Hiking With Friends

I’m heading off the beaten path in this blog with a personal memoir, a little gift to good friends – but you can come along too, if you like. A few weeks ago, we hiked at a favourite location, the Torrance Barrens in the Lake Muskoka region. It’s a place I visit regularly and blog about, too – and indeed, it’s a spot my hiking gang has visited a few times before, using our cottage as lodging. What’s significant, for me, is that this year’s walk represented the 25th year my husband and I set aside a weekend in autumn to hike with the group. For it was October 1993 when we were invited “in” and posed, below, near the famous Bruce Trail in Beaver Valley, Ontario – a suitable christening for a pair of novice hikers (I’m in the hat, he’s in the yellow jacket) as we slogged through forest and field in cold, pouring rain.

1993-Beaver Valley-hikers

The Bruce Trail has been our favourite hiking venue, and we’ve slowly bitten off chunks of its 890 kilometre (553 mile) length,

Bruce Trail

… all the way from the spectacular Lion’s Head Provincial Park up on the Bruce Peninsula overlooking Georgian Bay way back in 1994….

1994-Lion's Head Provincial Park

….where we took turns posing on the rugged Amabel dolostone (limestone) cliffs high above the water – capstone that was the bottom of a shallow limestone sea some 420 million years ago…

1994-Lion's Head-limestone cliffs

…..and ate our picnic lunch, as was our custom, on the rocks overlooking the water……


…. to the Niagara Gorge at its south end, in 1995.

1995-The Niagara Gorge

In 1996, we ventured off the Bruce Trail and headed to Pelee Island for the weekend. Later, as Lake Erie waves crashed onto shore, we strolled the sand at Point Pelee, Canada’s most southerly point of land.

1996-Point Pelee-Hiking

1998 saw us head east to ‘the County’, i.e. Prince Edward County and Picton, Ontario – just emerging then as the choice destination it has become since then. There we found a particularly picturesque bed & breakfast called The Apple Basket Inn (sadly no longer there)….

1998-Apple Basket-Inn-Picton

…. and lovely scenery nearby, including actual apple baskets at Hughes’ Orchards!

1998-Hughes' Orchard-Picton

2004 was a special year, when we hiked the tropical hills of Mustique in the Caribbean, courtesy of John & Anne. This is the view of Britannia Bay….

2004-Mustique-Brittania Bay

….. and this is the view of Bryan Adam’s house!  (Honestly, we did hike….)

2004-Mustique-Bryan Adam's House

In 2006, we were back on the Bruce Trail over the forks of the Credit River in Caledon….

2006-Caledon-Forks of the Credit River

…. where the group posed for my camera.

2006-Hiking Group-Forks of Credit

The year 2007 saw us beginning our Saturday hike under a rainbow in Collingwood…..


….before hiking the Bruce Trail in the Owen Sound area.  It rained that year, as we slogged our way through a carpet of sugar maple leaves in Sydenham Forest.

2007-Sydenham Forest-hikers-Bruce Trail

The glacial potholes in the Sydenham forest were so fascinating, created from the action of glacial melt-water roughly 12,000 years ago, their damp walls home to maidenhair and provincially rare hart’s tongue ferns.

2007-Glacial Pothole-Sydenham forest-Bruce Trail

The most spectacular sight was Inglis Falls, which was the site of an 1840s grist mill.

2007-Inglis Falls-Bruce Trail

Looking back at our picnic lunch in the rain that day, I recall that we were not going to let the rigors of the hike derail our South Beach diet!


In 2008, we again hosted the hikers at Lake Muskoka where I’d asked Orillia naturalist and mycologist Bob Bowles (navy cap) to give us a walking seminar on mushrooms.

2008-Mushroom Lessons-Lake-Muskoka-Bob Bowles

Though the forest floor on our peninsula was laden with maple and beech leaves by that point in October, we were able to key 29 species of mushrooms.

2008-Lake Muskoka-Page's Point-Beech Bracket Fungus

We also hiked the Torrance Barrens that year, where the blueberry bushes were bright red and the paper birch skeletons shimmering white.

2008-Torrance Barrens-beaver pond

We eased into our 2009 hiking weekend in Prince Edward County with a wine-tasting personally conducted by Norman Hardie at his renowned vineyard.

2009-Norman Hardie-Wine-tasting

We all enjoyed a sip — best be prepared ahead of a hiking trip!

2009-Wine-Tasting-Norman Hardie Wines

The next day, when we hiked the soaring dunes of Sandbanks Provincial Park….

2009-Sandbanks Provincial Park

….. where some found time to wade in the waters of Lake Ontario…..

2009-Sandbanks Provincial Park-hikers

… I did a little botanizing, and  was thrilled to see fringed gentians (Gentianopsis crinita) in flower.

2009-Gentianopsis crinita-Fringed gentian-Sandbanks

In 2010, we headed back to Niagara, but this time we walked about 10 kilometres (6 miles) of the Niagara River Parkway…..

2010-Niagara River Parkway

….where the view of the river was spectacular…..

