels it's important to know that Washington was not a gardener but for 3 years he became a landscape designer. Once that was completed he handed it over to the gardener to manage and care for the landscape and gardens. In 1759 Washington purchased a book written by Batty Langly, THE PRINCIPLES OF GARDENING. Langly was writing a book for people to learn how to landscape in a more grand and royal manner than ever before, which was basically the start of the naturalistic movement. Washington's early design was based on formal lines and geometric patterns. At that point the area where they're standing was a sunken road. Garden walls came much further into the bowling green than they are today. So, as one entered the estate you saw it all, you knew there were fine gardens, nothing was left to surprise. But the naturalistic movement incorporated the curved line, which is nature's gift. So, around every turn you found something new. You had lawns, curved avenues, trees, shrubs, shade. It created a wonderful expanse for the Washington family and their guests.

Langly was writing for folks that had 200 acres, even 1,000 acres. Washington took the ideas and pared them down to 4 acres. Many American homes today have just a big square of grass, a foundation planting and a couple of trees. But these same principles can be further narrowed down and applied to half an acre, allowing one to create a nice rounded lawn area with perennial borders, maybe some little paths that weave in and out, thereby inviting the garden viewer to move into different sections of the garden, just as Washington has created here.

The PATHS ARE AN IMPORTANT FEATURE OF THIS GARDEN. They're well done and lead one into the different pockets of this garden. These paths, meandering around the trees, remind Eric of walking through the woods. And that is all part of the naturalistic landscape. The curved line and not knowing what's around each bend makes for a very enjoyable walk, so much more so than a straight walk that allows one to see your destination the whole time. Washington created a very natural feel. What's particularly amazing here is that George Washington and his guests walked here 200 years ago. We know that because that was the thing to do in the evening - stroll the gardens and grounds. The walk tied it all together. Trees on either side provided good shade, his beautiful shrubs planted against the walls added a sense of warmth. It was a wonderful area to get away from the hustle and bustle of 18th century life.

The path goes around the bowling green. And, the BOWLING GREEN WAS AN AREA OF ACTIVITY. Lawn bowling, the javelin throw or shot putting were popular. Even though one might not be participating in the activity as you strolled around the curved walk you could enjoy what was happening, you could see who was winning and losing, you could see the sights, hear the shouts, listen to the enjoyment of what was happening even though you weren't participating. It was a lot of fun. It was Washington's way of bringing people together.

There are a lot of formal areas to the garden but it was a working farm. The working parts and formal areas were kept separate by what is referred to as a HA HA WALL. It's referred to as a Ha Ha wall because when looking from the house towards it you don't see the wall, therefore it blends into the naturalistic landscape. If this were a typical wall it would come up out of the ground and block the amazing view. It's not only aesthetic but utilitarian because it kept domesticated animals out, grazing where they were intended, not up on the bowling green. They weren't wanted on the bowling green because they graze way too short and fertilize too unevenly. To keep the lawns looking good they were raked, rolled and mowed on a weekly basis. It was a lot of work. They were mowed with an English scythe and the weed eater of the day was the sickle.

Dean and Eric next visit a smaller private garden. It is beautiful and would have been the highlight of someone's stroll around the serpentine avenues. This garden started in 1885 as a fruit and nut garden, but when Washington was changing his entire landscape, he moved the fruit and nut trees to another area. This became AN AREA TO GROW FLOWERS, not for their use but for their beauty. So, this became a true pleasure garden of the 18th century and we know that when visitors came they commented about the beautiful flowers, the wonderful aromatic scents. We know this because of letters from guests, even notations in their own diaries plus we have Martha Washington directing one of her servants, her name was Old Doll. Martha instructed Old Doll to go to the garden and collect rose petals for making rose water. We know through research that it took 4 gallons of rose petals distilled down to make 1 gallon of rose water, so there were a lot of roses in this garden 200 years ago.

There is a lot of playfulness in this garden today. They have done a great job of keeping HIGH IMPACT COLOR IN THE GARDEN and have incorporated a lot of plants that work well together. The Zinnias are great, there are tons of different colors. The Gomphrena isn't seen that much anymore, but it's a great plant. Celosia is a kind of old-world traditional plant and there are natives present as well. The Tridascantia is a great native that would have been around in Washington's time. In the 18th century color coordination just didn't matter. The gaudier the better. Classic design principles were used in this garden. And, height arrangement was very important. They kept the tall plants to the rear, the lower in the front. This allows one to see deep into the garden and in the process see all the different layers.

As playful as these beds are, there are also some other highly formal aspects of this garden. It's important to remember that Washington was changing to the naturalistic design. But ONE BED REMAINED PARTICULARLY FORMAL. And, there is nothing more formal than the French partier garden. It is comprised of Boxwoods which take Dean back to his early days as the Boxwood gardener at Mt. Vernon. Dean assures us that he was cute then, had hair then, but then met Boxwoods. It's been a tough road. But this garden was an important feature during George Washington's lifetime. Washington had a great affinity for the French. They helped us win a war and as well Washington had an adopted grandson in the Marquis de Lafayette. What better way to honor the French than with a partier garden with the motif of a French fleur de lis. It is a nice feature and a great contrast to the more informal flower garden.

Eric wants to know if one were to use Boxwood in their garden, what would be Dean's recommendation? Washington and his gardeners used English Box and that's what they've used here for years. But this is too harsh an environment for the English Box. It's too sunny, it's too hot. Dean would suggest we look at some of the new cultivars of Boxwood. Go to your local nursery and see what will do best in your area. By using those plants you will succeed far better than if you just stick with the dwarf English Box.

