“Gardens Open Today”: DC Area Gardens to Visit in May

Garden Conservancy, Open Days program

The Sessums/Biles garden in Washington DC, one of six private gardens scheduled to be part of the May 22nd Open Days tours. The garden recently won a Perennial Plant Association Merit Award and has been recognized as a Certified Wildlife Habitat by the National Wildlife Federation.

After the horrendous winter we had in my area, we are all ready for spring, and to spend some time in a beautiful garden or two.

On May 22nd (and again on September 25th), you’ll have the opportunity to do just that, courtesy of The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program here in the DC area. Established in 1989 by Frank Cabot, the distinguished American gardener, The Garden Conservancy’s mission is “to preserve exceptional American gardens for public education and enjoyment.” To date, it has spent nearly $9 million helping over 90 important gardens in the US survive and prosper (most recently, Longue Vue House & Garden in New Orleans and Alcatraz Island in San Francisco).

Across the country, The Conservancy sponsors a series of Open Days in which the owners of special private gardens welcome visitors for a day to learn more about gardens, plants and design. The program is based on England’s National Gardens Scheme. This year, more than 350 private gardens in 22 states will be on display.

For a modest admission fee ($5 per garden), you can visit six gardens in our area on Saturday, May 22nd and another four in September. Neighborhoods on the spring tour are located in Cleveland Park, American University Park, and other parts of the District of Columbia. One  is the well-known shady woodland garden of Sally Boasberg,

Garden Conservancy, Boasberg Garden

The Boasberg garden in early spring.

and another was originally designed by the famed landscape architect Thomas Church.

Thomas Church, Garden Conservancy

A Thomas Church-designed garden scheduled to appear on the May 22nd Open Days tours in Washington DC (photo courtesy of Auclair-Jones family)

Garden Conservancy, Thomas Church

Another view of the Auclair-Jones garden, originally designed by Thomas Church.

Two other interesting gardens on the tour have connections to the design firm where I work. One of them, the Sessums/Biles garden in AU Park, was designed by H. Paul Davis, ASLA, the landscape architect at American University. Installed by our firm , the garden incorporates an imposing array of perennials, native shrubs and small specimen trees into an existing woodland setting. The owner is involved in maintaining the garden, composting plant material, capturing rainwater for re-use, and eschewing irrigation and the use of pesticides except for treating some mature hemlocks with wooly adelgid problems. Recently, the owner and designer received some very exciting news: the garden has received a Merit Award in the 2010 Perennial Plant Association’s Landscape Design Awards competition.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days

The back yard of the Sessums garden, where all plant material is composted and maintenance duties are handled primarily by the owner.

The other DC garden, designed by DCA Landscape Architects and maintained by our company, is an impressive example of dealing with a challenging, steeply sloped site in order to create spaces for entertaining, a spa and fountain, storage, and circulation while providing screening from surrounding properties and a plant palette designed to soften the expansive hardscaping.

Garden Conservancy, Open Days

An ornamental fountain in a northwest Washington DC garden on the May 22nd Open Days schedule. (Photo courtesy of DCA Landscape Architects)

Another garden on the May tour in the Cleveland Park area, designed by the landscape architecture firm of Fritz & Gignoux,  is on Newark Street NW. It incorporates Arts & Crafts elements in the hardscape design (think custom-made stone-faced columns supporting wisteria on the patio, and a whimsical weathervane with a mermaid holding a star). The plantings are lush and cottage-style with a natural feel to them, and a “writer’s cottage” perches on a hill at the rear of the garden, offering beautiful views back towards the house.

Fritz & Gignoux, Garden Conservancy Open Days

The view from the "writer's cottage" in the Cleveland Park garden on the Open Days tour. Photo courtesy of Fritz & Gignoux Landscape Architects.

All of these gardens will enrich the gardening knowledge and provide pleasure for any visitor. For e-mail alerts about the schedule for tour days you can sign up on their website.

Booklets of discounted tickets can be purchased online at www.gardenconservancy.org in advance; and if you become a member, you will receive a copy of the 2010 Open Days Directory with descriptions and open dates for hundreds of gardens across the country. What are you waiting for? Mark your calendars!

Photos from these gardens are included in my Open Days Tour book, available through Blurb.com. See “My Books” for a preview or to order a copy. Thanks!

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6 Comments on ““Gardens Open Today”: DC Area Gardens to Visit in May”

  1. Lynne Church Says:

    Melissa, I just realized that your name is no where on Garden Shoots except on some of the pictures. You should take more credit up front. I love your pictures. Lynne

  2. Melissa Says:

    Thanks for the kind words – music to a garden photographer’s ears. I guess the only other place on the blog where my full name appears (each post does say “by Melissa) is on the “About Garden Shoots” page. Anyway, thanks for the comment!

  3. gwendolyngarden Says:

    How gorgeous! And your photos are stunning- I especially love the Boasberg garden shot.

    • Melissa Says:

      Thanks for your comments and the compliments. I have really enjoyed getting to photograph these gardens (an ongoing project) and loved my visit to the Boasberg garden several weeks ago.

  4. London Landscapes LLC Says:

    Melissa – gorgeous photos and excellent info.
    Thank you for ALL the work you have put into the
    Open Days – you have been fantastic. See you on
    Saturday ! Barbara Katz


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