2010-Niagara River

….before getting into our cars (ah, the magic of the pre-parked cars!) and driving to Ravine Vineyard for lunch.

2010-Niagara Ravine Vineyard

In 2012, we hiked near Susan’s beautiful farm…..


….. where we sat for a group photo (again, of most of us, but not quite all).


As with many of our hikes, we enjoyed brilliant fall colour – here of Susan’s gorgeous paper birch…..

2012-Paper Birch-Betula papyrifera-fall colour

In 2014, we bunked in at Anne and Bob’s in Collingwood, and headed out on the Kolapore trail, which Bob helps maintain.

2014-Kolapore sign

Though it sometimes feels like a dark cathedral of trees as we hike amidst thousands of slender trunks of sugar maple, beech and birch….

2014-Kolapore hiking

…. it’s good to look up occasionally, and see fall-coloured leaves fluttering against the autumn sky.


The trail that year was muddy in places – there was the odd little spill…..


The vegetation was wonderful: here are hart’s tongue ferns (Asplenium scolapendrium), quite rare in the region.

2014-harts-tongue ferns-Asplenium scolopendrium

Though non-native, it’s always a treat to see watercress (Nasturtium officinale) in a clean, moving stream.


In 2015, eight of us decided to pack our bags and head to a different kind of forest for our autumn hike: a rain forest. In Costa Rica!

2015-Beach Trail sign-El Remanso Lodge-Osa Peninsula-Costa Rica

And do you know how mother nature makes a rain forest? That’s right…….

Let’s just say our hiking attire was a little lighter than normal, given the almost total humidity and warm temperatures.

2015-Felix-Long Hike-El Remanso

Five of us did the zip-line through the jungle. I chickened out but served as the documentary photographer.


(I wrote  a special blog about El Remanso Lodge on the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, if you want to read a little more.)

In 2016, we hiked the Mad River Side Trail near Glen Huron, Ontario. The colours were spectacular.


Here’s a video I made of that lovely hike along the Mad River.

When we arrived at the base of the Devil’s Glen Ski Club to have lunch, I made a group shot, (well, most of us and one guest – a few had wandered away) and just managed to get myself back into the frame before the shutter clicked.

2016-Hiking Group-Devils Glen

Heading back to our lodging, we stopped at an apple stand and stocked up on Northern Spy apples, my favourite for pies and crisps.

2016-Spy Apples-Glen Huron

Which brings me to this year, the 25th edition of our hike, when we once again met in Muskoka and walked the beautiful Torrance Barrens.  We marvelled at the fluffy white clouds reflected in Highland Pond….

2017-Highland-Pond-Clouds-Torrance Barrens

…and noted the tamaracks (Larix laricina) at the water’s edge.

2017-Pine-Sumac-Tamarack-Torrance Barrens

Bob pointed out aspects of geology, as in ‘this is gneiss, not pure granite’.


We walked past my favourite paper birch….

2017-Paper birch-Torrance Barrens

…..and saw the fluffy cotton grass (Eriophorum vaginatum) flanking the bog.


The little bridge over the small pond is sinking in the middle and necessitated a ‘one-at-a-time’ rule.


It’s always fun to stop and look at the erratic boulder left behind when the ice retreated, and it appears that Alex Tilley, founder of Tilley Hats, agreed. This little interpretive sign was paid for by Tilley, whom I’ve seen hiking the Barrens.

2017-Erratic-Precambrian Shield-Torrance Barrens

With so much rain this summer and autumn, many parts of the path were waterlogged and Bob (the veteran trail groomer) pointed out drier spots to navigate.

2017-Water on trail-Torrance Barrensl

We crossed Southwood Road and finished our hike in the deeper soil of a forest….

2017-Hikers-in-oaks-Torrance Barrens

….featuring bracken ferns and beautiful red oaks.

2017-Red Oak-Torrance Barrens

A tiny red-bellied snake (Storeria occipitomaculata) was on the path (it’s only my lens that makes it look huge) – one of many reptiles I’ve photographed in the Barrens over the years.

2017-Red-bellied snake-Torrance Barrens

And at the end of the trail, we posed for our traditional photo (minus four who couldn’t be with us this year).  Over a quarter-century, we’ve seen our children grow up, marry, change jobs, and have their own kids. We’ve talked about books, theatre, food, health and travel to faraway places. We’ve lost spouses or partners, and felt the comfort of the friends who knew them well. And we’ve welcomed new partners to the group and made them feel welcome and loved. It is a simple thing to do, walking a trail, and it reminds us that we need nature – and the company of friends – to live full lives.

2017-Hiking Group-Torrance Barrens


In memory of Murray, Tim and Jim.

A Visit to Idaho Botanical Garden

Before the bloom is off the rose, I’d like to take you on a tour of the Idaho Botanical Garden. This has been sitting in my to-do pile for a year, the delightful culmination of a trip we made to the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone National Park and Sun Valley, Idaho last September. That morning, we’d driven down from Sun Valley, elevation 5945 feet, with its ski runs visible, below…..

