The 2018 Georgetown Garden Tour, held Saturday, May 12, was a delightful scene of verdant variety, offering eight outdoor paradises with something for everyone’s taste.
There were formal gardens and informal specialty gardens (roses and peonies especially), shade and sun gardens, swimming pools and fountains. Some gardens had been planned to follow a set color scheme, while others were a strewn riot of color mixtures.
Some of the gardens had large organized vegetable plots and others just a few veggies in a box — or lettuce in an urn set in the sun. Some had background fill-in plants so breathtaking, notably gigantic magnolias and strikingly red Japanese maples, that they were the main feature, with just enough unusual annuals to add color.
Two of the gardens hadn’t been shown in the past 90 years, since the tour was first organized in 1928 by Edmonia Whitehead, as a community fundraiser for one of the first integrated schools in Washington, D.C.
One of the “new” gardens was the home of John, Jacqueline and toddler Caroline Kennedy on N Street, where they lived for two years just before moving to the White House. The L-shaped garden was surprisingly narrow and formal, with much of the plant space outlined with borders of trimmed box hedges. Photos of the handsome couple showed the table where they sat was in the same spot where a long glass table with plum-colored cushions sits today. But, surely, they would have enjoyed the newer, multi-branch espaliered pear tree growing up the dining room wall.
Around the next block on Prospect Street, the surprisingly large multilevel gardens of Prospect House opened up after one passed through a small gate. Three long terraces were planted as a small woodland, a formal rose garden with boxwood hedges and a spectacular swimming pool terrace, the northern side of which was thick with roses, peonies and sun-loving annuals. A staircase led to an octagonal windowed belvedere with cushioned window benches, pillows and views of the Potomac. Through a gate in a brick wall below, a small verdant lawn was backed by an informal rose garden so thickly planted with fragrant blooms that you could smell them before coming through the gate.
Unexpected features attracted attention in other gardens. The giant peacock-blue macaw in a large white bird cage stole attention from the thick lawns and swimming pool terrace, backed by at least a dozen huge magnolia trees, at one of the trio of gardens on Volta Place, 34th and 35th Streets. Another garden’s neat tool and work area and a high box of neatly stacked wood — worthy of a Swiss chalet and protected by a thick roof of vines and flowers — brought admiring inspection. Nearby, the climbing Fourth of July roses, bursting with stripes of red and white, were one of many climbing varieties on view.
In the O Street garden featured on the cover of last week’s Georgetowner, the large Buddha positioned in a shelter of ferns and other shade plants definitely affected the choice of soft-colored plants and the aura of peace. In another large garden on Dumbarton Street, many of the flowers in front of the house reflected the violet and soft pink panels of the intricately painted Victorian. Small, brightly colored clusters of flox embedded in the wide garden steps brought the garden literally to the entrance doors of the house.
All the gardens on the tour were clustered within eight blocks of Christ Church, on the corner of O and 31st Streets, where tickets could be purchased and Georgetown Garden Club volunteers had set up a little boutique of garden plants, books and aprons. Since the church was celebrating its 200th anniversary the next day, the rector, Tim Cole, with his dog Laddie and other volunteers and church officials, conducted tours of the historic buildings. A show of Easter flower arrangements filled the main church. Tea and cookies were served for tour participants in the parish hall, as they probably have been for almost 100 years.
The sun was out and the gardens were in full glory. It was a great day for strolling the streets of Georgetown and visiting some of its hidden gems.