Historic Garden Week: Learning by design

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One of the best ways to discover some new ideas for your home garden is by visiting other gardens.  This weekends 77th Annual Historic House and Garden Tour is a perfect place to get into the spring garden season. 

The five private homes and the historic properties on the 2010 tour offer a wonderful source of ideas. They may be small urban spaces but many of the design principles can translate to your garden at home.  Be sure to take a notebook with you on the tour to jot down plant names or to sketch ideas for your garden plan since photography is not permitted in the private homes and gardens. Three ideas that you might look for:  Keep the plant palette simple, take advantage of adjacent plantings and incorporate organic gardening practices.

Keep it simple

One idea that appears in many Old Town gardens, such as the one 
at 201 Duke St., is keeping the color palette simple.  Choose one or two colors and stick with them.  Many gardeners are overwhelmed when they visit their local garden center or nursery. There are so many choices, from evergreen or deciduous to the vast array of color in the annuals and perennials.  

White flowers are an elegant and eye-catching addition to any garden scheme. The plan can be a white flowering scheme with an evergreen foundation.  For example, a garden can bloom in springtime with white phlox, viburnum, azalea, dogwood and star or saucer magnolia. Turning to summer, the garden will come alive with hydrangea, southern magnolia, white crape myrtle, rose of Sharon and clematis. 

Take advantage of adjacent plantings whenever possible. Many gardens on the tour are small backyard spaces surrounded by a fence and often with several other properties surrounding it.  Many gardens have lovely flowering trees or shade trees that frame views on your property. This idea of borrowed landscape is often overlooked when planning a garden.  A nearby garden may use evergreens as a privacy screen that becomes a lovely backdrop for your planting.  Most gardens in Old Town are located behind or next to another home or business. Instead of seeing this as a liability, it can be used to your advantage.  

Incorporate organic gardening practices into a garden of any size.  One property at 220 S. Fairfax St. has a compost bin located in the back corner of the garden bed to provide fertilizer for all the surrounding plantings.  It is a cost-saving and efficient way to provide nutrient soil for the garden plants while not adding chemical fertilizers.  Most enclosed compost bins require a combination of yard and kitchen scraps such as grass clippings, shredded leaves, vegetable and fruit peelings, egg shells and coffee grounds. 

As you will see on the tour, you dont need a large area to create a beautiful sanctuary to enjoy for all four seasons.  Sponsored by the Hunting Creek Garden Club and The Garden Club of Alexandria, visitors can see gardens in five private homes and nearby historic properties throughout Alexandria.  The historic homes and gardens on the tour include:  The Lee-Fendall House Museum and Garden, Carlyle House Historic Park, Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, Woodlawn, Gunston Hall Plantation and River Farm.  

Tickets: $40, full ticket on tour day includes five private houses and gardens, refreshments at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House and all-day admission to nearby historic properties.  Group tours for 10 or more people and tickets purchased in advance are $35. Tickets may be purchased on tour day at any of the houses and at the Alexandria Visitors Center.  For more information visit www.vagardenweek.org.

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