Gardens of Hunt Country

August 25, 2010

Said to be commissioned sometime around 600 B.C. by King Nebuchadnezzar as a gift to his wife Amytis, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and perhaps one of the earliest botanical works of art. With lush trees and fragrant plants imported from her native Persia and planted in elevated stone terraces to resemble the mountainous terrain where she lived as a child, the gardens were intended to provide a homesick Amytis with a sense of comfort, peace, and familiarity in a place so different from her homeland — emotions that every garden should evoke in its keeper.

Whether it’s the palatial gardens of Versailles, an intimate courtyard retreat in Georgetown, or a smaller-scale balcony garden consisting of containers filled with overflowing greenery and colorful blooms, anyone who has spent time in a garden understands the positive impact such a space has on one’s overall attitude and well-being. If you already have a garden, or have toyed with the idea of creating one, the gardening events on tap this spring in Virginia’s Hunt Country will no doubt inspire your inner gardener.

Secret Gardens
April 17 through 25 is Historic Garden Week in Virginia — your annual invitation to take an up-close and personal peek behind some of the most exclusive garden gates in the Commonwealth, and in some cases, a glimpse into the magnificent homes that share the landscape with them.

Organized by member clubs of The Garden Club of Virginia and celebrating its 77th season, this statewide celebration is frequently referred to as “America’s Largest Open House” and is the oldest event of its kind in the United States. More than 30 home and garden tours will take place in Virginia during Historic Garden Week, with proceeds going toward the preservation and restoration of historic gardens and grounds throughout the state. Several tours are within close proximity to Washington, D.C., including two in Virginia’s Hunt Country — the Loudoun and Fauquier Garden Club tour, and Winchester-Clarke County Garden Club tour.

A mix of old and new awaits you on the Fauquier and Loudoun Garden Club tour, where you’ll have the opportunity to visit five outstanding residences — some constructed prior to the Civil War. Leave the hectic pace of the city behind and travel west through the scenic countryside, where lush green fields and historic stone walls make the journey just as beautiful as the destinations. Properties on the tour include Innisfree, Marly, Waverly, Middleton and Pennygent. Make your way along pea gravel paths and cobblestone walkways as you are treated to exceptional gardens overflowing with annuals, perennials, espaliered fruit trees, and terraces wrapped in wisteria.

The Winchester-Clarke County Garden Club tour showcases five remarkable homes dating from the 18th century to the early part of the 21st century. Erchless, Rosemont on the Shenandoah, Caveland, Apple Hill and Randleston Farm are all extraordinary residences, each unique in their own way. One residence has a circular main floor plan, with no square rooms, while another has a history that dates to the Roaring ’20s. This is an outstanding and eclectic collection of properties that you’re sure to remember long after your visit.

A Festival Blooms in Leesburg
Promising to be bigger and more impressive than ever, the Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival celebrates its 20th year the weekend of April 17. Attracting more than 35,000 visitors over the two-day botanical extravaganza, this event is set to fill the streets of downtown historic Leesburg with a garden party you won’t want to miss. There’s something for everyone, so come early, bring the entire family and plan to spend the day.

Over 100 vendors are slated to be on hand to equip you with everything you need to envision, and ultimately cultivate, the outdoor space of your dreams. It’s unlikely you’ll even recognize the streets of this quaint historic town, as they have magically been transformed into elaborate landscaped gardens, flower and plant exhibits and more — all certain to inspire you and get your creative juices flowing. Talk with landscape professionals that can help you design that perfect patio, walkway or garden area. Stock up on supplies or buy that must-have plant with over-the-top blooms that will look just perfect in your garden. Be sure to stop by the Town Green, where experts will be presenting demonstrations on a variety of topics. Learn about composting and pick up other eco-friendly gardening tips and techniques that will ensure your garden is “green.”

When it’s time to take a break, grab a bite to eat from one of several food vendors and enjoy the entertainment on the Loudoun County Courthouse lawn where various artists will treat you to music ranging from classic rock to reggae. New this year is a garden of a different sort — a wine and beer garden — featuring many of your favorite Loudoun County wineries and breweries. Face painting, crafts, and entertainment will be in full swing on the children’s stage, so make sure the “junior gardeners” in your family don’t miss out on any of the fun.

Whether you’re avid gardener, or just beginning to dabble in plants, the Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival is an excellent opportunity to connect with landscape professionals, enhance your gardening knowledge, and enjoy some great springtime weather.