Sun Valley Idaho-summer

….to Boise, 2730 feet.The late summer scenery on the 160-mile drive down was at first sage-dominated high rangeland (ecologically termed “sagebrush steppe”) flanking the Sawtooth National Forest….

Rangeland-Sawtooth National Forest

….and later, as we descended towards Highway 84 near Mountain Home, Idaho, gold and green farm grasses and picturesque grain silos against a backdrop of the indigo-shaded mountains of the Sawtooth Range.

Grain silo-Sawtooth Range-Idaho

How I would love to have been on this road in spring – an entire camas prairie!

Camas Prairie-Centennial Marsh

After making the turn onto Highway 84, we headed northwest into Boise where I had arranged to meet my garden writing colleague Mary Ann Newcomer, author and host of Dirt Diva on Boise radio. (If you’ve got a few minutes, listen to this excellent interview with her on North State Public Radio.) She kindly picked us up at our hotel after lunch and chauffeured us to the botanical garden where she spent 10 years as a board member and continues her relationship today as the garden updates certain sections.

Janet Davis & Mary-Ann Newcomer (2)

We entered via the newly-installed, Franz Witte-designed Entrance Garden.

Entrance garden-Idaho Botanical Garden-Boise

Coming in we passed a display of annuals that was as beautifully-maintained as it was colourful!

Annuals - Idaho Botanical Garden

There was a wedding reception going on in the English garden when we arrived, but we asked permission to sneak in.

English garden terrace-Idaho Botanical

Mary Ann continues to be particularly involved in the English garden, now undergoing a design update to accommodate the increased shade of trees that were tiny sticks when installed years ago, like the lovely katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum) below…

Katsura tree-Idaho Botanical

I liked the unobtrusive shrub support for this clematis.

Clematis-English Garden-Idaho Botanical

Iron gates created a lovely flow through this garden.

Gate-English garden-Idaho Botanical

Late summer perennials, shrubs and grasses were in their glory, like the blue mist bush (Caryopteris x clandonensis) with feather reed grass (Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’) below.

Caryopteris & Calamagrostis-Idaho Botanical Garden

There were some sweet surprises, too, like this miniature pumpkin vine climbing the upright stems of fernleaf elderberry (Sambucus canadensis ‘Laciniata’).

Fernleaf elderberry & pumpkin vine-Idaho Botanical

We were chatting so much, I didn’t pay close attention to our meander into other areas, including the Rose Garden. Looking up through rose blossoms at a former prison watchtower, this is when you understand that the Idaho Botanical Garden is situated on the former site of the Idaho Penitentiary.  And though all the buildings now house botanical garden administration offices, etc., it’s a remarkable use of historic property.

Watchtower-Idaho Botanical

We passed some fun metal sculptures.

Sculptures-Idaho Botanical Garden

I loved this little inset border of colourful annuals beside the Meditation Garden.

Meditation garden-Idaho Botanical

In the Children’s Garden was a fabulous display of carnivorous plants. What a great teaching opportunity this is. (And yes, that’s native annual sunflower behind!)

Carnivorous plants-Children's Adventure Garden-Idaho Botanical Garden

And this looked like great fun for kids.

Children's Adventure-Garden-Idaho Botanical

For this high desert climate (Boise is classified as USDA Zone 7, but frequent, sustained winter lows have persuaded Mary Ann that it’s safer to buy plants for Zone 5), Idaho Botanical Garden features an important garden, the Plant Select® Demonstration Garden.  Based on a program developed by Denver Botanic Garden and Colorado State University, these are plants that are adapted to Boise’s hot, dry summers.  I loved this combination of Bouteloua gracilis ‘Blonde Ambition’ and Wright’s buckwheat (Eriogonum wrightii var. wrightii).

Bouteloua 'Blonde Ambition' & Eriogonum wrightii var. wrightii-Idaho Botanical

And this little firecracker has become a new “it” plant: ‘Marian Sampson’ hummingbird mint (Monardella macrantha).

Monardella macrantha 'Marian Sampson'-Plant Select

What about this gorgeous Mojave sage, Salvia pachyphylla?

Salvia pachyphylla-Mountain Desesrt Sage-Idaho Botanical

As we left the Plant Select® garden, I stopped to admire a little sagebrush lizard.

Sagebrush Lizard-Idaho Botanical Garden

We passed by the beautiful Herb Garden….

Herb Garden-Idaho Botanical

…. but stopped for a bit in the Vegetable Garden.

Vegetable garden-Idaho Botanical

Check out the cages on those berries! That’s the way to outsmart birds and rodents.

Vegetable garden-protective cages-Idaho Botanical

You can grow grapes in the high desert!

Grapes-Idaho Botanical

Then it was on to the Summer Succulent Garden.

Summer Succulent Garden-Idaho Botanical

I could have spent a lot of time studying the various opuntias and cylindropuntias…..Summer Succulent Garden-Cactus-Idaho Botanical

But we were heading up to another of Mary Ann’s favourite areas: the Lewis & Clark Native Garden. The garden celebrates a score of native plants, including many that were recorded for the first time by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their Corps of Discovery during their President Thomas Jefferson-commissioned 1803-05 expedition west through the Louisiana Territory to the Pacific.


