Centuries of Old Town treasures open for Garden Week

Centuries of Old Town treasures open for Garden Week

Visitors will step through the gates of seven of Alexandrias most beautiful gardens, homes and historic landmarks during Americas Largest Open House, Saturday, April 21.  

Alexandria’s Historic Garden Week presents a rich mosaic of some of the city’s finest properties at the peak of Virginias springtime color.

For avid gardeners, there will be formal gardens, walled gardens, cottage gardens, cutting gardens, annual and perennial gardens, herb gardens, water gardens and even secret gardens. Visitors interested in architecture and interior decorating will see beautifully renovated historic properties as well as stunning contemporary residences, exceptional artwork, and some of the countrys best collections of glass, china, and American, European and Asian antiques. Many local houses have interesting family histories intertwined with the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the Victorian era.

Historic Garden Week, entering its 74th season, is the oldest and largest statewide house and garden tour event in the nation. Tours benefit the restoration of important historic grounds and gardens throughout the state. Each event offers an engaging variety of five to six local houses and gardens, most open to the public for the first time for Garden Week.
Sponsored locally by The Garden Club of Alexandria and The Hunting Creek Garden Club, Alexandria Garden Week is one of the most anticipated events. The event occurs on Saturday April 21, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Information centers this year will be located at The Ramsay House Visitors Center at 221 King Street in Old Town and  The Lyceum at 201 South Washington Street, also in Old Town, where you can find information about historic properties, restaurants and hotels. as well as obtain parking meter passes for out-of-town visitors and find restrooms available.

A $30 full ticket includes seven properties with gardens, refreshments at The Carlyle House and admission to nearby historic properties.  Single property or garden admission is $10.  Full tickets for children under 12 are $15, single property or garden admission $5.  Babies in arms are admitted free of charge.  Tickets may be purchased on tour day at any of the properties open for the tour and at The Ramsay House.   

For an additional charge, advance tickets may be purchased on-line with a credit card at www.VAGar
.  Advance tickets are also available at The Ramsay House, 221 King St.

Refreshments will be served at The Carlyle House, 121 North Fairfax St., from 2 to 3:30 p.m. 

Parking meter passes for out-of-town visitors are available at The Ramsay House.  Street parking in residential areas is not recommended.  This is a walking tour, so visitors are encouraged to wear comfortable, flat-soled shoes.  Photography is not permitted in private houses or gardens. 

A brief description of the houses on the tour follows:  

Old Town 109 Duke Street
This lovely brick 1801, Federal-style house harkens back to Alexandrias seafaring history when Old Town was a thriving waterfront.  Following the burst of growth after the Revolutionary War, Ephraim Mills, a trunk maker, paid $80 in silver for the land on which he built his flounder house, so named because of its resemblance to the fish with one side having no eyes.  This distinctive Alexandria building style has a roof sloped from back to front with the high side having no windows. 

Located just one block up from the Potomac River, the house has lovely river views from the upper floors.  Subsequent owners have done extensive renovations, most recently in 2003 when the present owners bought the house. Of particular charm is the spacious entrance foyer that features a cutting of the original 19th century wallpaper discovered in a renovation and now preserved.  The homeowners varied collections of Early American and English antiques and Asian porcelain create a visual delight. The house has a luminous, airy quality as one moves through the living room, dining room, modern kitchen and family room and out into the newly restored garden.

The garden underwent extensive renovation in 2006 and is formal with traditional boxwood and hollies, but relaxed for family living with an open grassy area and flagstone patio for family dining and entertaining.  Plantings include English yew, Solomons Seal, crape myrtle, clematis, camellia, dogwood, hydrangea and lilac. The house is being opened for the first time for Historic Garden Week and is part of the Historic Alexandria Foundation.  Mr. and Mrs. James New, owners.  

Old Town — 212 South Lee Street 
A traditional row house, this brick Federal-style home is an early example of the compatible construction once popular in Alexandria.  Numbers 208, 210, 212 and 214 South Lee were built as separate houses within one large building by Catherine and John Nowland in 1873-74. Extensive renovations in 1992 and again in 2004 by the current owner have transformed the space to reflect her modernist sensibility.  The minimalist design of the interior retains original features while streamlining the space to maximize functionality for a family.  A sleek, new kitchen with stainless steel and maple cabinets was added, as well as a sunny dining nook and family room.  A two-story skylight contributes natural light to the kitchen. Shades of white and gray create a serene color scheme.

