Flower Gardens at Mount Vernon
George Washington's estate in Virginia is home to kitchen and flower gardens that have been cultivated for more than 200 years.
George Washington was a military leader, founding father, and first president of the United States of America. But in his heart, he was a farmer, and many of his happiest days were spent at his plantation home along the Potomac River in Virginia, Mount Vernon. Visitors to George Washington’s Mount Vernon today can see the restored home, gardens, farms, and grounds he loved so well. On a recent visit, I was particularly enamored of the Upper Gardens, which combine kitchen gardens with pollinator-friendly flower gardens, creating a peaceful oasis filled with growing greens and busy bees. Here’s a look at the late summer gardens, along with a few facts about George Washington the Gardener.
Washington believed in making good use of all available space, so very little of his gardens were set aside for merely ornamental plants. Even the flowers surrounding the kitchen gardens served their purpose, as cut flowers for the house and to draw pollinators to the vegetables and fruits. The kitchen gardens at Mount Vernon have been used for growing vegetables since 1760, and continue to be used today.
Washington did enjoy experimenting with new seeds and plants, and set aside small gardens for that purpose. He was especially interested in finding out which plants could survive in Virginia’s unique weather patterns and environment.
Washington loved the native plants of America. He planted hundreds of native trees and shrubs on his grounds, and worked to establish a more natural feel to the landscape design of the estate. He preferred the naturalistic style of landscape designer Batty Langley to the more formal style then popular in America. He maintained certain more formal elements nearer the house, but incorporated more design further out into the estate.
Washington built a greenhouse for tropical plants and rare species. This greenhouse was heated by fires in the winter, which several of his slaves kept fueled day and night. He hired trained gardeners to oversee his gardens who knew how to maintain the greenhouse along with all other aspects of the landscape, but worked closely with them to make sure the gardens and grounds met his expectations.