For me, this fabulous garden represents what botanical gardens should be doing everywhere: celebrating locally indigenous plants according to their geographical and ecological niches, and showing visitors the rich diversity of flora native to their region. Here the stone marker is appropriately flanked with snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), a plant observed by Lewis near Missoula, Montana on August 13, 1805.

Lewis & Clark Native Plant Garden-snowberry-Idaho Botanical

I saw plants I’d never heard of before on this path, like fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium), with its big, bee-friendly panicles……

Fernbush-Chamaebatiaria millefolium

…..  and cascara buckthorn (Rhamnus purshiana), whose dried bark was used as a laxative by the Native Americans of the Pacific northwest, then by colonialists. (I even recall cascara being in medicine cabinets when I was a girl!)

Rhamnus purshiana-Cascara buckthorn

In the Western Waterwise Garden…..

Western Waterwise Garden-Idaho Botanical

….. I found beautiful creeping hummingbird trumpet (Zauschneria garrettii ‘Orange Carpet’)….

Zauschneria garrettii 'Orange Carpet'

In the Wetlands Garden….

Wetlands Garden-Idaho-Botanical

…. there was familiar Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)….

Mahonia aquefolium-Oregon grape

…. and unfamiliar black or Douglas hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii), ultimately named for David Douglas, who later collected the seed in his explorations of the west….

Crataegus douglasii-Douglas hawthorn

…. and lovely streambank wild hollyhock (Iliamnia rivularis).

Iliamna rivularis-Streambank wild hollyhock-Idaho Botanical

Then I was exploring Plants of the Canyons. I loved this creative way of showing off Idaho natives!

Plants of the Canyons-Idaho Botanical

Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) was collected by Lewis & Clark on June 15, 1806, on the Lolo Trail in Idaho’s Bitterroot Mountains. Clearly, young plants are a favourite of hungry herbivores up here!

Xerophyllum tenax-beargrass-Lewis & Clark-Idaho Botanical

Here is beautiful western columbine (Aquilegia formosa), recorded by the explorers the very next day, June 16th.

Aquilegia formosa-western columbine

Nine days later, on June 25, 1806, they found scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata) on the Lolo Trail.

Ipomopsis aggregata-Scarlet gilia-Lewis & Clark-Idaho Botanical

Look at the beautiful markings of scarlet gilia, which show stripes typical of the colour shift that occurs in some populations of this species later in the season.  According to the USDA: “Red-flowered races of scarlet gilia tend to be pollinated mostly by hummingbirds, which are especially attracted to the color red because of their outstanding vision. White flowers are more attractive to moths that visit the gilia flowers at dusk or nighttime and are drawn by the flower’s unpleasant scent. Scarlet gilia blooms over much of the summer and in some populations blossoms that emerge from May to July are red and hummingbird pollinated, while flowers that mature later in July and August are white and pollinated by moths. This color shift can even be observed among different flowers on the same plant.

Ipomopsis aggregata-closeup-Scarlet gilia

To treat his fever and intestinal condition, Lewis made a dark tea of chokecherry bark (Prunus virginiana), shown in fruit below, collected May 29, 1806 near present day Kamiah, Idaho.

Prunus virginiana-Chokecherry-Lewis & Clark

Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) was noted on the same day.

Holodiscus discolor-Oceanspray-Lewis & Clark-Idaho Botanical

Nootka rose (R. nutkana) had already formed hips. It was observed in flower on the Wieppe Prairie by Lewis & Clark on June 10, 1806.

Rosa nutkana-Nootka rose-hips-Lewis & Clark

In the grasses grew annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus), so elegant and simple – unlike the big, multi-coloured forms produced by hybridizers over the past two centuries. Its height was impressive to Sgt. John Ordway, who referred to it as “weedy” on August 13, 1804. He wrote: “we crossed the North branch and proceded along the South branch which was verry fatigueing for the high Grass Sunflowers & thistles &C all of which were above 10 feet high


Annual great blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata) was observed by the expedition in what is now Lewis & Clark County (Helena), Montana, on July 7, 1806.

Gaillardia aristata-Great blanketflower-Lewis & Clark

On February 2, 1806, the Lewis & Clark expedition was at Fort Clatsop, Oregon, when blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) was collected.

Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea-Blue elderberry-Lewis & Clark

Prickly pear (Opuntia polyacantha) was observed on September 19, 1804 in Lower Butte, South Dakota, but its effects were regularly felt by the Corps of Discovery. Wrote Clark: “… as the thorns very readily perce the foot through the Mockerson; they are so numerous that it requires one half the traveler’s attention to avoid them.”