Le Petit Jardin
There’s no doubt you’ll be anxious to take all of those great gardening ideas you picked up at this spring’s events and turn them into reality. If you have never gardened because you thought you didn’t have enough time or space, think again. For many of us, time constraints or limited space just mean that we have to garden on a somewhat smaller scale.

Starla King, owner of Signature Gardenscapes ( — a company specializing in smaller-scale residential landscape, says sun, space and soil are the keys to any beautiful garden. Once you assess these three important elements, you are ready to begin creating your own personal outdoor oasis. To get you started, King offers these helpful tips for creating and maintaining gardens in small spaces:

• Always consider how much sun or shade the planting area will receive each day. If your garden area is primarily shade, don’t get a plant that needs mostly sun. It will probably still grow, but will be spindly, unhealthy-looking and never mature to its full potential. Likewise, a shade-loving plant will burn to a crisp in a full-sun area.

• Determine how much space you have for your garden before you purchase plants. Plants will try to grow to their intended size even if you don’t give them enough room. Buy plants whose size at maturity matches your available space. For example, if you have a three- to five-foot garden space, don’t buy five plants that will each grow to three feet wide. You will end up with 15 feet of plants in a five-foot space. Instead, consider five plants that grow to one foot wide, or three plants that mature to two feet wide.

• Check the soil condition. New garden beds may require that some topsoil or soil conditioner be mixed with the earth. If in doubt, check with your garden center or plant nursery. For containers, just use a good quality potting soil.

• Visit a garden center and start your search for plants that appeal to you. Check the plant labels or ask for assistance to ensure the plants you select are conducive to your sun, space and soil conditions.

• Consider how your plants will look together before you buy them. Place them in your cart and see if their colors and textures complement each other. Do you think they look good? Buy them! If you’re not pleased with how look together, try different plants to obtain the overall effect you want to achieve.

• At home, plant and care for your new purchases according to instructions on the labels and enjoy!

So now you’re ready — get out there and get gardening. And remember, whatever your source of inspiration, be it a grand garden on a magnificent country estate or container garden tucked humbly in the corner of a balcony, make certain the garden you create is what the Hanging Gardens of Babylon were to Amytis — a place of comfort, contentment, beauty and familiarity.

Coming Up In Country:

Plan now to make sure you don’t miss these annual gardening events happening this spring in Virginia’s hunt country.

Leesburg Flower and Garden Festival
April 17, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
April 18, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Downtown Historic Leesburg

Historic Garden Week: Loudoun and Fauquier Garden Club Tour
April 18, 1 to 5 p.m.
April 19, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Historic Garden Week: Winchester – Clarke County Garden Club Tour
April 24, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
April 25, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Philomont Garden Phair
April 24 and 25, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Featuring plant growers, local artisans, garden-themed retailers and more.

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Murphy’s Love

June 2, 2010

Dear Stacy:
I am a successful, attractive D.C. woman about to turn 38 and will be celebrating with (drumroll, please) YET ANOTHER BREAKUP! This time I really thought the relationship was a go, but he turned out to be exactly like every other guy I’ve dated over the years, and I’m finally noticing the pattern. Things always start off well — the connection is strong, the sex is fantastic, we make big plans for the future. Then, after four months, six months, or a year, things change and he just isn’t there for me anymore. He starts “forgetting” plans we’ve made, not including me in activities, changing the rules. I’m not good at confrontation, so I seem to just let the distance grow while frantically trying to bring us back closer together. Eventually, he just ends it with the “It’s not you, it’s me” spiel. What can I do moving forward besides giving up entirely?
— Done With Men on Dumbarton

Dear Done With Men:
Wisdom comes with age, and it sounds like congratulations are in order for identifying a pattern in your past relationships! That’s really the first step in making a change: figuring out what we’ve done before that just isn’t working.

You have described the classic relationship trajectory. We all start off in the romantic stage, with its popping hormones, long-term fantasizing and believing we’ve found a kindred spirit who knows us inside out without even having to finish a sentence. That’s nature’s trick for getting us into a relationship. Soon, however, our brain chemistry changes, and we enter the power struggle phase. It sounds like this is the part that trips you up, and you’re not alone. You say you don’t like confrontation, so you allow the walls between you and your would-be soulmate to build thicker and thicker. You may be using unconscious tools to try to drag him back into deep connection — tools like passive aggression, controlling behavior, pouting, etc. Meanwhile, he also may be using his own tools to maintain his safe distance: isolating himself, forgetting your plans together, acting like it’s not his problem. The result is the classic push-and-pull scenario, until the loving bonds break under the stress. The power struggle is survived only through awareness and communication. When you both understand what you need to feel safe in relationship, then you both are able to start giving back to it.

