Sunday, May 30, 2010


On Saturday, we visited Hillwood Estate in NW DC (near the zoo and National Cathedral). Definitely a lesser known attraction, but worth the visit. The house is a museum and the grounds were beautifully maintained. Better yet, there was the option for self-guided tours, so we could take our time.

All quotes are from:
"Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973), heir to the Post cereal fortune, was the founder of Hillwood Museum and Gardens - her former twenty-five acre estate in Washington, DC. In 1955 she bought the Hillwood estate to serve both as her residence and as a future museum. On her death in 1973, Mrs. Post’s final and most important philanthropic gesture became reality when Hillwood, her last estate in Washington, DC, was bequeathed to the public as a museum. Her magnificent French and Russian collections remain on view at Hillwood Museum and Gardens, where her legacy of opulent beauty and gracious elegance continues to thrive. "

"The Georgian-style mansion, designed by John Deibert in 1926, was originally built for Mrs. Henry Parsons Erwin. In decorating Hillwood, Marjorie Merriweather Post hired the New York architect Alexander McIlvaine to redesign and expand the old mansion completely so that visitors could view her by-now extensive collection with greater ease. In renovating the mansion and gardens in the 1950s, Mrs. Post was reviving a forty-year-old practice of estate building now known as the American country house tradition. Architectural historian Richard Guy Wilson has described this tradition as one created by wealthy Americans between 1880 and 1930, who, during that period, commissioned large houses for escape and relaxation on relatively limited tracts of land near major urban centers. Such homes were in the country, but remained close enough to cities to afford an easy commute. Indeed, in the 1920s, the property would have been a rural suburb of Washington. "

No pictures were allowed in the house, but the website does have lots of photos of the interiors. So, all my pictures are of the exterior and the gardens. These fun lights lined the paths.

"Marjorie Merriweather Post acquired Hillwood in 1955 and began to create a series of pleasure gardens for her leisure and the entertainment of her guests. The mansion was renovated to provide easy access to the outdoors, with terraces and porches on all sides. The resulting gardens flow from the house, with walks laid out in straight axes to separate the spaces, providing respite and recreation in a tranquil setting. Assisted by prominent landscape architects and garden designers of the time, Mrs. Post conceived of outdoor "rooms" bounded by hedges or large plantings and containing statuary, fountains, and pools as focal points.
Each garden is decidedly private yet connected to adjacent gardens through subtle transitional features. The layout reflects not only the design vocabulary of notable landscape architects, but it also includes the distinctive taste of Marjorie Merriweather Post. The twelve acres of formal gardens and grounds are surrounded by thirteen acres of woodland that are strategically nestled against Rock Creek Park, creating a rural ambiance."

Every where you turn, there was something fun to see.

Amazing 1960s era patio furniture!

The French Parterre:
"Marjorie Merriweather Post commissioned two prominent landscape architects, Umberto Innocenti and Richard Webel, to design and build a garden that would complement her collection of eighteenth-century French furnishings and decorative arts displayed in the French drawing room of the mansion. Innocenti and Webel of Long Island, New York, designed a garden that featured all of the typical elements of an eighteenth-century parterre garden, scaled down to fit into a space already occupied by an enclosed garden with a fish pond."

The formal rose garden.

The putting green.

Back to the French Parterre and a view of the house. Mrs. Post's bedroom is the large bay window overlooking this garden. Most of the rooms on the first floor had large french doors that would have allowed parties to easily flow from the garden to the house. My favorite room in the house was the dressing room. Gorgeous pale blue and silver. Ryan's was the home theater.

More sculptures marking the paths and divisions between the garden rooms.

Some things were on the odd side...

Part of the Lunar Lawn.
"The front of the mansion, facing south toward a view of the Washington Monument, seemed the perfect place for Marjorie Merriweather Post to create a special space for entertaining her many guests. Upon acquiring Hillwood, she promptly removed an Italianate allée of American boxwood and established a large, crescent-shaped lawn. American elms majestically line the front of the mansion and a flagstone walk circles to a terrace beyond.
Large beds filled with spring-flowering trees, such as dogwood, magnolia, cherry, plum, and crabapple, and underplanted with masses of azaleas, rhododendron, camellias, spirea, and lilacs were built along the walk. Numerous varieties of neatly sheared conifers and hollies complement the riot of color. This backdrop of arching elms underplanted with masses of trees and shrubs serves to frame the view, yet it encloses the lunar lawn to create a sense of privacy for intimate entertainment on a grand scale."

A fountain visible from the breakfast room.

Pet Cemetery
"Commemorating the years of pleasure garnered from her pets, Marjorie Merriweather Post built this cemetery where the closely wooded site offers a private place for remembrance. The garden features markers bearing the names of each pet. Each marker is set in beds of plants that emulate the mood of the garden, such as weeping dogwood, lily-of-the-valley, bleeding heart, dogtooth violet, and forget-me-nots. Four statues of dogs offering a gift of flower baskets are located in each corner of the cemetery entrance."

Wandering back to the Lunar Lawn, this time on the Vista overlook. Fun musical statues with cherubs and mythical creatures.

Japanese garden:
"The Japanese-style Garden at Hillwood is one of the last remaining examples of the type of oriental gardens influenced by the reintroduction of the Japanese culture to America during the 1950s. Shogo J. Myaida, a garden designer who became a naturalized U.S. citizen in the 1920s when Japanese culture was first popular among the American elite, was hired to complete the design. Myaida readily adopted the American culture and developed a style of garden construction that blended the traditions of Japanese architecture and garden design with the practicality of American tastes."