Opuntia polyacantha-Prickly pear-Lewis & Clark

Ponderosa pine, of course, is the predominant conifer in this region. When Clark was preparing to navigate the Columbia River in the fall of 1805 and his men were ill and weak, he felled ponderosas and hollowed them out by burning so they could serve as canoes. The seeds are edible, and the pitch from the tree could be used to waterproof the canoes, but it was also used as chewing gum and as a glue to fix arrowheads to the shafts.

Pinus ponderosa-Lewis & Clark

I finally reached the top and saw a small garden devoted to Sacajawea (c. 1787-1812). As a child in the Shoshone nation, she had been kidnapped and raised by the Haditsa tribe before being sold in 1804 to French-Canadian fur trapper Toussaint Charbonneau.  However unsavory her husband (nine years earlier, he had been stabbed by an old Saultier woman in Manitoba for raping her daughter, and he was already married to a Shoshone when he married Sacajawea), Clark valued Sacajawea immensely for her knowledge of the Shoshone language and arranged for her, Charbonneau (who spoke Haditsa) and his other wife, Otter Woman, to accompany the expedition as translators. In February 1805, Sacajawea’s son Jean Baptiste was born on the trail.


Not only did Sacajawea find food for the expedition from the land, including hog peanuts (Amphicarpa bracteata) and Indian breadroot (Pediomelum esculentum), she provided valuable information on the navigability of the Missouri River, in Montana, having recognized it from her childhood with the Shoshone. On August 17, 1805, Clark  watched as she was reunited with her brother Cameahwait, the Shoshone chief.  She and Otter woman then translated communications from the Shoshone to the Haditsa language, which Charbonneau was then able to translate into English for Clark and Lewis. After the gruelling 3-week trek through the Bitterroot Mountains they finally reached a tributary of the Columbia River.  The painting below by famed Montana artist Charles Marian Russell was made in 1905, exactly 100 years later, titled “Lewis & Clark on the Lower Columbia”, and shows Sacajawea gesturing to unidentified Indians of a West Coast tribe.Charles Marion Russell-1905-Lewis & Clark on the Lower Columbia

In early winter, Clark and Lewis reached the Pacific Ocean. When a trip was arranged to procure whale meat, Clark wrote of Sacajawea: “She observed that She had traveled a long way with us to See the great waters, and that now that monstrous fish was also to be Seen, She thought it verry hard that She Could not be permitted to See either (She had never yet been to the Ocian).”  She and Charbonneau were allowed to go. They began the return trip in late spring, Jean Baptiste, and the Charbonneau family stayed with the expedition until August, 1806, when Clark offered to set them up in St. Louis and oversee the education of Jean Baptiste, whom he had nicknamed “Pompey”, his version of the Shoshone word for “firstborn”.  Though Charbonneau refused initially, in September 1809 he bought land from Clark and tried his hand at farming for 18 months, before quitting and departing with Sacajawea, leaving behind their 5-year old son to be raised by Clark. Sacajawea would die of typhus a few years later, four months after giving birth to their daughter Lisette. Eventually, the guardianship of both children would be transferred to Clark.

Sacajawea-sign-Idaho Botanical

It would have been wonderful to visit Sacajawea’s garden in spring, when the camas is in bloom.

Camassia quamash-Camas lily

As it was, I had to content myself with enjoying this sculpture by Rusty Talbot called Camas Lily/Sacajawea.


Standing at the Promontory, I was able to look down at the old prison buildings below through two more common sage steppe plants mentioned by Lewis & Clark, green rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus) with yellow flowers in the foreground, and rubber rabbitbrush or chamisa (Ericameria nauseosa) with glaucous leaves beyond.

Promontory view-Idaho Botanical

I could have dallied for hours more, but it was time to make the trek back down. Thank you, Mary Ann Newcomer, for introducing me to your special garden. I learned so much!

Wanuskewin – Finding Peace of Mind

For thousands of years, the Plains Cree peoples called the place I was born Kaminasaskwatominaskwak, “the place where many saskatoon berry bushes grow”. It was named for the native shrub Amelanchier alnifolia, below, found throughout the Canadian prairies and called “misaskwatomin” by the Cree, for whom saskatoon berries were essential to their diet and often incorporated into the protein-rich meat-fat mixture (traditionally made with bison) called “pemmican”. My birth certificate says I was born in Saskatoon – a less tongue-twisting word for non-natives, beginning with English fur trader Henry Kelsey, the first European to arrive in the area in 1690.

Amelanchier alnifolia-Saskatoon berry

My parents left Saskatchewan for Victoria, British Columbia when I was just 6 weeks old, so I never really gave much thought to the etymology of my home town’s name. When I was a little girl, my dad called our summer vacations to my Irish-born grandpa’s house in Saskatoon trips to “Saskabush” – and it would be decades before I knew there really was a ‘bush’ there, a special bush with a cloud of white flowers in spring and succulent reddish-blue summer fruit.