Getting clear about your own expectations can really help you move toward a more conscious dating experience. What are your top 10 wants in a boyfriend? Do your past relationships reflect those desires? If they don’t, maybe your unconscious self is searching out a different kind of person. Taking the time to figure out what that part of you is looking for and why may result in a better match next time.

Dear Stacy:
My wife and I have been happily married for 10 years. We had our second baby two months ago, and now my wife doesn’t seem interested in me anymore. She makes it very difficult for us to be physical — bringing our infant into the bedroom, always telling me how tired she is, breaking down and crying whenever I try to talk with her about our sex life. She used to be a runner and returned to her exercise routine immediately after our first son was born, but this time she has no motivation. She has stopped taking care of her appearance: she has gained weight, rarely wears makeup, still dresses in her maternity clothes, zones out in front of the TV. I’ve tried talking with her about it, but it usually ends in a fight after which she retreats from me and our kids, putting even more of the household burdens on me. I’m wondering if having kids was a huge mistake and if this means my marriage is permanently damaged.
— In Reserve on Reservoir

Dear Reservoir:
I can hear the earnestness in your words and can imagine you are anxious for a solution. But I also hear something else in your letter that may not be so obvious to someone sitting right inside your relationship — it sounds as if your wife may be severely depressed.

If every mom who wasn’t interested in sex so soon after giving birth was diagnosed with depression, antidepressants would be included in every box of diapers. In other words, a lagging sexual drive at eight weeks post-pregnancy is not unusual. But your wife’s disinterest compounds some of the other symptoms you named. Postpartum depression (PPD) afflicts approximately 10 percent of new mothers — that means it’s likely at least one mom in your playgroup suffers from it, or will during their childbearing years. The marked contrast between your wife’s first and second pregnancies sounds like a red flag — as is the lack of interest in her appearance, tendency to break down when confronted and gaping at the television.

The good news is that PPD is highly treatable with therapy and medication. Helping your wife find support, while letting her know you will be patient as she heals, is the very best option. At the same time, supporting someone dealing with depression can be difficult. Finding your own resources — confiding in a friend, counseling, or hiring a babysitter so you can have some time off — is also a valuable gift to you both.

Dear Stacy:
My mother-in-law has always been overbearing and too into my business. She asks blunt questions at inappropriate times (e.g. She inquired, “How exactly are you going to lose weight before the wedding?” AT OUR ENGAGEMENT PARTY!). We have had some good times over the years, and I hoped we had grown closer now that we’ve given her her first grandchild. But my son is three and going through normal developmental steps, she continues to question my judgment about parenting, particularly asking blunt questions about whether he might have autism (he is not autistic in any way) or if he’s inherited my family’s “bigger boned” genes. I want to tell her off, but I know that wouldn’t be productive in the long run. Still, I think my frustration with her is obvious to everyone, including my son, and I don’t want him to develop animosity toward her either.
— Put-out on P Street

Dear Put-Out:
The irritating mother-in-law may be a tired cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason — it comes up a lot!

Your frustration sounds entirely legitimate, and recognizing that your simmering bitterness might rub off on Junior shows even more self-awareness on your part. So let’s channel that effort into realizing that the fantasy that having a baby might magically change the person she is was just that, a fantasy, and she’s not doing anything new or different from the way she’s acted all the years you’ve known her son. That said, it is your job to protect your family from negative influences.

You haven’t mentioned your dear husband’s opinion on all of this, which suggests one of two things. Either he has no opinion because you haven’t shared your frustration with him, or he has chosen to ignore you both on this topic. Feeling like we aren’t alone in our struggles can be a major part of rising above insecurity. If you take the time to calmly, safely, carefully talk with him about your concerns, I imagine he might have some helpful advice for moving forward — whether that means enduring her negativity together, making a family decision to avoid her entirely, or sharing tips for how to get her to hear your side.

Stacy Notaras Murphy is a licensed professional counselor and certified Imago relationship therapist practicing at the Imago Center of DC in Georgetown. This column should not be considered a substitute for professional counseling. Please send your relationship questions to