Touring Casa Mariposa with Tammy Schmitt

Tammy Schmitt is one of the most positive, open-spirited people I’ve ever met. A grade school teacher by profession and a funny blogger on the side, her generosity and can-do nature is on display beside her home for her entire Bristow, Virginia neighbourhood to see.

Sign-Garden Sign-Tammy Schmitt

But then Tammy’s garden is a little different than most in her subdivision. Not only is Casa Mariposa an invitation to any and all pollinators that might be feeling a little thirsty in a desert of nearby lawns…..

House Front-Casa Mariposa-Tamy Schmitt

…. it’s also home to her family and a posse of rescue dogs, including the one posing with mama below.

Tammy Schmitt

Tammy took the lead in organizing the Garden Blogger’s Fling that I enjoyed this June in the Capital Region, and she and her committee did a fabulous job of finding us wonderful private and public gardens to tour. One of them was her own, which she was overly modest in describing to us. For though it’s the kind of suburban property many of us have, Tammy has turned hers into a flowery oasis filled with plants (many native) to lure pollinators and songbirds.  Let’s walk under her funky arch and take a little tour of some of those plants.

Garden arch-Tammy Schmitt

I love garden with birdhouses and Tammy’s got ‘em in spades.

Birdhouse & daylily-Tammy Schmitt

Aren’t these sweet?  One of Tammy’s houses actually hosts a lovely wren.

Birdhouses-Tammy Schmitt

As a bee photographer, I adore gardens filled with the buzz of bumble bees, like this one foraging on Tammy’s lavender beside echinacea, also a great bee and butterfly plant.

Echinacea & Lavandula-Tammy Schmitt

…. and honey bees, which love her drumstick alliums (A. sphaerocephalon)……

Bee on Allium sphaerocephalon-Tammy Schmitt

…. and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), below with a light-pink Knautia macedonica.

Asclepias & Knautia-Tammy Schmitt

There were hover flies on the blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta).

Hover fly-Rudbeckia hirta

Speaking of blackeyed susans… isn’t the one below beautiful? The gorgeous selections of this native are called gloriosa daisies – this one looks like ‘Denver Daisy’..

Rudbeckia hirta-Gloriosa daisy

This is a classic combination: blackeyed susans and beebalm.

Monarda & Rudbeckia-Tammy Schmitt

A self-admitted pot addict, Tammy cures herself by… buying more and more…..

Containers-Tammy Schmitt

Arraying them up the paver steps to her house…..

Pots-Tammy Schmitt

I was taken with Tammy’s choice of natives, including this fabulous royal catchfly (Silene regia).

Silene regia-Tammy Schmitt

The garden was packed with bloggers and it was much too short a visit. After a filmed demo and interview with one of Tammy’s favourite products, John & Bob’s Smart Soil Solutions, who were generous sponsors of the Bloggers’ Fling, it was time to say goodbye. And just on cue, Tammy’s little wren popped out to sing farewell.

Wren-Tammy Schmitt

Rhapsody in Blue: Linda Hostetler’s Virginia Garden

During last month’s Garden Blogger’s Fling in the U.S. Capital Region, (and following my visit to Washington DC’s fabulous Dumbarton Oaks and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello near Charlottesville VA), I was delighted to find myself meandering through the garden of fellow color connoisseur and Facebook pal, landscape designer Linda Hostetler. I’ve long admired her photos so it was a pleasure to wander the paths exploring her amazing textural plantings. But there was definitely a color theme running through Linda’s garden, and I loved ticking off all the ways she manages to celebrate ‘blue’. So let’s take a little tour, starting in the front garden of Linda and Ralph Hostetlers’ pretty home in Plains, Virginia, not far from Washington D.C. The tapestry-like plantings here, while very lovely, don’t really prepare you for the immense scale of the back garden.

House-Linda Hostetler

Let’s walk down the side path with its playful boxwood balls.

Path-Linda Hostetler

You might catch the light glinting off the sweet mirrored suncatcher….

Mirror suncatcher-Linda Hostetler

…. and at the end of the path, any one of hundreds of interesting plants might catch your eye like the native Indian pink (Spigelia marylandica).

Spigelia

But look up and gaze around and you’ll be struck by the flashes of azure and turquoise shimmering in every corner of Linda’s garden. How does she love blue? Let us count the ways.

Furnishings 

Like a little sense of occasion? Walk into Linda’s garden and you’re passing under a blue arch.  Doesn’t that curved boxwood allée make you want to start exploring? And look at the blue-toned hosta in the rear.

Arch-Linda Hostetler

Want to rest a minute in a little bit of shade? These blue umbrellas (there were several) and tables and chairs were popular spots for relaxing when masses of garden bloggers were trying to escape the June heat.  And don’t you love that spectacular pairing of ‘Lucifer’ crocosmia with the furnishings?

Blue Umbrella and furniture-Linda Hostetler

Art

Little artistic touches in blue abound in Linda’s garden – like these metal spheres in blue and contrasting yellow.

Sphere-Linda Hostetler

And no southern garden is complete without a bottle tree – this one sprouting cobalt blue bottles. (If I’m not mistaken, those are Harvey’s Bristol Cream sherry bottles….)

Bottle tree-Linda Hostetler

A glazed ceramic globe is an easy way to give a blue punch to the border, especially contrasted with bright-red coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides).

Ceramic ball-Linda Hostetler

Like me, Linda is a fan of blown glass – this one in swirls of blue.

Blown glass-Linda Hostetler

Lighting

Speaking of glass, there are lots of solar lights in the Hostetler garden, all in shades of blue. You’ll see stained glass globes….

Solar ball-Linda Hostetler

…. and swirls….

Solar-twist-Linda Hostetler

…. and even blue Japanese lanterns.  Imagine the starry canvas these would make at night!

Japanese lantern-Linda Hostetler

Containers

Linda’s lovely, glazed, blue containers are an opportunity for her to change up little scenes each season, whether with tender begonias and tropicals….

Blue Pot 3-Linda Hostetler

… shade-tolerant heucheras….

Blue Pot 2-Linda Hostetler

…. or colorful coleus.

Blue Pot 1-Linda Hostetler

Then there are the artful ways Linda uses blue-hued hangers and stands to feature her pots, like this agave in a blue birdcage.

Agave in birdcage-Linda Hostetler

And this lovely pedestal stand for succulents.

Plant stand-Linda Hostetler

Plants

It was such a sunny afternoon with so many people running through the garden, I gave up trying to get landscape shots. But I did love seeing this little water feature with purplish-blue pickerel-weed (Pontederia cordata). It’s a favourite of bumble bees (and me).

Pontederia-Pickerel weed-Linda Hostetler

And then, alas, it was past the blue hydrangea and back on the bus to continue our tour of Virginia gardens. Next time, Linda, we will hopefully meet in person in your lovely garden (not via blog!)

