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.

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