THE CONSERVATORY IN THIS GARDEN IS THE CENTERPIECE. They were not common in the 18th century. It was quite unique and showed the level of society that Washington had risen to. It's second only, as far as structure, to the mansion itself. And, it's definitely the focal point for someone as they would have entered this garden. One recurring theme and highlight for estate visitors when writing in their diaries was the reference to the sub-tropical plants in this greenhouse. Eric notices Pomegranates, a lot of citrus and Hibiscus that are now coming into bloom. It was quite a luxury in Washington's time to have these tropical plants out on this veranda and that was made possible by having the conservatory which allowed Washington to bring them indoors during the winter to protect them. The greenhouse meant survival for these plants. They were outside until the end of September, then taken back in, then brought back out in early May. Thus they were outside in all their glory during the growing season. For most of us we have the possibility of using a sunroom or another area of the house with lots of light to achieve the same effect.

THE VEGETABLE GARDEN is of particular interest to Eric so they're off to visit it. More and more people are growing their own vegetables, thus of interest to many. This area is a unique, enclosed area. It was the 1st garden laid out by Washington in 1760 and has been cultivated as a vegetable garden for over 200 years. This garden was the bane of Martha Washington. During his absences from the estate, Washington would write lengthy letters, the last paragraph would always be about this garden. He would prod her to make sure seed was collected or that plants had been sown. One of her responsibilities as the mistress of the plantation was the evening meal. Not only was it meant to be abundant but also elegant and that was a direct reflection on her. There was nothing more special than placing fresh produce in front of people at the evening meal. And she was passionate about that.

Dean discusses several important features of the garden. On the trellis are Muscadine grapes which would be an appropriate grape around the 18th century and would have been growing in this enclosure. Surrounding the entire garden is a brick wall, which was important because it created a microclimate. It was warmer in this garden than anywhere else on the estate. The vegetables could be started earlier in the season and then extended further into the fall. But it also protected the area from animals, which was essential. Along the wall are Peach and Fig Trees which take advantage of the heat coming off the wall in the cooler months. Along the wall one finds Espalier trees. These are trees trained to grow against the wall and here stone fruit grows because it needs that extra warmth to succeed. Along the walks are other espaliers, these are Apples and Pears that can take more of the cold. These trees served as an actual mini-hedgerow and protected the vegetables from strong winds.

Another feature found in this garden that isn't commonly found anymore are THE LARGE CISTERNS. They were recommended by 18th century horticulturists because they promoted good plant growth. They watered plants with water that had been warmed and softened by the sun. These were above ground wells, would have been filled from water from the well and were put here to act as a dipping well. Bringing water from a deep well brings in cold water and when put on plants actually constricts the roots, throwing them into shock. This was a way to promote good plant growth. And that explains why with cut flowers we use warm water, versus cold. Because if we use cold water it constricts the vascular system and makes it difficult for the plant to pull up water.

Many vegetable gardens are planted in a row. But, there's a real aesthetic to this garden, the way it's laid out, the way fruit trees, vines, herbs and many of the different vegetables have been planted creatively. It's a beautiful garden. And this garden shows that with a little thought a vegetable garden can rival a flower garden.

Dean and Eric next VISIT ONE OF THE GROVES at Mt. Vernon. George Washington loved groves. This one was one of the earlier planted features at Mt. Vernon. In 1775 he planted groves on either side of the house. Houses in the 18th century didn't have foundation plantings, but what was acceptable was to frame the house with trees and that's where groves came into play. This area was first planted with nothing but Locust Trees. Washington planted them rather thickly because he felt that they could always come in and thin them out later, which he did, and he planted some understory trees and other shrubs. This grove is what's called a closed grove because not only does it have trees but also the understory plantings. This was also an important area because not only did it keep the noise level down from the work areas but more importantly it screened the work areas from the most special part of the estate which would have been the east lawn that has an incredible view of the river and across the river. It was important for George Washington to plant things in a natural way. And it's hard to imagine a more natural way of showing off trees than with a grove. Nature doesn't plant in a straight line, the seeds fall off the tree and naturally grow up into a grove. That's what Washington replicated here. In our own yards a grove could be used to screen an unsightly portion of our yard, even a neighbor who isn't tending their place the way we might like, even to block loud noises.

These groves frame the house and screen the work areas. Whether 200 years ago or today the star of the show is the Potomac River and the Maryland shoreline beyond. And, it's a spectacular view. One can easily see why the General was so proud of this place. In a letter to a friend he wrote that he would rather be at Mt. Vernon with a friend or two about me than be attended to by the officers and state of every representative power in Europe. He wrote that no estate in United America is more pleasantly situated than this. And one thing you'll find again and again is that visitors then and now comment on the view. One visitor wrote that it is a situation more magnificent than he could paint to a European imagination. It was and is magnificient. Washington enjoyed it. Visitors then and now can still enjoy it. This is the ultimate in a borrowed view.

Eric thanks Dean for sharing these gardens. His knowledge of the gardens and knowledge of the history of this place has made this day special. Dean loves to show Mt. Vernon and to talk to people about George Washington's Mt. Vernon. He invites all to visit. We highly recommend a visit to Mt. Vernon. Thanks Dean.

LINKS:

George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens

Plant List

   
   
 
   
   
   
   
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