Hydrangeas-Linda Hostetler

 

Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello

In 1768, when the young lawyer Thomas Jefferson began building his home atop the “little mountain” (literally monticello, in Italian) that he had inherited from his father, there were no gardens. The land was rich red soil – known as “Davidson Clay” – overlooking Virginia’s Piedmont and the Blue Ridge Mountains – a tobacco plantation, part of 5000 acres he had inherited from his father. In time, however, Jefferson would establish gardens here where he could experiment with all manner of plants, both edible and ornamental, and the meticulous garden records that he would make contribute to our current understanding of American “heritage plants”.

Monticello-house

Born in 1743 in Shadwell VA, just down the road (now the expressway) from Charlottesville, Virginia, Thomas Jefferson was one of six children born to the cartographer Peter Jefferson, who mapped the route through the Appalachian Valley that would become the ‘Great Waggon Road’ connecting Philadelphia to the colonies of the American South.  Home tutored at first, he then attended school where he learned several languages. He attended William & Mary University in Williamsburg, VA in 1760, studying philosophy for two years. While there, he was greatly influenced by one teacher. “It was my great good fortune, and what probably fixed the destinies of my life that Dr. William Small of Scotland was then professor of mathematics, a man profound in most of the useful branches of science, with a happy talent of communication, correct & gentlemanly manners, and an enlarged & liberal mind. He, most happily for me, became soon attached to me & made me his daily companion when not engaged in school; and from his conversation I got my first views of the expansion of science & of the system of things in which we are placed.”  He then read law for five years, and was was called to the Virginia bar in 1767; he practised circuit law for five years.

In 1772 he married his 3rd cousin Martha Wayles Skelton, a widow, and brought her to his new home at Monticello, where they spent 10 years together and had 6 children, only two of whom survived childhood. When her father John Wayles died in 1773, Martha Jefferson inherited his slaves, among them a woman named Betty Hemings and her six children, all of whom were half-siblings of Martha’s, since they were fathered by her own father. Betty’s youngest child was Sally Hemings. (More on Sally later.)

In 1775, Thomas Jefferson was a Virginia delegate to the second Continental Congrass, and distinguished himself by publishing his paper A Summary View of the Rights of British North America.  The achievement for which he is most renowned, of course, is the Declaration of Independence, America’s founding document. In the 1818 painting by John Trumbull, below, 33-year old Thomas Jefferson – at 6-feet 2-½ inches – is depicted as the tallest of the “Committee of Five”, i.e. the five men in the drafting committee, seen standing below as they present their draft to Congress on July 4, 1776.  From left, they are John Adams, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin.

Declaration of Independence-John Trumbull-1818

In 1779-81, Thomas Jefferson was Governor of Virginia. In 1782, four months after the birth of their sixth child, Martha Jefferson died. Jefferson was devastated and spent weeks isolated from his family. As his eldest daughter recalled later: “When at last he left his room he rode out and from that time he was incessantly on horseback rambling about the mountain in the least frequented roads and just as often through the woods; in those melancholy rambles I was his constant companion, a solitary witness to many violent bursts of grief.”  Jefferson had promised Martha that he would never remarry.

From 1784 to 1789, Jefferson served as U.S. Minister to France under President John Adams. It was during this appointment that he developed a deep love of art and music and toured many English pleasure gardens, nurturing a taste for landscape designs based on the picturesque style of 18th century landscape painters and also the ornamental farm (ferme ornée).  It was while he was in Paris that he began an intimate relationship with the teenaged slave Sally Hemings, (his late wife’s half-sister) who accompanied Jefferson’s 9-year old daughter Polly to France when her sister died of whooping cough.

Mather Brown-Thomas Jefferson-1786

Thomas Jefferson became the third president of the United States after George Washington and John Adams, serving two terms between 1801 and 1809. At the time, the journey by carriage from Monticello to the White House took 4 days and 3 nights. (We make this journey by car in 2-1/2 hours). Jefferson’s most significant achievement occurred during his first term when he negotiated the Louisiana Purchase with France, acquiring a vast swathe of the middle of North America (827,000 square miles) from the French, for a total of $15M (US).  In 1803, he commissioned the Lewis & Clark expedition (1804-06) to the American west, a journey that became the source of many Indian artifacts originally displayed in the house, but later lost. It also provided the president with new Western native plants to be grown at Monticello, such as narrow-leaved coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia), below.

Echinacea angustifolia-Lewis & Clark Expedition-Monticello

Visiting Monticello, a United Nations World Heritage Site, in June 2017, we begin our tour in the house. Close to its end, a sudden thunderstorm means we must take shelter in the basement, along with several other tour groups. Here we find ourselves huddled outside Thomas Jefferson’s wine cellar. When we are finally able to leave the shelter of the house, we head out under the dripping willow oaks (Quercus phellos) and begin our tour of the flower garden.

Willow oak-Quercus phellos

But it is not possible to talk about the gardens at Monticello without prefacing my tour with a look at how this Virginia plantation functioned under Thomas Jefferson.

SLAVERY

That slavery runs through the story of Thomas Jefferson and Monticello is part of the paradox of this man, who began his law practice defending seven slaves and later attempted to use his co-authorship of American’s founding document to legislate against the practice. According to the Library of Congress: “Thomas Jefferson first tried to condemn slavery in America with the Declaration of Independence. Although his original draft of the Declaration contained a condemnation of slavery, the southern states were adamantly opposed to the idea, and the clause was dropped from the final document. In 1784, he again tried to limit slavery, suggesting in a report on America’s new western territory that “after the year 1800 of the Christian era, there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in any of the said States..’ Again, due largely to the resistance of the southern states, the proposal was rejected. In frustration, the Virginian later commented: “South Carolina, Maryland and Virginia voted against it…The voice of a single individual of the State which was divided, or of one of those which were of the negative, would have prevented this abominable crime from spreading itself over the new country…[I]t is to be hoped…that the friends to the rights of human nature will in the end prevail.’ “

It was Madison Hemings, listed by Thomas Jefferson as Sally Hemings’s 5-year old in the 1810 Slave Roll below, (middle, first column) who helped uncover the true story of Jefferson’s relationship with his mother, something that had been whispered loudly by the president’s political enemies, but denied by the Jefferson family for more than a century.

Slave Roll-1810-Sally Hemings-Monticello

In 1873, in a series entitled “Life Among the Lowly” in the Pike County Republican, (parts of which are shown below), Madison Hemings, by then a freed slave living in Ross County in the free state of Ohio, wrote that his mother Sally, who was the half-sister of Jefferson’s wife, Martha Wayles Skelton Jefferson and a household slave of Thomas Jefferson, gave birth to five* children by him.  Their relationship began in Paris, when Sally travelled there with Polly, Jefferson’s youngest daughter, after her sister died of whooping cough. Madison Hemings’s memoir was part of a PBS documentary.But during that time my mother became Mr. Jefferson’s concubine, and when he was called back home she was enceinte by him. He desired to bring my mother back to Virginia with him but she demurred. She was just beginning to understand the French language well, and in France she was free, while if she returned to Virginia she would be re-enslaved. So she refused to return with him. To induce her to do so he promised her extraordinary privileges, and made a solemn pledge that her children should be freed at the age of twenty-one years. In consequence of his promise, on which she implicitly relied, she returned with him to Virginia. Soon after their arrival, she gave birth to a child, of whom Thomas Jefferson was the father. It lived but a short time. She gave birth to four others, and Jefferson was the father of all of them. Their names were Beverly, Harriet, Madison (myself), and Eston–three sons and one daughter. We all became free agreeably to the treaty entered into by our parents before we were born. We all married and have raised families”.  Madison said he had been named by Dolly Madison, who was visiting Monticello with her husband and Thomas Jefferson’s good friend, President James Madison, at the time the baby was born. It would take a 1998 DNA test to prove that what Madison Hemings had written was accurate: he and siblings were Thomas Jefferson’s children. In 2000, following their own scholarly investigation, the Monticello/ Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, Inc, issued this statement: “The best evidence available suggests the strong likelihood that Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings had a relationship over time that led to the birth of one, and perhaps all, of the known children of Sally Hemings.” (*most sources say 6 children, but their first child died soon after birth)

