On Wednesday evening of this week, I joined a group of landscape design colleagues from the local chapter of APLD for a rare opportunity – a visit to the gardens at Evermay, a private estate in Georgetown. When I think of Georgetown gardens, the first word that comes to my mind is usually “tiny,” closely followed by “boxwoods.” Well, I was half right – but in for some surprises as well.
The view from the south terraces of the Evermay estate, framed by a mature elm tree, reaches far beyond Georgetown.
At the outset, we were greeted by Mr. Harry Belin, Evermay’s current owner and the grandson of Lammont Belin, an architect who is primarily responsible for the creation of the terraced gardens on the estate. Mr. Belin was the most gracious of hosts, welcoming us and thanking us for visiting the site. The estate, which comprises 3.5 acres in the heart of Georgetown, is currently on the market for $29.5 million; Belin had driven in from Potomac, where he now lives with his wife, to meet us, introduce us to his gardener, and answer questions about the gardens and the estate.
We started the tour at the north side of the house, where a circular driveway with a large granite fountain sculpture – purchased from the Blisses, who owned Dumbarton Oaks – provides a focal point. ( Mr. Belin explained that because of budgetary constraints, none of the fountains were on at the moment, and so all the pools we saw were empty.) The “real” front of the house, to which we were promptly led, is on the south side, where a large terrace leads into a series of connected “garden rooms”, designed to provide separate areas where visitors could gather in more private groupings.
The view from the south-facing door of Evermay
It was at this point, looking out at the terraces below and as I began to walk around, that I started to comprehend the challenge for the next owners of this enormous property. Just maintaining what is here – somewhat understated though it is in terms of plantings – is quite a challenge, and one that the current gardener has done admirably. There are clipped ivy patterns on many of the retaining walls, mature boxwoods that have suffered some winter damage but still remain viable, and large swaths of lawn that looked recently mowed in appealing curved patterns.
Note the curved mowing patterns in the lawn leading up to the steps.
Neatly tended rectangles of lawn break up the brick paths on the first terrace below the main terrace to the south of the house, and the stone obelisks also seen in the photo above make their first appearance.
The hillside beds between the first pool (with cherubs, see the second photo below), could use some more imaginative plantings than the large abelias that now dot them.
A hillside planting of Abelias in groundcover on one of the lower terraces at Evermay. The empty areas between the lawn and pool may have been planting beds for annuals.
Two cherub sculptures adorn the pool shown above.
Here and there on the lower terrace, I saw borrowed views over and through the brick walls.
A "moongate" with an elaborately-designed double copper gate between Evermay and an adjoining neighbor's garden. The overhanging tree looked like a variety of bald cypress.
Clipped ivy and a lacecap hydrangea soften the brick walls on a lower terrace at Evermay that affords a beautiful "borrowed view" into the grounds of Dumbarton House on Q St. NW.
The biggest surprise came when I ventured farther down towards an Asian-influenced pavilion overlooking the tennis court area.
A small Asian carving atop the copper roof of a viewing pavilion for the tennis court.
In front of me was an old Franklin tree (Franklinia altamaha), so rare that I have seen only one other in my life. This tree, discovered by John Bartram in his travels in Georgia in 1765, is no longer extant in the wild. I’ve never dared try to plant it for a client because it is notoriously difficult to establish. But here it was, trunk heaving out of a paved area next to a terrace overlooking the “Rabat Fountain,” dipping down and up again as it made itself quite at home. We were all amazed.
A rare Franklinia altamaha growing on the terrace at Evermay.
So, treasures and challenges alike await the next owner. I came away with a greater appreciation for the responsibility that will come with owning such an historic property – and a sense of anticipation and hope that the new owners, whoever they may be, will rise to the occasion.