The schedule for the first full day of the 2017 Capitol Region Garden Bloggers Spring Fling was an ambitious one–garden touring (stalking?) in Washington D.C.’s June heat and humidity is not for the faint of heart. Our day was to include Hillwood, the estate of Marjorie Merriweather Post; The Franciscan Monastery; the United States Botanic Garden and the 12 Smithsonian gardens on the National Mall. I am exhausted just listing them all! Look for the next few posts to to cover them–hopefully doing them all justice.
The gardens surrounding Hillwood are worthy of an entire day of devotion. One of the tenants of the Fling is to give participants a little taste of a wide variety of garden experiences in a given city or region rather than full immersion in a very few. There is a lot to appreciate at Hillwood and I’ll do well to give you enough of a glimpse of its beauty to inspire you to visit should you have the opportunity.
Marjorie Merriweather Post was the only child of Ella Merriweather and Charles Post, becoming the sole heir to the C.W. Post cereal empire. She was a businesswoman, diplomat, philanthropist and noted art collector. In 1955 she purchased this 25 acre estate, then called Arbremont. The grounds overlook Rock Creek Park, offering sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of the city. Renovation of the mansion and its gardens, which were designed and built in the 1920s by landscape architect William Gebhart, was started immediately and lasted about 2 years.
Above you see Hillwood’s Motor Court at which Marjorie’s guests would arrive via the winding uphill driveway. This statue of an adolescent Eros stands among a formal bed of English ivy and boxwood and greets visitors with an arrow pulled from his quiver as he carefully shields a goat, a symbol of fertility. Although the Motor Court was the first glimpse of the home viewed by visitors, it is actually the rear of the mansion. The more impressive formal facade faces the back.
The French Parterre features a terra cotta sculpture of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, and is divided into quadrants using gravel paths. Channels of moving water divide the central Italian glass tile pool.
This whimsical garden is viewed from the master bedroom and dressing room. The elaborate boxwood scrolls and numerous small pieces of statuary reflect Marjorie’s love of all things French.
Even in this small formal garden you see the lavish layering of conifers, hardwood trees and shrubs of varying textures, forms and colors used throughout the estate to create garden rooms, evoking a sense of both privacy and expansiveness.
The Lunar Lawn, so called because of its elliptical shape, is part of the panoramic view from the home’s portico. Masses of evergreens, azaleas, camellias, dogwoods and magnolias create a grand outdoor room. Seasonal color is added but the attraction of this area for me was the sheer variety of texture and color rising to form living walls.
The Rose Garden offers a wood and brick pergola covered in wisteria in the spring and roses in the summer. The other rose plantings are simple with a single variety of floribunda rose in each bed. The centerpiece of the Rose Garden is a pink granite monument crowned with an antique urn. Marjorie Merriweather Post’s ashes are housed at its base.
An exquisite Japanese Garden is reached by several paths of stone steps at the furthest point of the Lunar Lawn. This garden is on several levels with many opportunities to view the vignettes from different perspectives. Take a look!
Such a peaceful spot, surrounded by towering green and calmed by the ever present water sounds.
Hillwood has two interesting buildings reflective of Ms. Post’s interests. The Dacha, or Russian country house, is her interpretation of a small peasant house. It is currently used for museum programs and rotating exhibitions. The Adirondack building, also used for exhibitions, was built 10 years after Marjorie’s death and recalls the rustic architectural style of Camp Topridge, her summer retreat in the Adirondack Mountains.
The Cutting Garden and Greenhouse were my final stops at Hillwood. I have seen many cutting gardens on large estates across the country and I can say this one was exquisitely design and impeccably maintained. The selection of plants in the cutting garden are representative of what was used in arrangements for the home in the 1950s and 60s.
A few favorites from the cutting garden…
The Greenhouse is filled with a collection of exotic orchids which are used for color and arrangements in the mansion when the outdoor cutting garden is dormant.
Marjorie Merriweather Post’s beautiful Hillwood is surely a jewel in Washington D.C.’s garden crown. Layers upon layers of mature trees and shrubs surround the house and grounds like a jeweled green cape. This garden stands as a timeless inspiration to all who aspire to make their own surroundings a little bit more beautiful.