Madison Hemings-references to Thomas Jefferson-1873-Pike County Republican-text

You can read about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson in this Washington Post article, which describes Monticello’s recent efforts to situate the reality of Monticello’s enslaved people within the heroic history of Thomas Jefferson. It’s part of The Mountaintop Project, the current thrust at Monticello to tell the stories of its people, including the slaves, as described in the interpretive sign below.

Interpretive Sign-Mountaintop Project-Monticello

Yet while they have included the “Hemings Family tour” in their ticket lineup, Monticello still seems reluctant to clearly state the nature of the Hemings-Jefferson relationship in the description.

And I loved this touching NPR story, featuring modern-day descendants of Thomas Jefferson’s slave children, concerning the formation of Monticello Community for “all the descendants of workmen, artisans and slave, free, family, whatever, at Monticello”.

Though we like to view history through the prism of our enlightened moral standards, (and there was spirited defence of Jefferson by scholars before the DNA test results were announced), it is worth noting that 12 of the first 18 presidents owned slaves, including George Washington. It would be the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who would finally succeed in ending slavery through the 13th Amendment, though it would take a bloody civil war and 620,000 deaths to accomplish that end. These are the words we saw just two days before visiting Monticello, on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial on Washington’s National Mall. They form part of Lincoln’s second Inaugural Address in 1865:

Abraham Lincoln-2nd Inaugural Address-Slavery

So, acknowledging that today’s Monticello owes its place in history thanks as much to the labour of its enslaved residents as to the creative scientific genius of Thomas Jefferson, let’s begin our tour just outside the main house in the flower garden.

THE FLOWER GARDEN

Jefferson maintained meticulous records of all his biological observations. He kept a Weather Memorandum Book, in which he recorded precipitation, wind, temperature. And he noted details of his garden purchases and plans in his garden diary, printed as Thomas Jefferson’s Garden Book in 1944. Below is his page from 1794, a century-and-a-half earlier; showing his painstaking attention to detail (presumably his shopping list for the season): peas, beans, spinach, curly endive, Jerusalem artichoke, ‘garlick’, white mustard, ‘camomile’, lavender, wormwood, mint, thyme, balm, rosemary, marsh mallow, strawberries, gooseberries, figs, hops, lilac, red maple, Kentucky coffee tree, Lombardy poplar, weeping willow, willow oak, among many others. As the authors say in Thomas Jefferson’s Flower Garden at Monticello (1986, 3rd edition), “No early American gardens were as well documented as those at Monticello, which became an experimental station, a botanic garden of new and unusual plants from around the world.”

Thomas Jefferson Garden List-1794

In 1808, around the main house, Jefferson built a series of flower gardens as well as a “winding walk”, its borders planted in 10-foot sections with an assortment of exotic and native flowers. As he wrote to his 16-year-old granddaughter Ann Carey Randolph in 1807, “I find that the limited number of our flower beds will too much restrain the variety of flowers in which we might wish to indulge, & therefore I have resumed an idea … of a winding walk … with a narrow border of flowers on each side. this would give us abundant room for a great variety”. But after his death, the flower gardens fell to ruin. In 1939-41, the Garden Club of Virginia….

Winding Walk-Garden Club of Virginia-Monticello-1940

….restored the walk and fish pond as a gift to Monticello. In order to determine the walk’s original shape, researchers parked their cars on the West Lawn and shone their headlights over it. The old outline appeared.  Here we see lavender and sweet william (Dianthus barbatus), both plants recorded by Jefferson.

Winding Walk flower garden-Monticello

Here we are outside the main house, looking back through night-scented tobacco (Nicotiana). Jefferson preferred to have fragrant plants along the winding walk.

Monticello-Nicotiana

We see plants that were grown by him, including common mallow (Malva sylvestris).

Malva sylvestris-Monticello

Jefferson was proud of the native plants of Virginia – in fact 25 percent of his plants at Monticello were native – so it’s not a surprise to see butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) and blackeyed susans (Rudbeckia hirta) mixed in with blue cornflowers (Centaurea cyanus) and rose campion (Lychnis coronaria).

Mixed flowers-Monticello

THE VEGETABLE GARDEN & FRUITERY

When Jefferson spoke about his ‘garden’, he was referring to his vegetable garden. As he noted in 1819: “I have lived temperately, eating little animal food, and that … as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet.” After the decision was made in the late 1970s to recreate Monticello’s 1000-foot long by 80-foot wide, 2-acre vegetable garden….

Vegetable Garden-Monticello

…the process began in 1979 with a 2-year archaeological dig to corroborate the written history.  The dig turned up parts of the garden’s stone wall and the foundation of the pretty garden pavilion seen below, which was a favourite place for Thomas Jefferson to read.

Garden Pavilion2-Monticello

As the story goes, the garden pavilion – framed here by mulberry leaves — fell over soon after Jefferson’s died in 1826. It was restored in 1984.

Mulberry & Garden Pavilion-Monticello

Those mulberry leaves tell their own story, for they are part of Mulberry Row, the plantation lane at Monticello with 20 dwellings that formed the “center of work and domestic life for dozens of people – free whites, indentured servants, and enslaved people.” Here were the blacksmiths, carpenters, house joiners, stablemen, tinsmiths, weavers and spinners and domestic servants.

Mulberry Row2-Monticello

Parts of Mulberry Row have been restored, including this blacksmith & iron shop. Jefferson launched a nailery at Monticello, hoping to make it a thriving commercial enterprise. Young boys were destined to be nailers, as he wrote in his farm book: “Children till 10. years old to serve as nurses. From 10. to 16. the boys make nails, the girls spin. At 16. go into the ground or learn trades.”

Forge-Monticello

This is a slave cabin on Mulberry Row.

Mulberry Row-Slave House-Monticello

I’m delighted to see bluebirds flying and perching along Mulberry Row. My first ever bluebird!

Bluebird-Monticello

Going down the stairs to the vegetable garden, we begin our tour at the far end where a healthy crop of wheat is planted with sunflowers. When Jefferson inherited the plantation from his father, it was planted in tobacco. Following the American Revolution, Virginia ceased to be the dominant player in tobacco trade and the Napoleonic wars had also shifted the balance of agriculture in Europe. Tobacco cultivation also depleted the soil significantly. So when Jefferson returned to Monticello in 1793, he switched tobacco for wheat.

