The money sprouts every spring in Book Hill Park, dangles from the rosebushes at Montrose Park and shades the old brick sidewalks. The greenery that makes Georgetown so special comes from the green raised by the Georgetown Garden Club.
Every May, the club hosts a garden tour. Neighbors are implored to open their backyards to the curious; club members in straw hats take shifts answering questions about rudbeckia and pelargonium (black-eyed Susans and geraniums to the rest of us); tourists and locals step into the lush landscaping normally hidden behind high brick walls.
“The secret life of Georgetown is found in the gardens,” says Victoria Rixey of the Georgetown Garden Club. “Where else could you be greeted by a handsome ambassador in his own garden? Or visit the secluded retreat of a young family? Or see where a senator relaxes on a spring evening?”
The tour is popular. Last year, it raised nearly $60,000, every penny of which went to nurture and replenish the neighborhood’s patches of green, ranging from Volta, Rose and Montrose parks to Tudor Place and the waterfront.
One of this year’s new donations is helping fight water runoff in Dumbarton Oaks Park. Another new grant allowed Tudor Place to buy the same software used to catalog plants at Mount Vernon. Now, with Tudor Place’s plants duly loaded into a database, visitors can use their smartphones to identify and learn more about what’s in the ground. “The program is called Garden Explorer,” says Marjie Calvert, head of next year’s garden tour.
Montrose Park’s rose garden, right by R Street, is another project that has benefited from the garden tour. Though the Garden Club has maintained the rose garden since 1953, if not earlier, new roses and old plans are giving the ellipse a fresh look. “The design is in keeping with the original Colonial Revival plan designed by Horace Peaslee in 1919,” says Georgina Owen Horsey. Montrose dates from 1910, she adds, making it one of the oldest parks in the National Park system.
The garden tour’s proceeds are everywhere. Trees for Georgetown has lived up to its name by planting hundreds of trees, meanwhile restoring signs and historic fences. The playground and playing field in Rose Park, the heirloom boxwood hedges at Tudor Place, the bike paths along the waterfront park and the habitat garden in Volta Park are all tended and cared for with money from the tour.
And perhaps most fittingly, given the garden tour’s origins in the early 20th century, the tour supports the Student Conservation Association, which aims to get young people involved in hands-on work on the land. The tour was organized in 1928 by Mrs. Edmonia Whitehead (one of the all-time-great first names) to get kids out into nature, teaching them — as the members of the Georgetown Garden Club know well — that working outdoors is part of a life worth living.