The tranquil ambiance continues into the garden, with various garden rooms inviting relaxation.  A fountain provides falling water, and an intricate pattern of stonework continues the illusion of a flowing river.  This is an example of how a small-scale space can be transformed into a magical secret garden full of surprises such as a potager, a childs playhouse and two stone love birds.  Plantings include a Mt. Fuji cherry, sky pencil Japanese holly, pieris, rhododendron, euonymous, leucothoe, lavender and mountain laurel.  Dwarf plumbago planted between the pavers makes an enchanting carpet of periwinkle blue in spring. Please note that there are steps leading into and out of the house.  The house is being opened for the first time for Historic Garden Week and is part of the Historic Alexandria Foundation.  Deborah Smulyan, owner. 

Old Town — 320 South Fairfax Street 
 Built in 1884, this classic Federal-style frame house was once owned by The Old Presbyterian Meeting House located directly across the street.  The taupe gray clapboard exterior opens to a spacious interior and the homeowners eclectic dcor. The house was renovated in 1984 and then again in 2003.  Reclaimed heart-pine wooden floors were added throughout the downstairs and the state-of-the-art kitchen was completely updated with beautiful hand-painted tiles and sage-green granite.  The hallway features old board and batten woodwork.  There is a 19th century rocking bench, and crown molding adorns the ceilings.  A skylight added to the dining room furnishes natural light.  The powder room has a lovely limestone-top, French Empire antique chest.  Two paintings by Maine artist Tom Curry reflect the homeowners love of the Maine coast. 

The garden has been completely restored and is ideally suited for family living.  Several garden rooms featuring intricate stone and brickwork create an intimate space for enjoying the lovely plantings of perennials, shrubs and trees, including umbrella pine, crape myrtle, dogwood, pear and azalea.  A wisteria-covered arbor is glorious in spring.  Mr. and Mrs. Derek van Bever, owners.

Old Town — 601 Prince Street 
An Alexandria neighbor since 1975, EDAW is located in a former church building on t
he corner of Prince Street and Saint Asaph Street.  The original building was designed in the Greek Revival style in the 1840s. The building was remodeled in the 1880s in the Romanesque Revival style, featuring dramatic curved arches and finely carved moldings.  The Second Presbyterian Church took over the building in 1889, and in 1995 the structure was renovated to a commercial office space.

  The garden alongside the building on Saint Asaph Street was created as public space in exchange for the EDAW sign on the exterior.  In an effort to revive the garden, EDAW held an internal garden design competition in 2006. 

The landscape is a lovely white shade garden featuring tulips, azaleas, heuchera, Solomons Seal, hosta and columbines planted beneath a canopy of Kusa dogwood and white crape myrtle. 

EDAW has been a guiding force in the fields of landscape architecture, urban design and environmental planning for more than half a century.  EDAWs special emphasis on the broad and increasingly complex issues of land use planning and design encourages appropriate use of resources and also enhances the environment. The building is being opened for the first time for Historic Garden Week. 

Old Town — 607 Cameron Street 
This classic Yeaton-Fairfax House was built in 1803 and was designed in the Bullfinch style of Federal-period architecture by William Yeaton, a prominent shipwright of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  William, Lord Fairfax, later bought the house. Noted for its dramatic faade of red brick punctuated vertically by a central three-story apse, the main entrance of the house features bifurcated front steps of Aquia stone.  Palladian-style windows on either side of the arched vestibule lend elegance to the overall design.

The interior features an array of woodwork executed by renowned 19th century craftsman George Andrew, whose work also appeared at Monticello, the Octagon House, Woodlawn Plantation, Hoxton House and The White House. The homeowners did extensive renovations when first moving in eight years ago.  They have just completed further renovations by rebuilding and extending the kitchen and sunroom and adding a master bedroom suite on the second floor with an outdoor terrace.  The lovely classical-style garden features marble sculpture and plantings of boxwoods, perennials and native plants.  The addition of new brick terraces, a dramatic columned loggia and a classical gazebo create an elegant yet intimate setting perfect for formal entertaining or quiet reflection. The house is part of the Historic Alexandria Foundation.  Mr. and Mrs. John H. Ariail, Jr., owners.  

Old Town — 514 Cameron Street 
With towering 14-foot ceilings, this three-story Greek Revival house was constructed in 1856 on land originally owned by John Alexander, one of the men responsible for the naming and design of the city of Alexandria.  Builders Rankin and Fadely constructed the single-family brick home for successful businessman James McNair and included the latest convenience of piped-in water.  A two-story flounder section is in the rear of the house. In 1915, the residence was transformed into four apartments and remained in that configuration until the current homeowners purchase in 2001. Following extensive but respectful renovation of this historic building, including new wiring and plumbing, the addition of central air conditioning and a modern kitchen, the homeowners returned the house to a single-family dwelling designed for entertaining.  