Wheat & Sunflowers-Monticello

Corn is just ripening. Jefferson grew Indian corn in his garden in Paris when he served in the French legation.

Corn-Monticello

This ‘Tennis Ball’ lettuce (Latuca sativa) is bolting, as it must when heritage seed is being saved. Thomas Jefferson said of this variety, which is one of the parents of buttery Boston lettuce: “it does not require so much care and attention.”

Tennis Ball Lettuce-Monticello

Leeks (Allium ameloprasum) are looking lovely – and are possibly the same Musselburgh leeks that Jefferson grew.

Leeks-1812-Monticello

Jefferson loved sea kale (Crambe maritima) and blanched it under special terracotta cloches to produce tender leaves. According to Monticello, “Jefferson was probably inspired to grow sea kale after reading Bernard McMahon’s The American Gardener’s Calendar, 1806, sometimes called his “Bible” of horticulture.” 

Crambe maritima-sea kale-Monticello

Peanuts catch my eye. In Andrew Smith’s book Peanuts: The Illustrious History of the Goober Pea, the author wrote “In his ‘Notes on the State of Virginia’, Thomas Jefferson wrote that peanuts grew in Virginia in 1781. Subsequently Jefferson planted sixty-five hills of ‘peendars’ which yielded 16-1/2 pounds ‘weighted green out of the ground which is ¼ pound each.’ While president, he reported that peanuts were very sweet.”

Peanuts-Arachis hypogaea-Monticello

Here is chamomile (Anthemis nobilis).

Chamomile-1794-Monticello

Artichokes (Cynara scolymus) were one of the first vegetables Jefferson grew in his garden at Monticello in 1770, and successfully harvested in 13 of 22 years. “Artichoke” was also the keyword in the secret cipher code used in his communications with Meriweather Lewis of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.Artichoke-1808-Monticello

Though they were still a somewhat new fashion in Virginia, Jefferson enjoyed his “tomatas”, the planting of which he recorded in his garden book from 1809 to 1824.

Tomatoes-Monticello

From the vegetable garden, I look down on the south orchard, where Jefferson once planted 1,031 fruit trees.

Monticello Orchard

I see peaches ripening here. This succulent fruit was perhaps Jefferson’s most prized crop, and in 1794 he even grew 900 peach trees as field dividers at Monticello and another farm. He wrote to a friend: “I am endeavoring to make a collection of the choicest kinds of peaches for Monticello“. Of the 38 varieties he grew, he purchased many from American nurseries and was given Italian introductions by his Tuscan–born friend Philip Mazzei, whom he’d met in London and encouraged to emigrate to Virginia in 1755.

Peaches-Monticello Fruitery

There’s a recreation of the Old Fruit Nursery here as well…..

Old Nursery-Monticello

… and the vineyards, below, all of which were part of what Jefferson called his “fruitery”.

Grape Vines-2Monticello

In the distance, we see Montalto (the “high mountain”). It’s on this mountain where the descendants of Philip Mazzei will soon be harvesting grapes to make fine wine in a joint project with Monticello….

Montalto

…under the guidance of longtime Virginia winemaker, Gabriele Rausse – whose vintage we pick up in the gift shop later.

Gabriele Rause Wine-Monticello Gift Shop

I walk through the bean arbor, the scarlet runners just getting started, and head out of Monticello’s garden. It’s time to go down the mountain.

Bean Pergola-Monticello

CEMETERY, WOODS AND VISITOR CENTER

Near the top is the family graveyard where Thomas Jefferson and his descendants (except for those of Sally Hemings) are buried.

Graveyard-Monticello2-Thomas Jefferson Tombstone

The woods on the slope are cool and beautiful; trees tall and towering, the understory filled with redbuds (Cercis canadensis). A notable lover of trees, Jefferson allegedly once said:  “I wish I was a despot that I might save the noble, beautiful trees that are daily falling sacrifice to the cupidity of their owners, or the necessity of the poor. . . .The unnecessary felling of a tree, perhaps the growth of centuries, seems to me a crime little short of murder.” 

Monticello-Woodland

I’m enchanted by the birdsong echoing in the trees and make a short video. Have a listen….

We arrive back at the Visitor Center where we lunched earlier.  The grounds are nicely landscaped…..

Monticello Visitor Center

…… and the gift shop with its garden center is fabulous!

Garden Center-Monticello

I say my farewell to Thomas Jefferson, noting the 10-1/2 inch difference in our heights. I thank him for his enterprising spirit, his love of nature, his gardens. He says nothing.

Thomas Jefferson & Janet

THE CENTER FOR HISTORIC PLANTS

Though it’s not open to the public except by appointment or for special posted events through the year, the Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants (CHP) is a fundamental part of Monticello, maintaining many of the historic plants and providing them for the gift shop . It’s located below Monticello at Tufton Farm, part of the original Monticello estate – and a short distance down the road from our own Arcady Vineyard Bed & Breakfast, also part of the original Monticello estate.  I make a phone call, explain that I’m in Virginia to begin a Blogger’s Fling in a few days, and would love to visit. A short time later, I’m met by Jessica Bryars, acting manager at CHP (whose other job is to manage the fruitery at Monticello).

Jessica Bryars-Monticello Center for Historic Plants

We tour the farm, beginning in the nursery filled with young herbaceous plants.

Center for Historic Plants-Monticello-Greenhouse

Shrubs and roses are in hoop beds outside.

Shrub beds-Center for Historic Plants-Monticello

There are many beehives here, protected from honey-loving black bears by electric fences.

Center for Historic Plants-Monticello-Bee Hives

The garden, its grass pathway flanked by flower borders is lovely. Though most of the plants are historic, a few, like annual purple Verbena bonariensis are included…..

Thomas Jefferson Center for Historic Plants-Borders

….making the pipevine swallowtail happy.

Pipevine Swallowtail-Battus philenor-Verbena bonariensis-CHP-Monticello

I spot Lilium superbum, the lovely native Turks-cap lily.

Center for Historic Plants-Monticello-Lilium superbum

Here’s a little taste of a pretty corner at CHP (and yes, there are hummingbirds as well as bluebirds at Monticello).

Monticello’s future contains plans for a ‘21st century farm’ on the Tufton farm site, a notion that I think would bring a great deal of young tourism to this part of Virginia, including people who aren’t much drawn to historic recreations of 200-year old presidential gardens.  And I suspect the great experimenter Thomas Jefferson, whose own namesake plant twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) grows here and flowers in spring, would agree.

Jeffersonia diphylla-Monticello Center for Historic Plants

UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA

In order to round out our understanding of Thomas Jefferson’s influence on the region, we visit the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, which is most definitely a ‘university town’. As the historic plaque below says, it was founded by Jefferson in 1817 in the presence of his two good friends, James Madison and sitting president James Monroe.

