Posted tagged ‘National Gardens Scheme’

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

May 8, 2010
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 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 See “My Books” for a preview or to order a copy. Thanks!

Great Comp Garden

April 17, 2010

I’ve enjoyed reading several posts in the last couple of months about Sissinghurst Garden, Vita Sackville-West’s famous creation in Kent. It was among those that I visited on my tour of English gardens in 2003, and one I will always remember.

Another Kent garden, however, has an equally special place in my heart although it may not have Sissinghurst’s instant name recognition. Begun in 1957, Great Comp Garden is the seven-acre creation of Joy and Roderick Cameron.  Since Mr. Cameron’s death in November 2009, Great Comp is now under the care of a curator, William Dyson and is open to the public daily.

I will always remember Great Comp because it was there that I discovered one of my favorite perennials, Astrantia major. It’s a wonderful plant for shade and although it prefers sites that stay on the cool side during the summer, I’ve managed to grow both the species (below) and several cultivars in my mid-Atlantic garden. It’s a real beauty.

Astrantia major, Great Comp Garden

Astrantia major at Great Comp Garden

There is a tremendous amount to take in at this garden. As he built the garden, Mr. Cameron unearthed quantities of stone and brick. Being inventive, handy, and clearly recognizing the value of having a home-made ruin or two to catch the visitor’s eye, Cameron incorporated hardscape treasures in various parts of the garden, such as this walled “Italian Garden” where I took lots of photos.

Great Comp Garden

The "Italian Garden" at Great Comp, complete with an obelisk and hand-build brick and stone walls.

Great Comp Garden

Another view of the "Italian Garden" at Great Comp

I didn’t cover anywhere near the seven acres of the garden, but I found my way into both sunny and shady spots.

Great Comp Garden

Great Comp' s design shows the wide variety of greens that provide interest in shade.

Great Comp Garden

A sunny terrace at Great Comp showcases the superb plantsmanship of its creators.

If you’re planning a visit to see English gardens, don’t miss Sissinghurst, of course. But add Great Comp to your itinerary. You won’t be sorry. And think about adding some Astrantias to your garden. Here are some you can find in my shady back yard – and every time I see them, I think of Great Comp.

Astrantia major 'Ruby Wedding'

Astantia 'Ruby Wedding' in my shady back yard

Astrantia major 'Shaggy'

Astrantia major 'Shaggy'

The Garden is Open

February 21, 2010




Garden Conservancy

A private garden in Potomac, MD welcomes visitors on a 2009 Open Days tour (Nikon D300).

“No winter lasts forever, no spring skips its turn.”
— Hal Borland

As I write this, I am trying to block out the fact that about 50 linear feet of copper gutters recently ripped off the back of my house, a lingering present from Snowmaggedon 2. So I decided to listen to Mr. Borland and think about spring and the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days tours.

I can’t remember when I first learned about the Open Days program, but it was when I was still shooting film, some time after I returned from my trip to England. The Open Days program  is modeled on England’s National Gardens Scheme, through which owners of specially selected private gardens open them to the public on designated days during the year. Admissions proceeds are donated to various charities. Brook Cottage, about which I wrote earlier, is among those gardens that participate in this program. (For a wonderful description of how the Brits’ program works, visit The Autumn Cottage Diarist’s blog.)

My first visit to a local garden open through the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program was in Arlington VA, to a garden designed by Tom Mannion, APLD. It seemed pure magic to me. And the owners were on hand to talk about the garden and how it was created.


Garden Conservancy

The back yard of an Arlington VA garden as it appeared on tour during the Garden Conservancy's Open Days Program in 2004 (Nikon N80).

The patio area between two studios (Nikon N80).

I was hooked. Then, for a couple of years, there were no gardens open through the Open Days program in our area. So, en route to my Hudson River Valley trip in 2004, I decided on the spur of the moment to stop in Nutley, NJ on a hot August day where I had learned there would be a fabulous garden open. When I arrived at the location, I discovered not one, but two amazing Garden Conservancy gardens right across the street from each other. Both were designed by Richard Hartlage, a well-known landscape designer, author and photographer.