Numerous features original to the house have been preserved such as the plaster cove molding and marble fireplace surround in the living room, interior shutters and lead glass panes on the windows, scroll woodwork and newel post on the front hall stairs, and heart-pine floors throughout the house.  Beautiful furnishings reflect the homeowners desire to incorporate antiques appropriate to the period of the house with their more contemporary-traditional style.  The garden features lovely flagstone paving and colorful spring bulbs and is informal and relaxed for entertaining.  A trellis runs the length of the garden and is planted with flowering vines. The house is being opened for the first time for Historic Garden Week and is part of the Historic Alexandria Foundation.  Mr. and Mrs. George E. Kostel, owners.

Old Town — 224 North Royal Street 
This inviting and gracious residence occupies one of the original lots surveyed by George Washington.  The house was constructed in 1859 as the personal dwelling for a prominent Alexandria craftsman.  The current homeowners have resided in the house since 1979. The original woodwork, including random-width pine floors, moldings, pocket doors and front and back staircases, has been tastefully integrated with contemporary renovations and furnishings by the homeowners.  The dining room was recently accented with a mural commissioned to a French artist depicting an Italian vista. The first floor gracefully flows into an updated gourmet kitchen designed by the homeowners.  A spacious and inviting sunroom overlooks the back garden and serves as the focal point for gatherings of family and friends.  Hallways decorated in trompe loeil lead down into one of Alexandrias finest wine cellars.  Local Alexandria artisans have contributed to artistic renovations throughout the house.

The back garden off the sunroom features a stunning array of colorful spring bulbs and offers another area for entertaining.  A prized fig tree is the highlight of the side garden and creates an intimate and private space. The house is being opened for the first time for Historic Garden Week and is part of the Historic Alexandria Foundation.  Mr. and Mrs. John DePodesta, owners. 

Other places of historic interest 
Admission is included in Alexandria Garden Day ticket.  No Garden Day tour tickets sold at these locations. 

CHRIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH, 118 North Washington Street (at Cameron Street).  Historically known as George Washingtons church, this was the first church in Alexandria.  Built in  February 1773 by John Carlyle, founding trustee and first overseer of Alexandria, Christ Church has been serving its congregation, the community and the nation in the Anglican tradition ever since.  The historic design by James Wren is in the colonial Georgian style.  Most of the structure and interior woodwork are original.  The churchyard served as the town burial ground until 1809. 

Christ Church received a Beautification Award from the City of Alexandria in 2006 for its stunning gardens that provide visitors with a year-round display of color through plants, shrubs and trees.  Drifts of colorful spring bulbs will be delightful in April.  Both the church and gardens are open to the public seven days a week.   

OLD PRESBYTERIAN MEETING HOUSE, 321 South Fairfax Street.  Alexandrias Scottish merchants formed a Society of Presbyterians in the 1760s.  Constructed in 1775, the original sanctuary was destroyed by fire in 1835 and was rebuilt in the Georgian style with high clear windows and wood-paneled pew boxes.  Today it houses an active Presbyterian congregation of 1,000 members.  The plaque on the front of the sanctuary commemorates a 1798 worship service attended by President George Washington.  Burial grounds adjacent to the sanctuary include the graves of two pastors and nearly 300 members of the congregation, including Dr. James Craik, personal physician to George Washington, and John Carlyle, founding trustee and first overseer of Alexandria.  The Memorial to the Unknown Soldier of the American Revolution is set amid flowering dogwoods, crape myrtles, crabapples, azaleas and spring bulbs.  A newly i
nstalled garden adjacent to the Elliot House (corner of Wolfe and South Fairfax Streets) invites quiet reflection.  The gardens are open to the public seven days a week.   The sanctuary is open for Sunday worship and may be viewed during the week (Monday to Friday 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) by stopping by the church office. 

THE LEE-FENDALL HOUSE, 614 Oronoco Street (at North Washington Street).  Built in 1785 by Philip Fendall on land purchased from his cousin, Revolutionary War hero Light Horse Harry Lee, this gracious historic house museum served as home to generations of the Lee family until 1903 (except the years 1863-65 when it was used as a Union Army hospital).  The house was also owned by Robert Downham, a prominent Alexandria haberdasher and liquor purveyor (1903-36) and John L. Lewis, president of the United Mine Workers and one of the most powerful and controversial labor leaders in American history (1937-69).  Restored to its Victorian elegance, the Lee-Fendall House is interpreted as a Lee family home of the 1850-70 period, presenting an intimate study of 19th century family life.  The house is complemented by a garden that was restored in 1974 by the Alexandria Council of Garden Clubs.  Today, the garden is an urban oasis: a brick path for strolling is lined with more than 250 English boxwoods; a rose garden exhibits heritage roses; the towering black walnut and ginko surpass 250 years in age; and the towering magnolia dates to the 19th century.    