UVA-historic sign

Jefferson designed UVA as an ‘Academical Village’, with a beautiful rotunda at one end of ‘The Lawn’ flanked by pavilons containing lecture halls and undergraduate and faculty apartments. This is an 1826 Peter Maverick engraving of Jefferson’s original plan.

University of Virginia Maverick Engraving

Jeffferson’s rotunda was Palladian in design, similar to that of his home at Monticello.  It was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome and housed a library, rather than a church, as was then common in universities.  This reflected Thomas Jefferson’s personal secular beliefs, which were moral without being religious. (In 1820, he reworked his own bible, carefully cutting out all the parts he disdained and leaving in an 80-page version he published as The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.)   Sadly, Jefferson’s rotunda burned down in 1895.

UVA-Rotunda Fire

Today’s rotunda is an historically-correct modification of the Stanford White recreation.

UVA-Rotunda

The beautiful pavilions below are original. This is what Jefferson wrote in 1817 to William Thornton, the architect of the U.S. Capitol, as he was researching his design.  “What we wish is that these pavilions, as they will show themselves above the dormitories, shall be models of taste and good architecture, and of a variety of appearance, no two alike, so as to serve as specimens for the architectural lecturer. Will you set your imagination to work, and sketch some designs for us, no matter how loosely with the pen, without the trouble of referring to scale or rule, for we want nothing but the outline of the architecture, as the internal must be arranged according to local convenience? A few sketches, such as may not take you a minute, will greatly oblige us.

UVA-Lawn

As we stroll the campus in the heat of a June afternoon, we listen to UVA undergrads addressing small groups of high school students and their parents on their pre-college selection tours. In the shade of tall trees on The Lawn, one co-ed laughingly tells her group about Halloween dress-up traditions on campus. Near Cabell Hall, another warns the students that the UVA basketball team is so popular and the stadium so small, a lottery system has been devised to distribute tickets equitably.  One can only imagine Thomas Jefferson standing nearby listening, perhaps striding forward to join the young people. Perhaps offering this …. “Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing.” 

Thomas Jefferson-Rembrandt Peale

Indeed, it is wonderful how much can be done.

Blissing Out at Dumbarton Oaks

I know, I know. That was a very bad pun. However, I was deliriously happy to be at Dumbarton Oaks, the former home of Georgetown DC doyenne Mildred Bliss, and especially to be in the spectacular gardens designed by Beatrix Farrand (1872-1959). But I was also almost delirious with the intense heat and humidity on a Saturday afternoon in mid-June so, having arrived a few minutes before the official garden opening time at 2 pm,  I was delighted to sit for a moment on the cool stone steps leading into the house’s museum, and contemplate this delicious southern magnolia (M. grandiflora) blossom.  Bliss, yes, bliss.

Magnolia grandiflora-Southern magnolia-Dumbarton Oaks

Finally, it was time to head into the R Street entrance to the grounds. In 1702, the land here was granted by Britain’s Queen Anne to a Scottish colonist named Colonel Ninian Beall, part of a 789-acre concession which he called the Rock of Dumbarton after a beloved place in Scotland. In 1801, an early version of the house was built by William Hammond Dorsey.  In 1810, the Orangery was built by another resident in the Palladian style; in the 1860s, another resident attached it to the house.  Six decades later, when diplomat Robert Woods Bliss and his wife (and step-sister), heiress Mildred Barnes Bliss purchased the property, this part of Georgetown was mostly farmland, but the house itself was there, albeit smaller. They renovated the Orangery, added to the house and began working with Beatrix Farrand on the gardens. In 1940, Mildred Bliss donated the house and estate to Harvard University, while continuing to live there. In time it became a research centre. And yes, though they do not form an oak woodland as they did when the property was named, there is still a beautiful oak on Dumbarton Oaks’s southern lawn.

Dumbarton Oaks-House and Quercus

When Beatrix Farrand wrote about the south facade in her plant book for Dumbarton Oaks, she was authoritative in assessing the relationship of the house and its foundation plantings: “The planting on the south side of the house has been chosen from material with foliage of small scale in order to give apparent size and importance to the building. Large as the building is, a study of its scale will show the detail itself is small. As a general principle, approximately one-third of the spring line of the building should be unplanted, as the effect is unfortunate where a building seems to be totally submerged beneath line of plants that muffle the architectural lines and make the building appear to rise from a mass of shrubs rather than from the ground.”

House-South Facade-Dumbarton-Oaks

You can explore Dumbarton Oaks’ gardens online, based on the garden plan below, or you can just take a fast, chatty stroll through its 16 acres in my little blog here.

Garden Map-Dumbarton Oaks

Let’s start adjacent to the house in the 1810 Orangery, which is lovely and cool……

Orangery interior-Dumbarton Oaks

….. with mossy walls striated with shadows from the supports of the glass roof. That creeping fig vine (Ficus pumila) festooned over the walls and arched windows is more than 150 years old, its  exuberance reined in by Beatrix Farrand. In winter, the Orangery is used to store tender plants such as oleander, gardenia and citrus.

Orangery wall-Ficus pumila-Creeping fig-Dumbarton Oaks

By the way, I’ve visited Dumbarton Oaks twice in early April, several years ago, and this is the large magnolia that blooms outside the Orangery. I included this photo (a scanned slide from 2003) because of Beatrix Farrand’s reference to it in her plant book for the gardens. “Immediately south of the orangery, a magnificent old tree of Magnolia conspicua denudata has been christened “The Bride” as when it is in full bloom in early April its loveliness is an enchantment. The tree should be preserved as long as it can be made to thrive and bloom well, and when its days are over it should be replaced by another as nearly like it as possible, as the sight of the white tree from the R Street gateway and looked down upon from the orangery is one of the real horticultural events of the Dumbarton season.”

Dumbarton Oaks-Magnolia denudata-Orangery

Now it’s time to head out into the early summer heat and begin our own tour in the Green Garden, the highest point on the site (and once the site of the barn, which the Blisses removed).  I stop in front of a stone plaque to Beatrix Farrand’s memory.

Dumbarton Oaks-Elegy to Beatrix Farrand-Green Terrace

Its inscription….May they see their dreams springing to life under the spreading boughs/May lucky stars bring them every continuous good

The plaque celebrates the friendship between Mildred Bliss, below left, and her ‘landscape gardener’, Beatrix Jones Farrand, right, whom she hired to design the gardens in 1920 and who stayed involved with the estate until retiring in 1940.

Mildred Bliss-Beatrix Farrand-Dumbarton Oaks

Born in 1872 to wealthy New Yorkers who summered at their estate, Reef Point at Bar Harbor in Mount Desert, Maine, Beatrix Jones began her training in landscape gardening at the age of 20 under Charles Sprague Sargent at Boston’s Arnold Arboretum. At 23, she launched her design practice in her mother’s New York brownstone; at 26, she was the only woman among the 11 founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). While working on Yale University’s landscape, she met historian Max Farrand, who was chair of the university’s history department; they married in 1913 and she became Beatrix Jones Farrand. (In my last blog on the trees and gardens of Princeton University, I wrote about her beautiful landscape (1914-15) for the Princeton University Graduate College.)  She was also a friend of novelist Henry James, whose pet name for her was “Trix”. As for the Blisses, there was also a family connection: while serving as secretary of the United States Embassy in Paris during the beginning of WWI, Robert Bliss and his wife Mildred socialized with Beatrix’s aunt, the novelist Edith Jones Wharton.

