From the beginning it was named the "big tree" project. This past Monday morning at Mount Vernon Estate it was evident why that name was appropriate.
As part of the $95 million project to create an orientation and education center and museum at the home of America's first president, 65 oversized, mature trees will be planted near the new facilities. The first of those — some as large as 40 feet high and weighing four tons — arrived on flatbed trucks from the Halka Nurseries in Elizabethtown, N.J. on Monday.
To be planted near the Ford Orientation Center and the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, the trees are a critical shield between the new buildings and Washington's mansion with its surrounding historic area. The largest had to be hoisted by crane over the historic "Texas Gate" entryway.
"Rather than waiting for trees to grow over several years, I felt strongly that the Orientation Center, Museum and Education Center should blend in from the very beginning," said donor Robert H. Smith, a business executive and philanthropist from Arlington. "The best way to achieve this is to plant impressive specimens that will have an immediate presence in the landscape."
As major donors to Mount Vernon's capital campaign, Smith and his wife, Clarice, have committed additional funds to the "big tree" project, according to Emily Dibella, assistant director of marketing, Mount Vernon Estate. The Smiths have accomplished similar mature tree plantings at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland.
Smith and Mount Vernon's horticulturist, Dean Norton, traveled to the New Jersey nursery to select elm, maple, tulip poplar, oak, beech, and American holly trees to duplicate varieties that would have been in Washington's woods in the 18th century.
"These trees are vital to our overall landscaping plan, so it is important to choose species that are historically accurate," Norton said. He also explained that the best time to plant trees is during winter when their systems are dormant.
The centers and museum are the major components of the campaign to restore the "Father of Our Country" to his rightful place of honor and distinction in America, according the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, owner of the Estate. The new facilities are scheduled to open Oct. 27.