The smaller of the two gardens, belonging to Graeme Hardie, was a masterpiece of getting the most out of a relatively small space,  with numerous level changes. It was absolutely full of color, beautifully planted containers, and colorful walls, creating a tropical feel.

Graham Hardie garden

Sculpture greets visitors as they enter the Hardie garden (Nikon D100).

The multi-level design makes the garden seem larger than it is (Nikon D100).

Across the street, Silas Mountsier’s one-acre garden was almost overwhelming. Large sculptures are dotted throughout the garden.  Hartlage, who is based in Tacoma, Washington,  was actually on site for the day, talking to visitors about both gardens and his plans to expand Mountsier’s even further (which I understand has occurred since my visit).

Silas Mountsier, Garden Conservancy

The front yard of the Mountsier Garden is boldly accented with tropicals and annuals (Nikon D100).

Abstract sculptures in the small patio at the Mountsier garden, with Datura in the background (Nikon D100).

Mountsier garden

A large cow sculpture with a Cornus controversa 'Variegata' brought by Hartlage as a five-gallon specimen when the garden was first planted (Nikon D100).

Wherever you live, there’s a good chance that there will be one or more Open Days in your area this year – the Conservancy’s program is expanding and new areas are added all the time. Consider joining the Conservancy; you’ll receive a free copy of their 2010 Open Days directory (I’ve met gardeners who plan their vacations by it!). Or sign up for information by e-mail about GC events. The GC has many stunning large-scale projects they’ve helped to fund, including the restoration of the gardens at Alcatraz.

Check out their schedule to see what’s available – and stay tuned here, as I write more in the coming months about what’s in store for gardeners in the DC area this year under the Open Days program.

Photos from the DC area’s Open Days 2010 program are featured in my book, The Garden Is Open. For a preview of the book or to purchase it, visit the “My Books” page.

Brook Cottage

February 13, 2010

In the summer of 2002, I took a memorable trip to visit some of England’s great gardens. My tour group visited such iconic destinations as Sissinghurst and Hidcote, Great Dixter, Kiftsgate and Wisley. As breathtaking as those gardens were, however, equally memorable and special were the private gardens we visited. Most – listed in the famed “Yellow Book” – were open through the National Gardens Scheme, from which our own Garden Conservancy organization draws its inspiration. Here is one of my favorites.

Brook Cottage garden

The courtyard at Brook Cottage

Alkerton, near Banbury (Oxfordshire, U.K.)

Brook Cottage is a testament to the hard work and vision of a gifted plantswoman, Katherine Hodges, and her late husband (an architect) over a period of more than 35 years. Located on a hillside in the west-facing slope of a valley in Oxfordshire, the site originally consisted of rough pasture divided by old hedges. The Hodges originally purchased the site’s 17th century house as a weekend cottage in 1964 and eventually retired there.

Near the house, the landscape has been designed to link level areas of lawn and terrace with the natural slopes and to create enclosures with a series of yew and copper beech hedges.

Brook Cottage

Hostas and nasturtiums at Brook Cottage near the house.

Mature trees and shrubs have grown to connect the garden with the surrounding countryside. There are herbaceous borders, a bog garden, more than fifty varieties of clematis and an extensively planted ‘hanging garden’ of roses, including species, old cultivars, and modern varieties.

Brook Cottage, bog garden

The bog garden at Brook Cottage, with Ligularia 'The Rocket' in the background and Acorus 'Bowles' Golden' in the foreground.

Brook Cottage’s garden is open to the public, through Britain’s National Gardens Scheme, most weekdays from Easter to the end of October. At the time of our visit, Mrs. Hodges tended the plantings herself, with the help of one full-time assistant; I saw her trundling a wheelbarrow near one of the herbaceous borders, deadheading blooms, as we visitors wandered around, mouths open. This is a remarkable, memorable garden, not to be missed. Do visit it if you can.

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