Looking over the stone wall beside the plaque, we can see the lovely Swimming Pool and Loggia below.  This area was a horse stable yard and manure pit when the Blisses bought Dumbarton Oaks.  Architect Frederick Brooke, who had done renovations on the house, transformed them into a swimming pool and bath house,. But in 1923 Mildred Bliss fired Brooke and hired the New York firm McKim Mead & White to rework his interiors and redesign the bathhouse, loggia and arcade.

Dumbarton Oaks-Swimming Pool-Arcade

Here’s the pool in April, with weeping Japanese cherries. Isn’t it gorgeous?

Dumbarton Oaks-Swimming Pool-Japanese Cherry Trees

Let’s head down to the Beech Terrace, which features an American beech (Fagus grandifolia) that was the 1948 replacement for the mature European beech (F. sylvatica) that formed the centrepiece in Beatrix Farrand’s design.

Beech Terrace-Dumbarton Oaks

We can look out on the Pebble Garden, originally constructed as a high-walled tennis court, but was modified by Beatrix Farrand, who lowered the walls and draped them with wisteria.  Not much tennis was played over the decades, so it was redesigned as an Italianate Pebble Garden in 1959-61 by landscape architect Ruth Havey, who had begun her career in Farrand’s practice in 1928 and had assisted her boss on early designs for the gardens.

Dumbarton Oaks-Pebble Garden-Ruth Havey

Here is the Pebble Garden at cherry blossom time in early April. That’s a big magnolia, and the beginning of Cherry Hill outside its walls.

Dumbarton Oaks-Pebble Garden-Springtime

There is a deep pool with three fountain statues at the far end of the Pebble Garden, gifts to Mildred Bliss in 1959 from Gertrude Chanler of Meridian House.

Dumbarton Oaks-Pebble Garden-Fountain

This is what they sound like on a June afternoon.

When you move about on the great Georgetown hillside where Beatrix Farrand worked her magic, you’re treading on the patterned brick paths and stairs she designed, often flanked by boxwood hedges that, in the heat of an early summer day, have a fragrance best known to those who’ve owned cats….

Boxwood hedges-Dumbarton Oaks

Let’s move on to the Urn Terrace, where the mood is serene and green.

Urn Terrace-Dumbarton Oaks

Not far away is a lovely little piece of landscape art by Hugh Livingston: the Garden Quartet.

Garden Quartet-Hugh Livingston-Dumbarton Oaks

The interpretive sign in the Garden Quartet reads: “Garden designer Beatrix Farrand wrote that with the sound of falling water and the wood thrush, peace comes ‘dropping slow’ at Dumbarton Oaks. She was referencing the Lake Isle of Innisfree, in which William Butler Yates writes, ‘And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.’ …. While the energy of the composition changes from moment to moment, much of the composition references the sound of the wood thrush, the feeling of peace descending on the garden…..”   Here’s my video illustrating a little of that energy (and, yes, my walking shoes and khaki pants).

Moving on, the Rose Garden is formal and filled with bloom in June (though I always think it would be more effective to have an underplanting of perennial geraniums or dianthus or lavender for those gawky canes.)

Rose-Garden

I did find one of the pruning staff hard at work here. (Soundtrack by Lynn Anderson)

There is a beautiful stone bench in the Rose Garden with the engraved inscription Quod Severis Metes –   “as you sow so shall you reap”.

Stone Bench-Rose Garden-Quod Severis Metes-Dumbarton Oaks

I find that if I stand on its seat and look over the amazing stone finial, I can peek down into the Fountain Terrace with its twin limestone pools and tropical plant borders – but there’s no time to visit that garden today.

Fountain Terrace-Dumbarton Oaks

Onward we go, heading east parallel to the R Street wall in the direction of the Lover’s Lane Pool – a route that drops 55 feet in elevation from the Orangery to the pool. On the way, we approach a stone column under an ivied arch, all in the embrace of a weeping willow. This is the Terrior Column.

Terrior- Column-Dumbarton-Weeping Willow

The common tawny daylilies (Hemerocallis fulva) look as elegant as I’ve ever seen them.  Here’s a closer look at the Terrior Column.

Terrior Column-Dumbarton Oaks

Nearby, in a bamboo-framed clearing, this little Asian-inspired seat with the leaf roof  was designed in 1935 by Beatrix Farrand, who wrote: “This is intended to be a shady place in which garden visitors may rest or read, separated from the flowers but yet near them.” The side panels, not clearly visible, represent the Aesop’s fable “The Fox, the Crow and the Cheese”.

Garden seat-Dumbarton Oaks-Beatrix Farrand

Now we come to the southeast corner of the garden leading in to the pool Here we find a grotto with a pipe-playing Pan….

Lover's Lane Pool-Pan Sculpture-Dumbarton Oaks

…..his musical instrument and hooves as shiny as when Beatrix Farrand installed him there around 1930.

Lover's Lane Pool-Pan

Turn the corner and you’re gazing down at the Lover’s Lane Pool. According to the website, Farrand designed the pool and its 50-seat amphitheatre to resemble the theater at the Accademia degli Arcadi Bosco Parrasio in Rome, the literary society of the Arcadians.

Lover's-Lane-Pool-Dumbarton

She designed the baroque cast stone columns that flank the pool.

Lover's Lane Pool-Pillars & Bench

We head down the slope and arrive at the hidden entrance to the Herbaceous Border. Beyond the orange daylilies is one of the famous Farrand-designed garden benches.

Daylilies-Herbaceous Garden-Dumbarton Oaks

And then we behold this long, lovely double border, our gaze directed to the simple bench at the far end, as she intended.

Herbaceous border-1-Dumbarton Oaks

There are both perennials such as astilbe and annuals like larkspur in the border. In spring, it is full of flowering bulbs.

Herbaceous border-2-Dumbarton Oaks

Included are plants grown for their architectural form, like cardoon (Cynara cardunculus).

Herbaceous border-3-Cardoon-Dumbarton Oaks

And it is abuzz with bees, like this bumble bee foraging on a pink dahlia.

Herbaceous border-4-Bumble bee on Dahlia

Next we walk under the Grape Arbor at the edge of the Kitchen Gardens.

Grape Arbor-Dumbarton Oaks

When Beatrix Farrand and Mildred Bliss planned the kitchen garden in 1922, Farrand located it on the flattest piece of land she could find, an existing hen house and chickenyard at the northeast corner of the estate. She designed it as three separate working areas: vegetables, herbs and an arboretum, which is now the cutting garden. Looking down on the vegetable garden from the herb beds above, you can see the layout relative to the long grape arbor.

Kitchen Garden-Dumbarton Oaks

In June, there are leeks and lettuce…

Dumbarton Oaks-Kitchen Garden-Lettuce-Leeks

…. and kale and edible flowers too.  During the Second World War, after the property was transferred to Harvard University, the vegetable garden was turned into a Victory Garden. Later, it was abandoned and lay fallow, but in 2009 it was restored and now supplies the staff and research fellows with fresh herbs and vegetables for their meals.

