Celebration in Bloom at River Farm: American Horticultural Society celebrates 50th anniversary with community picnic

Celebration in Bloom at River Farm: American Horticultural Society celebrates 50th anniversary with community picnic
Guests gathered at River Farm on August 24 to celebrate the organization’s 50th anniversary. (Kaitlyn Murphy)

By Kaitlin Murphy | kmurphy@alextimes.com

The American Horticultural Society hosted a 50th-anniversary picnic at historic River Farm headquarters on August 24, complete with cupcakes and live music. AHS welcomed families and friends of all ages to enjoy the many gardens, views of the Potomac River and beautiful weather – and community members and neighbors came out to support the efforts of the AHS board.

Picnic goers set out their blankets and chairs on the lawn and were invited to explore the gardens and the manor house. Tours were available, and brochure handouts allowed visitors to meander at their own guided pace. Members and leadership of the national non- profit were around to mix and mingle and answer questions about the organization and the history of the property.

This milestone anniversary was even sweeter since the future of River Farm was unknown in 2020. The property had been put up for sale and the pandemic shutdown led to considerable uncertainty about River Farm’s future. AHS, local governments and community organizations worked together in an attempt to retain and preserve River Farm. In 2021, AHS was able to recommit to their stewardship and nonprofit mission for generations of gardening enthusiasts to come.

These community advocates reflected on the work that helped keep River Farm within the AHS purview while picnicking together on the beautiful grounds.

Fairfax County Supervisor Dan Storck of the Mt. Vernon District provided opening remarks at the event and presented a proclamation thanking AHS for its long-standing stewardship of River Farm and its important work educating the community on the natural world.

“Thank you for helping save this wonderful place where we can enjoy the cultivated world around us and help make a difference in the world. The 50 years here at River Farm has enhanced this historical treasure,” Storck read in the proclamation.

AHS board member Skipp Calvert, a long-time Old Town resident, accepted the proclamation from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Live music from the band Soulfire was provided by AHS member and Co-chair of the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens’ Association Katherine Ward. The band’s lead singer, Randy Bend, is also a Potomac RiverKeeper Network member.

Scott Plein, chair of the AHS Board of Directors, acknowledged that the hard work during the pandemic allowed for this event and milestone year to be achieved.

“In the two years since we achieved our goal of saving River Farm from development, we are now able to enjoy the beauty of the property and the energy of the community. Tonight is a perfect example of what this property means to AHS and Northern Virginia,” Plein said.

The 25-acre property was originally purchased by AHS in 1973 with funds donated from philanthropist and AHS member of the board of directors Enid Annenberg Haupt. The grounds were envisioned to be a public space for education, awareness, and an appreciation for the natural beauty of horticulture.

Seeing families with their children enjoying a picnic together with neighbors among these gardens is a visual reminder of this mission at River Farm.

Efforts behind the scenes by River Farm’s dedicated and enthusiastic staff in preparation for the 50th anniversary have long been underway.

“The staff rallied the vol- unteers who have come back and the work they do makes all the difference. The volunteers make the work sustainable,” Calvert remarked.

Scott Plein agreed with Calvert’s assessment.

“The volunteer energy creates more energy and helps with the momentum to make improvements to the grounds,” Plein said.

“In more than 20 years, this is the best River Farm has ever looked. Rebound, rebuild, reboot,” Calvert said.

Beautiful inside and out, the manor house reflects the ethos of the AHS. The interiors boast artwork and designs from a well-researched and developed program featuring native local plant species. Each inch of the property reflects the knowledge and appreciation for the local ecological plant communities.

Last year, the AHS celebrated 100 years as a national organization. In the next 100 years, they plan to continue to protect traditional horticulture and work toward reinvesting in the education of earth-friendly practices. Their goal is to foster an appreciation and care for the beauty of gardens and surrounding environs. Education programs and outreach on sustainable practices have long connected the organization’s efforts with local and national groups.

The American Horticultural Society and its headquarters bridges a direct partnership with communities in Alexandria and the greater DC metro area. With proximity to national history and natural beauty, educational opportunities are accessible.

“We plan to do more and more of these events. Our goal is to build community and hopefully the community will continue to support us,” Plein stated.

As a pinnacle to the 50th anniversary celebration, the American Horticultural Society is hosting a gala on Sept. 23, 2023 at River Farm.