Some of them are grand. Some are architecturally intriguing, some full of plants with exotic names, like chocolate mimosa (you don’t drink it) and Cambodian buddhas. The 84th Georgetown Garden Tour takes place Saturday, May 5, and it is all about the eight paces, large and small, tucked behind high walls. One of the recurring themes of the tour is how inventive Georgetowners can take a tiny space and turn it into a dynamic and interesting outdoor “room.”
The garden tour, which is, after all, an urban garden tour, focuses on the problems inherent in small, enclosed gardens: the neighbors, their trees, their children, sun, the lack of it. It is impressive what people can do with small gardens. They create spaces on different levels, they “borrow” views, install marvelous statuary from exotic lands, put in charming water features, plant masses of very dark purple foliage (almost black). All of these are on show in this year’s tour.
One such garden is 3200 P Street, according to long-time garden tour organizer and local tyrant Edie Schafer. “It is extremely interesting, it has everything in it, they’ve got a water feature and they’re really into the plants. It is a small space, but they’ve done a lot with it,” she says. That’s part of what draws a crowd to the tour.
These gardens don’t necessarily start out with beautiful bones and knockout views; their owners have to work to turn them into something special.
There are plenty of big, grand gardens as well. Bowie-Sevier house, which stretches from Q to P Street, has old boxwoods, a pool and a play area for the young family which lives there. You could get lost there, the space is so vast. The garden on the corner of 28th and Q is also attached to a stately old house, and the trees there have probably seen more intrigue than your average member of Congress.
Some houses interact so well with their gardens that you can’t really see one without engaging with the other. A house on 28th Street boasts a low curving wall, a windowpane mirror and a terrific, multi-trunked Kousa dogwood. But what’s really alluring about the space is the way the big light-filled living room opens into the
garden. It makes you want to grab a book and sit in the sun, though the house’s owners might have other ideas.
For a Georgetowner, one of the best parts of the tour is the authorized snooping. The neighborhood is full of pleasant little houses and vine-covered walls. But when you get behind the front walls, it really gets interesting. Spectacular secrets lie in wait, swimming pools, Balinese dancers, rare cacti. To the outsider, Georgetown is closed up, has its street face on. To tour goers, all is revealed.
Gardens are always changing, Schafer says. “When you put a vine on a house it often has its own plans, like taking off all over the place or refusing to climb where you want it to climb, and ends up somewhere you don’t want it to be. This is also true of low-growing perennials and groundcovers: you put them in a bed and the next thing you know they are all over the lawn, not what you had in mind at all. So, then you dig them up and put them back where they should be. Do they stay there? Not necessarily.” That’s the reason why the garden tour is so interesting, she says.
Some of these homeowners are “fearless gardeners,” Schafer adds, happy to try new ideas, new plants, new ways of looking at the world in their backyard. After all, the word, “paradise,” comes from a Persian word for walled gardens.
The tour runs Saturday, May 5, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can get tickets for $35 at (http://GeorgetownGardenTour.com)[GeorgetownGardenTour.com], or call 202-965-1950.
Christ Church, 31st and O Streets, N.W., will serve as headquarters for the tour. In addition to purchasing tickets at the Church, you may also peruse the unique Garden Boutique which will offer beautiful topiaries, fine porcelain vases, and unusual gardening tools for sale. Included in your ticket price is an afternoon tea served at Keith Hall, Christ Church, 2 to 4 p.m. The not-to-be missed tea features cookies, tea sandwiches and sweets, all handmade by members of the Georgetown Garden Club.