Kale & Nasturtiums-Kitchen Garden-Dumbarton Oaks

We climb up to the Herb Garden which has fetching displays of fennel and lavender with a boxwood-edged stone path.

Herb Garden-Dumbarton Oaks

Bumble bees and honey bees are all over the lavender.

Bumble bee-lavender-Dumbarton Oaks

Leaving the herb garden, I stop to admire a dish of succulents on a stone wall.  (Not all is vintage Farrand here.)

Succulents-Kitchen Garden-Dumbarton Oaks

The Cutting Garden is really lovely, full of bright flowers and bees and butterflies.

Cutting Garden-1-Dumbarton Oaks

The little building is a former tool shed.

Cutting Garden-2-Dumbarton Oaks

I loved this old water trough, and the Clematis heracleifolia in front of it.

Trough-Kichen Garden-Dumbarton Oaks

The Prunus Walk lies on the path between the kitchen gardens but of course its double row of Prunus x blireana is only prominent in early spring. Fortunately, I saw it 13 years ago in full bloom.

Dumbarton Oaks-Prunus Walk-Plums-Prunus x blireana

Finally, we reach the Ellipse, This was Mildred Bliss’s vision, a childhood imagining – and in Farrand’s words, “one of the quietest, most peaceful parts of the garden”.  In 1958, her boxwood trees were replaced by a double row of 76 American hornbeams (Carpinus caroliniana) which are also aging and will be replaced soon, along with the installation of a new irrigation system.

Ellipse-Dumbarton Oaks

The fountain is Ruth Havey’s triumph, moved from elsewhere on the property. I made a little video of the delightful water music here, with birdsong in the background.

It’s soon time to go, but we haven’t seen all the gardens. I missed seeing the Arbor Terrace on the way up from the Ellipse this time,  but I’ve visited that garden in April, when the aerial hedge of Kieffer pear trees is in bloom outside the iron railing adjacent to the facing teak benches all designed by Beatrix Farrand c.1938.

Dumbarton-Oaks-Aerial hedge-Pear trees-Cherry Hill

And of course I didn’t bother with the Forsythia Dell, because Farrand designed that lovely path for its brief burst of spring glory – which I was fortunate to see long ago.

Dumbarton Oaks-Forsythia Dell-Beataris Farrand

We climb the stairs of the Boxwood Walk, which is on axis with the Ellipse fountain and forms the gently ascending path up the 40-foot rise back to the Urn Terrace.  It is time to say farewell to the enduring triumph of Mildred Barnes Bliss and her dear friend Beatrix Farrand.

Boxwood Walk-Dumbarton Oaks

Princeton University’s Grand Trees & Gardens

Every five years, for the past forty years, I’ve accompanied my husband to his class reunion at Princeton University in New Jersey. In the early years, the kids came with us. As they got older, they would promptly escape and run around campus looking for class tents that had better rock bands than ours. As they got a lot older, they stopped coming, but now that we have grandchildren, there’s a chance we’ll look like some of the families who bring babes in strollers to march in the famous “P-rade” on Saturday afternoon, the classes wending through campus in order of age toward the sports field finale.

Princeton-P-rade-child and dad

But one of my own favourite pastimes during my Princeton stays has been strolling the campus (considered one of the top 5 most beautiful in the U.S.) gazing at the trees and gardens. Earlier this month, I visited the beautiful gardens of Prospect House, redesigned in the last decade by Linden Miller and Ronda Brands of New York to focus on perennials and shrubs, rather than the annual bedding plants that had once made up the landscape here. Built in the 1850s in the Italianate style as a private home and deeded to the university in 1878 along with a 35-acre parcel of land, Prospect served as the home of Princeton University’s presidents from 1878 to 1968.  Today it houses the Faculty Club and is used for receptions.

Prospect House Garden1-Princeton-June

The fountain refreshes a tiny Reunions visitor.

Prospect House Garden-Fountain-Princeton

The borders in June are lovely, with peonies, catmint, irises and baptisia….

Prospect Garden2-Princeton-June

…. and the rhododendrons are spectacular.

Prospect House Garden-Rhododendrons-Princeton

I’ve been here in August as well when summer-flowering perennials such as echinacea, swamp hibiscus and Joe Pye weed are in bloom.

Prospect House Garden-Princeton-August (2)

And on the other side of Prospect is a tall, native tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) that’s estimated to be 160 years old.

Liriodendron tulipifera-Tulip Tree-Prospect-Princeton

I loved this drawing of the tulip poplar’s flowers in Princeton’s Little Book of Trees (art by Heather Lovett, text by James Consolloy.  The book is a downloadable .pdf available via a search.)

Liriodendron tulipifera-Little Tree Book-Princeton University

As we roamed campus, we found some of the wonderful new buildings framed by young trees that will in time be as stately as the American elms for which the campus was famous. Here is a much younger tulip poplar framing the entrance to the Frick Chemistry building (Hopkins Architects of London with Payette Associates of Boston, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates of Brooklyn, N.Y., landscape architect, May 2005).

Liriodendron tulipifera-Tulip Tree-Frick Chemistry Laboratory-Princeton

Here’s another look at the Frick through silver maple (or possibly the hybrid Freeman maple).

Acer-Maple-Frick Chemistry Laboratory-Princeton

Below is the fabulous new Lewis Science Library (2008), designed by Frank Gehry with his characteristic, curvilinear stainless-steel facade. I gazed up at this soaring wall through native honey locust (Gleditsia triacanthos), but if I’d known that there was a grove of sassafras under another wall, I’d have been there in a jiffy!

Gleditsia-Honey locust-Lewis Science Library-Frank Gehry Design-Princeton

One of the fun parts about Reunions weekend is the chance to listen to panel discussions on all kinds of topics. For example, we went into the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, which is flanked by an allée of columnar oaks (Quercus sp.)…..

Quercus robur-English oak-Princeton Neuroscience Institute

….. to listen to a fascinating, multifaceted discussion on “The Future of Tech”.

Panel for “The Next Big Thing in Tech”, Princeton Reunions 2017 (left to right): Moderator Ruby Lee, Forrest G. Hamrick Prof. of Electrical Engineering; Julio Gomez ’82, Financial Services Technology Strategist; Joe Kochan ’02, Co-Founder and COO, US Ignite; Marco Matos ’07, Product Manager; Facebook; Julia Macalaster ’12, Head of Strategy, Def Method; Ryan Shea ’12, Co-founder, Blockstack.

Panel for “The Next Big Thing in Tech”, Princeton Reunions 2017 (left to right): Moderator Ruby Lee, Forrest G. Hamrick Prof. of Electrical Engineering; Julio Gomez ’82, Financial Services Technology Strategist; Joe Kochan ’02, Co-Founder and COO, US Ignite; Marco Matos ’07, Product Manager; Facebook; Julia Macalaster ’12, Head of Strategy, Def Method; Ryan Shea ’12, Co-founder, Blockstack.