Guided tours are offered Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.  (Tours begin at the top of each hour; the final tour each day begins at 3 p.m.)  The Virginia Trust for Historic Preservation, owner. 

CARLYLE HOUSE HISTORIC PARK, 121 North Fairfax Street.  When Scottish merchant John Carlyle completed his riverfront home in 1753, this was the grandest mansion in the new town of Alexandria.  Carlyles business and social ties made him a leading citizen in Virginia and the founding trustee and first overseer of Alexandria.  The stone architecture, furniture and decorative finishes reflect Carlyles status and wealth.  The Friends of Carlyle House will sponsor their annual herb sale on the grounds from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, April 21.  All proceeds will benefit the museums collections purchases.  The Garden Club of Virginia restored the front landscape to the mid-18th century period.  A lovely garden with boxwood parterre graces the rear of the house.  Guided tours of the house are offered 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 12 noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday.  Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, owner. 

RIVER FARM, 7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria.  Headquarters of the American Horticultural Society (AHS), River Farm is a historic, 25-acre property on the banks of the Potomac River.  Once owned by George Washington, River Farm now showcases the practices and principles of AHS.  Extensive gardens feature colorful perennial borders, an innovative fruit and vegetable garden called The Growing Connection and an elaborate childrens garden as well as many notable trees, woodland areas, a flowering meadow and spectacular views of the Potomac River.  A newly installed Green Garage exhibit showcases environmentally friendly gardening practices. 

The American Horticultural Society will participate in Historic Garden Week through its annual plant sale on April 21 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and April 22 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.  The sale includes both native and nonnative annuals, perennials, herbs and shrubs.  Visitors to River Farm are invited to follow a self-guided walking tour of the gardens and grounds beginning at the Gift Shop and Visitors Center, next to the parking lot.  Hours are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

GEORGE WASHINGTONS MOUNT VERNON:  ESTATE AND GARDENS, Located 8 miles south of Alexandria on the George Washington Memorial Parkway and just down the road from River Farm, historic Mount Vernon was the home of George and Martha Washington.  George Washington derived great pleasure from the design and management of his estate, particularly the landscaping of the gardens and grounds.  From the end of the American Revolution in 1783 to his election to the presidency in 1789, Washington replaced outbuildings, reshaped gardens, created new lawns, planted trees and even realigned roads and lanes.  Mount Vernon today recreates the dramatic yet tranquil setting of Washingtons estate overlooking the Potomac River with serpentine walks beneath 18th century shade trees, original boxwood, 18th century flowers, botanical gardens and a working 18th century farm. 

The Pioneer Farmer site features a unique replica of Washingtons 16-sided barn, hands-on activities, farm animals, costumed workers and seasonal wheat-treading demonstrations.  With funding from Historic Garden Week, The Garden Club of Virginia has helped to restore Mount Vernons bowling green, one of the major landscape features of the vast plantation.

Discover the real George Washington in the new Ford Orientation Center and Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, totaling 25 theaters and galleries that tell the detailed story of Washingtons remarkable life.  Guided tours discussing the creative landscape, design, history and use of the gardens are available at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily.  The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, owners. 

WOODLAWN, 9000 Richmond Highway, 3 miles west of Mount Vernon at the intersection of Rt. 235 and US Rt.1.  This Federal mansion was built on 2,000 acres that George Washington carved from Mount Vernon when his wifes granddaughter, Nelly Custis, married his nephew, Lawrence Lewis.  Designed by Dr. William Thornton, the first architect of the United States Capitol, this lovely house contains fine Federal period furnishings, many brought from Mount Vernon.  The garden was restored by The Garden Club of Virginia in 1958-60.  Woodlawn is a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was recently named an official Save Americas Treasures site.  Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Closed Mondays.  People are welcome to view the formal gardens for Historic Garden Week.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation, owner.

GUNSTON HALL PLANTATION, 15 miles south of Alexandria off US Rt. 1 on Rt. 242.  This 550-acre plantation was the home of George Mason (1725-92), author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.  The estate features a Georgian mansion, c. 1755, and reconstructed outbuildings.  Interiors of the mansion are enriched by an elaborate scheme of carved decoration designed by the architect William Buckland and executed by his assistant William Sears between 1755 and 1759.  On the riverside of the mansion, an impressive alle of English boxwood planted by Col. Mason in the 18th century leads to an overlook offering a panoramic view of the Deer Park, surrounding fields and the Potomac River.  Archaeological research, sponsored in part by The Garden Club of Virginia with funding from Historic Garden Week tours, has confirmed the existence of original components of the landscape, including the configuration of gravel pathways, earthen viewing mounts, and the course of the old Landing Road.  Gunston Hall is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and operated by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America.  Open 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.