Saskatoonberry-Amelanchier alnifolia

If, as some philosophers believe, your birthplace imprints itself in your subconscious, I suppose it’s no surprise that I have always been drawn to prairie, whether the tallgrass of the American Central Plains or our own mixed-grass Northern Plains. So when I was in Saskatoon earlier in September for a family funeral, I paid two visits to Wanuskewin Heritage Park. The last time I saw it was the last time I was in Saskatoon in 1996, 4 years after its opening. It has evidently weathered some institutional gales in its 25 years, but has found smoother seas now and is the recent recipient of generous funding that will see its facilities improved and its mandate increased. It has also applied for UNESCO designation.

This is farming country and Wanuskewin is in the midst of it.

Google earth-Wanuskewin

Across the road from the park is a wheat field and, in the distance, the big grain elevators of Richardson Pioneer Ltd.

Wheatfield near Wanuskewin

Though Wanuskewin boasts myriad pre-contact archaeological sites representing 6000 years of Plains First Nations occupation, the land is not virgin prairie. In the early 1900s, it was homesteaded by the Penner family, whose name is still on the road sign nearby. They sold it in 1934 to the Vitkowski family, who farmed parts of it for almost a half-century before selling it in 1982 to the City of Saskatoon, which three years earlier had commissioned a 100-year master plan for the Meewasin Valley Authority (MVA) from Toronto architect Raymond Moriyama.  Saskatoon transferred it to the MVA the following year and it was named a Provincial Heritage Property.   In 1987, Queen Elizabeth visited Wanuskewin, designating it a National Historic Site; the interpretive centre and trails were opened in 1992.  It is working now to fulfil the necessary criteria to receive the UNESCO World Heritage designation.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Wanuskewin is Cree for “seeking peace of mind” and it was with this gentle objective on my first visit that I drove my rental car down the driveway to the entrance.


I walked around the handsome Visitors’ Centre, a “Northern Plains Indians cultural interpretive centre” covering the seven First Nations in this part of Saskatchewan. I saw displays of clothing on the wall,…..

Plains Indians-clothing-Wanuskewin

…a display case explaining the relationship of spring-flowering prairie crocus (Anemone patens) or “mostos otci” to the bison in First Nations natural history.

Mostos otci-Prairie crocus-Anemone patens-Wanuskewin

A tipi had been set up in the presentation lounge, just one of many interpretive programs, lessons and tours offered at Wanuskewin.

Tipi-Wanuskewin Visitors Centre

There was an impressive gathering of iconic bison nearby.  A little boy visiting felt a tail and declared it “so soft!”

Bison-Wanuskewin Visitors Centre

I read that a small bison herd is going to be returning to Wanuskewin soon – and are invoked in the park’s recent $40 million fundraising initiative #thunderingahead. Having been to the Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in the Osage Nation of northeast Oklahoma a decade ago, I know the powerful symbolism of these magnificent beasts, especially to the indigenous peoples whose ancestors co-existed with them, venerating them as they harvested them for food, shelter and clothing. The bison below, part of an introduced herd of 2500, was standing in big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), one of the keystone species of tallgrass prairie.

Bison-Oklahoma Tallgrass Prairie-Nature Conservancy

Wanuskewin’s reintroduced bison, on the other hand, will ultimately find a diet of mixed native prairie grasses (many newly introduced to meet the animals’ needs) and a few invasive interlopers, like smooth brome grass (Bromus inermis). They will find 240 hectares (600 acres) of plains and valley hugging the west bank of the winding South Saskatchewan River, about 5 kilometres north of Saskatoon. And they will share the prairie with hundreds of thousands of visitors each year who, like me, set out on a trek of discovery.

Wanueskewin Trail Map

Out I went into the late summer prairie heat, taking a trail that led past the recreation of an ancient buffalo pound once located at this spot….

Buffalo pound-Wanuskewin

……down into the valley to the Tipi Village in a grove of trembling aspens..


I carried on up the hill behind the tipis, passing a few vivid painted reminders of the Plains people who might have camped here at one time…..


…… or planted crops and gathered grain.

Gathering food-Wanuskewin

From the top of the hill, I looked back at the Visitors’ Centre. Designed by the architecture farm aodbt, Its roof peaks are intended to suggest tipis.

Wanuskewin-Visitors' Centre-Roof peaks

And up here, I had my first glimpse of one of the distinctive plants of the Central Plains: wolf willow (Eleaegnus commutata).  Some people call this suckering shrub ‘silverberry’ for the fruit that follows the small, fragrant, yellow flowers.  It feeds grouse and songbirds, but it has also fed the imagination of artists and writers.

Elaeagnus commutata-Wolf willow

I am currently reading Wallace Stegner’s classic Wolf Willow (1955), centred on the Tom Sawyer-like years of his childhood spent in the town of Whitemud (Eastend) in Saskatchewan’s western Cypress Hills where his parents had a small home in the village and homesteaded a 320-acre wheat farm near the Montana border. I love Stegner’s thoughtful prose (he became head of the Creative Writing department at Stanford and a respected author of books about the American west) and while the multi-faceted literary approach he uses in Wolf Willow in exploring his own evolution as a person is brilliant and has generated a trove of critical analysis, what he failed to find in digging into his past — though he traces the history of the Métis masterfully — is what Wanuskewin is all about. It is here to tell a great story about the people Stegner barely noticed, other than the little Métis boys he played with, the people who can trace their lineage on the prairie for thousands of years before Europeans arrived to raise cattle and grow wheat.