Another day, I treated myself to a front-row seat at “The Writer’s Craft”.

Panel for “The Writer’s Craft”, Princeton Reunions 2017 (left to right): Moderator Christina Lazaridi ’92, Lecturer in Creative Writing; Ellen Chances ’72, Prof. of Slavic Languages & Literatures; Lisa K. Gornick ’77, Novelist; Alan Deutschman ’87, author; Cate Holahan ’02 author.

Panel for “The Writer’s Craft”, Princeton Reunions 2017 (left to right): Moderator Christina Lazaridi ’92, Lecturer in Creative Writing; Ellen Chances ’72, Prof. of Slavic Languages & Literatures; Lisa K. Gornick ’77, Novelist; Alan Deutschman ’87, author; Cate Holahan ’02 author.

But generally, I prefer to stay outdoors and a tree tour of campus is a perfect way to do that. This year I walked with a large crowd behind Merc Morris ’72, below in white jacket, who has been giving these tours for years now. It’s my second tour with Merc.

Merc Morris-Princeton Tree Tour-2017

He pointed out the towering white ashes (Fraxinus americana) on Cannon Green which are slowly succumbing to emerald ash borer. This one is in front of West College, about to be renamed to honour long-time Princeton Professor Emerita of creative writing, Toni Morrison.

Fraxinus americana-White ash-Toni Morrison College-Princeton

The older magnolias, like this one against Alexander Hall, were planted in the 1920s by Princeton’s consulting landscape architect Beatrix Farrand.  (More on her later).

Magnolia-Alexander Hall-Princeton

We just missed the gorgeous flowers of yellowwood (Cladrastis kentukea), growing in front of Murray-Dodge.

Cladrastis kentukea-Yellowwood-Murray Dodge-Princeton

This is a cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus lebani) with the Firestone library in the background.

Cedrus libani-Cedar of Lebanon-Firestone Library-Princeton

Merc points out this huge dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) near Prospect House, planted in 1948. He relates why it is particularly happy in this spot, since the university arranged to divert a segment of its rainwater drainage toward its roots.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides-dawn redwood-Princeton

We head to the front of the university (total 500 acres) and I see the Kousa dogwood (Cornus kousa) in shimmering flower next to Stanhope Hall. This Asian species is a replacement for the native flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) that were once planted on the Ivy League campuses, but mostly succumbed to anthracnose.

Cornus kousa-Dogwood-Stanhope Hall-Princeton

Speaking of Ivy League, here’s the wall of East Pyne, one of the older dormitory buildings. That vine clinging tenaciously to the stone is Boston ivy, (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) and many people associate it with the origins of the term “Ivy League”.

Hedera helix-English Ivy-East Pyne Hall-Princeton

Finally, we’re standing near Princeton’s main drag, Nassau Street, looking back at Nassau Hall. Already preparing for next week’s graduation, it was built in 1756 and at the time it was the largest academic building in the American Colonies.  During the Revolutionary War, it was occupied by both British and American forces and suffered damage during 1777’s Battle of Princeton. For a few months in 1783, Princeton served as the capital of the new United States and Nassau Hall hosted its government. But we’re here in the original campus yard to look at the tall American elms (Ulmus americana), survivors of the cataclysmic Dutch elm disease that ravaged the tall native trees in the mid-20th century.

Ulmus americana-American elms-Nassau Hall

As we prepare to head next door to Maclean House, Merc gives us a little introduction to the historic trees we’ll see there.

Here is beautiful Maclean House (1756) and the oldest trees on Princeton’s campus, the “buttonwood” or American sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis) planted in 1766. Though they often lose their first leaves to anthracnose, as in this photo, they put out a second crop of leaves in summer. The sycamores are also called the Stamp Act trees, because their planting coincided with the repeal of the Stamp Act, which had been instituted by Britain in 1765 and required a tax on every piece of printed paper used by American colonists.

Platanus occidentalis-American sycamore-Maclean House-Princeton

And here’s the page on the sycamores in the Little Trees book.

Platanus occidentalis-Stamp Act Sycamores-Little Tree Book-Princeton

On Saturday afternoon, we gather for one of the long traditions for reunions weekend, the annual P-rade.  Keeping in mind that some 25,000 people arrive on campus for the weekend, it’s a very long procession, beginning with the oldest alum from the 1940s, now driven in golf carts, to the youngest.  And yes, that is my husband doing the back and forth ‘locomotive’ cheer, which he loves. He played hockey more than 55 years ago for Princeton (while getting his Economics degree). I hear they had skates then…..

After the P-rade winds up on the athletic field, we walk towards Nassau Street heading back to our digs for a nap before dinner.  Look at this chestnut (Castanea sp.) in front of the spectacular Lewis-Sigler Institute (and Carl Icahn Lab) for Integrative Genomics (architect Rafael Viñoly).

Castanea-Chestnut-Lewis-Sigler Institute for Integrative Genomics-

I see an elegant katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) against the Moffett Lab.

Cercidiphyllum japonicum-Katusra-Moffett Lab-Princeton (2)

And I’ve been sampling ripe serviceberries (Amelanchier sp.) all weekend outside our own reunion tent, so I test a few from this big shrub growing in front of the Frist Campus Center.

Amelanchier-Serviceberry-Frist Campus Center-Princeton

And another little taste of Reunions are the spectacular Saturday night fireworks. This is what I saw from the Boathouse on Lake Carnegie – my video being the 4 minute condensation of what was at least a 15-minute show.

On our final morning in Princeton, our kind hostess (and my husband’s lovely cousin) Rachel Gray Studebaker drives me to the Princeton Graduate College, with its enclosed garden designed in 1913-14 by Beatrix Farrand.  I was determined to try to get here before our flight home after reading the cover story on Farrand in her Princeton magazine.

Beatrix-Farrand-Princeton Magazine

And I am not disappointed. It is stunning….

Princeton Graduate College-Beatrix Farrand (1)

…and blessedly empty after the reunion celebrants have departed.  Though the plants have been updated since her 30-year tenure here as Consulting Landscape Architect from 1915 to the mid-1940s, the sense of formal sanctuary is still very much hers.  (Here’s a reprint of an article she wrote for the Princeton Alumni Weekly.)

Princeton Graduate College-Beatrix Farrand (2)

We return to Rachel’s house via Mercer Street past the home at #112 that Albert Einstein lived in from 1935-55, while he was at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies. Now owned by the institute, it is not open to the public (since it houses various academics employed by the Institute) but it is on the Historic Register of Princeton.

Einstein's House-Princeton NJ

While preparing to pack and head back to Toronto, I pass the ‘Lucerna’ begonia in Rachel’s kitchen that is fondly referred to as “Einstein’s begonia”. Cuttings of it have been passed from hand to hand in Princeton since he grew it himself in the house on Mercer Street and our cousin, who worked as assistant to the Director of the Institute for Advanced Study for many years, is the proud recipient of this one.

Einstein's begonia-Princeton

And another lovely Princeton reunion, replete with trees, gardens and famous begonias, comes to an end.