Part of the fountain in the Japanese garden.

In an area focused on woodland flowers.

Cutting Garden with the greenhouse in the background:
"The cutting garden, located across from the greenhouses, was installed for the very utilitarian purpose of providing a succession of seasonal blooms for floral arrangements to decorate the rooms of the mansion. In keeping with Marjorie Merriweather Post’s desire to beautify the mansion with fresh flowers in perpetuity, the cutting garden continues to yield bountiful quantities of blooms that are combined in arrangements of the style popular in the 1950s and 1960s."

A selection of the photos of orchids.
"Mrs. Post hired an orchid curator to tend these temperamental beauties and breed new varieties for her pleasure. The curator delivered orchids in bloom to the mansion throughout the year, always displaying them in Mrs. Posts’ bedroom, the breakfast room, the library, and the French drawing room. Mrs. Post was so fond of her orchids that she often had a large selection shipped from Hillwood to grace her rooms when she was in residence at her other properties. Today 2,500 orchids remain in cultivation in the greenhouses, while new varieties are added to carry on the tradition of filling the mansion with these exotic blooms."

Some of the plants waiting to be planted. I can't image how much work goes into maintaining this beautiful estate.

Parking was free, but the security guards/parking attendants had a busy time. There were various lots scattered around the grounds, but each was small. As we wandered back to our assigned spot in front of the former chauffer's home and garage, I noticed a green door covering what looked like an entrance to a cellar. We stopped to read the sign and realized it was a fallout shelter.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Civil War reenactment

So many options of what to do with our remaining month, so it's hard to decide what to do on a weekend. There were many competing choices, but this week we settled on a Civil War reenactment. It's the last major one before we move back as most of the major battles that are reenacted around here are in July.

The Battles of Spotsylvania 2010 Civil War Re-enactment and Bluegrass for Battlefields Benefit Concert was the official title.

The description:
"Re-enactors will stage the Battle of Harris Farm, the last day of fighting during Union Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's May 1864 clash with Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's forces at Spotsylvania Court House. A costly stalemate, it was the commanders' second encounter as Grant began the Overland Campaign that ended in Lee's surrender at Appomattox 11 months later."

There were various tents set up as we entered with vendors and people to talk with. Lots and lots of Civil War era costumes.

Many different flags.

The hospital tents.

We brought our lawn chairs and got a great view with not too many people around. Watched the Confederate line being assembled.

Interesting to see the range of costumes and accessories.

The general was the first to come over and explain why there were so few spectators in our section. Apparently the people who come routinely know that the noise is greatest near the cannons.

Trench digging and barricade building with trees scavenged from nearby. There were five cannons on the side near us.

The Cavalry arrives!

Loading the cannon. The crowd around us got ready to cover their ears.

The battle started. Was fun to watch the progression. Hear the Cavalry had dropped off some guys in the middle of the battlefield.

The smoke at times made it hard to see what was going on.

Even though the two front lines were really close together, most of these guys survived. We couldn't figure out if they were aiming at each other or behind for the larger group of people.

The Union was advancing, time to get the horses out of the way.

We could finally see the Union troops.

Trying to get the troops into orderly rows.

Using the tall grass as cover didn't seem to work. Cheers erupted from the spectators as the Union had to retreat. One guy near us commented that Virginia is obviously a southern state. We hadn't really thought about it, but was obvious from the crowd that was there to observe. After the bugle played, the battle was over and all the "dead" and "wounded" soldiers stood up and marched back to their sides to clean up.
The weather was starting to get unpleasant, so we headed back to Fredericksburg to get out of the rain and then came back for the Bluegrass concert. As we drove past the rows of tents and the re-enactors struggling to cook over smoldering camp fires in the rain, made me appreciate not living in those times!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Spring at Mount Vernon

We've gotten our money's worth out of the annual pass to Mount Vernon. Since friends are in town visiting, we headed there again on Sunday. Was a beautiful day and all the flower were in bloom. We wandered the gardens for awhile and then headed down to the Pioneer Farm which had reopened for summer.

Upper Garden.

More peonies!

Foxglove in fun colors.

I'll have to figure out what variety this peony is, the plant was so vibrant.

The breeze made centering this poppy in the photo a little tricky, so Ryan helped out.

Flowers everywhere!

I was surprised to see this late blooming daffodil in the midst of the other flowers.

There are so many different types of gardens, everywhere you look was something interesting.

The lower garden focuses more on fruits and veggies.

All the fruit trees are trimmed and trained to grow along the low fences.

This view shows the corner garden rooms along the wall that were used for a variety of gardening purposes.
Headed down to the Pioneer Farm, we saw an escapee lamb. It was happily grazing just outside the fence.

All the animals are varieties that George Washington had during his time. Liecester Longwools was the sheep that he usually raised.

I think all the animals have to be very patient at Mount Vernon. The tourists were trying to get really close here.

Down at the Pioneer Farm, there were several reenactors. They were cooking apples over the fire and preparing wool for spinning.

A replica of a slave cabin.

The 16-sided barn that George Washington designed for threshing grain.

Inside you can see where the grain was sifted through the floor boards by the animals tromping around in a circle.

The view of the Potomac River from the barn.

More animals to pose for pictures.

The view of the river. After we wandered around for awhile, we realized that there is a shuttle to take you back to the visitor's center. The walk down to the farm was pleasant, but hiking straight up the hill to get back was not looking so fun. In the shuttle van, we heard on the radio that security was calling livestock. The driver said it usually means an escapee. We started laughing, because we'd seen the lamb. Guessing it got bored and decided to wander away. I think this was my favorite time of year to visit.