From the high vantage point, I gazed down onto Opimihaw Creek through a leafy bouquet of Saskatoon berry already taking on its tired autumn hues of rose and gold. Flowing through the valley from the mighty South Saskatchewan river nearby, Opimihaw has given sustenance to this place and its people and wildlife for millennia.

Opimihaw Creek -Wanuskewin

As I walked along the rise, I saw lichen-spangled rocks nestled in the tawny prairie grasses like sculpture.

Rocks with lichen-Wanuskewin

Rock, of course, was an essential part of life for Plains Indians, who used basalt, granite and schist to fashion the implements that have been found in archaeological digs at Wanuskewin and nearby, as shown in these donated artifacts in the Visitors’ Centre.

Rock tools-Wanuskewin

I climbed back down into the valley, surprising a great blue heron that had been fishing in the creek.

Great Blue Heron-Wanuskewin

I looked up and saw robins conferring noisily in the branches of a dead tree.


In the damp valley near the creek were sandbar willow (Salix interior)…..

Sandbar Willow-Salix interior-Wanuskewin

….. and snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) which is one of the dominant shrubs at Wanuskewin in both damp and dry places.

Symphoricarpos albus-Snowberry-Wanuskewin

There were lots of rose hips; these are likely from Rosa acicularis, but low prairie rose (R. arkansana) and Woods’ rose (R. woodsii) also grow here.

Rose hips-Wanuskewin

I gazed back at the Visitors’ Centre through the changing fall leaves of Manitoba maple or box elder (Acer negundo), one of the principal tree species in the valley….

Acer negundo-Manitoba maple-Wanuskewin

…. and past the crimson fruit of firebelly hawthorn (Crataegus chrysocarpa)…

Crataegus chrysocarpa-Firebelly Hawthorn-Wanuskewin

…. and silver buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea).  Like wolf willow, this shrub is a member of the Oleaster family, Elaeagnaceae.

Shepherdia argentea-Buffalo-berry-Wanuskewin

The Saskatchewan prairie, like the rest of North America, has not escaped the invasion of buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), which was introduced from Europe in the early 19th century.

Rhamnus cathartica-invasive buckthorn-Wanuskewin

I climbed back up the rise onto the dry prairie and looked out through a scrim of fall-coloured shrubs and trees at the South Saskatchewan River flowing away from me.  It flows 1392 kilometres (865 miles), originating at the confluence of the Bow and Oldman Rivers in Alberta with their Rocky Mountain glacial water. It flows under multiple bridges in Saskatoon, beneath Wanuskewin’s tall bluffs and eventually joins with the North Saskatchewan River about 40 miles east of Prince Albert to form the Saskatchewan River.

South Saskatchewan-River view-Wanuskewin

I was now on the ancient Trail of the Bison, and though ‘civilization’ lay just across the river, I marveled at the ‘bigness’ and ’emptiness’ of the prairie behind me.  I turned and looked the other way down the river towards Saskatoon, at the undulating bluffs and the grassy floodplain flats on the shore. South Saskatchewan-River-Bluffs-Wanuskewin

It had been a hot summer and the vegetation was parched, but here and there I saw the odd wildflower, like spotted blazing star (Liatris punctata)….

Liatris punctata-spotted blazing star-Wanuskewin

….and prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera)…

Ratibida columnifera-Prairie coneflower-Wanuskewin

….and tiny rush-pink (Stephanomeria runcinata) with its wiry stems.

Rush-pink-Stephanomeria runcinata-Wanuskewin

I saw the cottony seedheads of long-fruited thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica).

Anemone cylindrica-long-fruited thimbleweed

But it had been a long day, beginning with my 4:30 am wakeup in Toronto, the flight to Saskatoon, and three hours tramping the prairie. I was tiring and ready to head to the hotel. As l made my way down the trail to the Opimihaw Valley and back towards the Visitors’ Centre, I was careful not to step off the path, because those red leaves with the telltale “three leaves let it be” were the prairie variety of poison ivy (Rhus radicans var. rydbergii).

Poison ivy-Rhus radicans var. rydbergii-Wanuskewin

I was sad not to have seen the famous Medicine Wheel, but vowed to try to return after the weekend.  As I was leaving, a staff member came up and told me there was about to be a hoop dance performance. I met young Lawrence Roy Jr., below, in the Visitors’ Centre lobby and decided to head out to the amphitheatre to watch him.

Lawrence Roy Jr-hoop dancer-Wanuskewin

This is my video of Lawrence’s performance (with a little wind interference – it’s hard to capture sound at Wanuskewin without the relentless wind):

And then it was back to the hotel and family.

Monday September 11, 2017:

When I returned to Wanuskewin, the wind was whipping the prairie so fiercely, I put my sun hat back in the car for fear it would fly away.  Fortunately, it wasn’t sunny as I set out on the Circle of Harmony trail towards the Medicine Wheel. What you cannot appreciate from the photo below is how that expanse of grass was rippling like a storm-tossed ocean, and the sound of it was violent and thrilling at the same time. (If you read my blog to the end, you can view a video I made to try to capture the rhythmic movement of the grasses.)

Circle of Harmony Trail-Wanuskewin

As I walked along a steep embankment with a spectacular view of the Opimihaw Valley (sometimes spelled Opamihaw) and the high point opposite where I’d stood a few days earlier overlooking the river, I realized I was standing on the site of the ancient buffalo jump.

Buffalo Jump-Opimihaw Valley-Wanuskewin

Can you imagine, some 2300 years ago, being somewhere nearby as young ‘buffalo runners’, who had channelled herds of these massive animals along ‘drive lines’ of rocks and brush (the driveway into Wanuskewin is situated on the drive line), often for a mile or more, aiming the terrified animals at this cliff where they stampeded them over its edge into the valley?  Other members of the band waited in a clearing below to kill those bison that had not died in the crush of the fall, before skinning them to utilize the hide, meat and bones. Life at Wanuskewin revolved around the bison.

Buffalo Jump-interpretive sign-Wanuskewin

Before long, I came upon the ancient Sunburn Tipi Rings site, with its magnificent 360-degree views.

Sunburn Tipi Rings-Wanuskewin

As the interpretive sign says, it was an excellent place for a summer encampment, its position on the plateau offering cooling winds in summer and a commanding view of the river.

Sunburn Tipi Rings-Interpretive Sign-Wanuskewin

Not far away was the Medicine Wheel, arguably the most important archaeological find at Wanuskewin. This arrangement of boulders has been dated to more than 1500 B.P. and is one of just 70 documented medicine wheels in the northern U.S. and southern Canada (and considered to be the most northerly wheel in existence).

Medicine Wheel-Wanuskewin

Each  is different, some with a single hoop arrangement of boulders; others with a double hoop or spokes emanating from the centre. Some refer to astronomy (like Wyoming’s Medicine Mountain wheel which measures the 28 days of the lunar cycle); others attach different symbolic meaning to the four directional quadrants. Wanuskewin’s Medicine Wheel, whose boulders (below) were mapped c. 1964 , is still used for sacred ceremonial gatherings.

Medicine Wheel-Detail-Wanuskewin

Wanuskewin has benefited from the work of Saskatoon archaeologist Dr. Ernie Walker, who has supervised digs here since the early 1980s.

I decided to walk down the trail to the valley, through the aspen forest and along the river. Damning of the South Saskatchewan over the decades has lowered the water level, so that some of the sandbars are now permanent.

Sandbar-South Saskatchewan River-Wanuskewin

With my telephoto lens I could see the wind-whipped whitecaps as the river curved under the bluffs.


The view of the Visitors’ Centre from the valley was spectacular. I realized I was hungry, and decided it was time to head back there again.

Wanuskewin-Visitors Centre

I was windswept, sunburnt and happy – time for a photo to remember the mood! And I was very ready for some lunch!

Janet Davis-Wanuskewin

As I approached the centre, I decided to pay a visit to the adjacent 7 Sisters Garden.

Wanuskewin-7 Sisters Garden

An interpretive display in the centre explains the identity of the seven sisters….

7 Sisters-Wanuskewin

….which I’ve arranged in a montage below. Clockwise from upper left, 1) sunroot (Jerusalem artichoke); 2) corn; 3) beans; 4) tobacco; 5) sunflower; 6) squash; and 7) as the young woman in the centre said to me: “Us!”  (I’ve taken the liberty of using the painted figure near the Tipi Village to illustrate ‘Us!’.)

Seven Sisters-Wanuskewin

Out in the garden itself, I was interested in the traditional 3 Sisters method of planting: using a combination of dent corn, beans and squash.  Given its modern iteration, the heat and drought meant that a sprinkler was watering the tall corn. Goldfinches darted from sunflower to sunflower, eating the seeds that had started to ripen.

Three Sisters-Corn-Beans-Squash-Wanuskewin

Cornstalk as a bean trellis! Isn’t this a wonderful idea?

Beans climbing cornstalk-3 Sisters gardening-Wanuskewin

Inside, I ate a delicious lunch of chicken & rice soup with bannock and a steaming cup of Saskatoon berry tea.


As I finished, I heard jingling bells and walked to the presentation lounge to watch T.J. Warren, originally from Arizona’s Diné nation, now working as an ambassador for First Nations culture in Saskatoon, perform a traditional Prairie Chicken Dance.

T.J. Warren-Wanuskewin

This is the video I made of T.J. dancing and talking about the components of his regalia.

And, finally, this is my video incorporating elements of both days at Wanuskewin. I hope that if you visit Saskatoon, you will find the time to walk its plains and valley. I promise it will bring you ‘peace of mind’.

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”.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.”


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!


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.


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.


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).


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.


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….


…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


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.” 


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


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


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.


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.


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.)


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.


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