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Letter: A River Farm Adventure

— To the Editor:

We decided to visit River Farm on a perfect sunny summer day with low humidity and a cooling breeze. River Farm, an entrancing feature of our neighborhood, is nearly unknown to tourists and even to many locals. Originally part of George Washington’s property along the Potomac River, it is now home to the American Horticultural Society thanks to a generous gift from Ms. Enid A. Haupt in 1973.

As we walked from the parking lot, we paused to gather an information sheet from a gaily painted mailbox. A sign welcomes picnickers and we had brought a picnic. Next to the mailbox is a bird sculpture made of bright red, yellow and blue garden tools. Across from the sculpture is the garden shop, open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 until 2. On the bulletin board outside is a display of photographs of volunteers working at River Farm, a subtle invitation to join them. We entered the garden shop and looked around at an attractive collection of books, tools, seeds, stationery, ceramics, all garden-related. A colored glass panel saying “The Earth Laughs in Flowers” caught our notice. We picnicked near the garden shop under a magnolia tree at a round table surrounded by green chairs.

After lunch we proceeded up the driveway toward the house and gardens. We took a brick path into the Garden Calm, where a venerable Osage orange tree shades the garden. It is 200 years old and the largest in the United States. In its shade is a fountain bubbling over a millstone, a soothing sound competing with the whir of an air conditioner.

Hydrangeas and hostas border the way to the children’s garden. Some mothers and children were picnicking in the shade, taking a break from playing there, with metal butterflies and wooden structures to climb up on or down into.

Moving on, we passed a statue of Pan playing his pipes and the Green Garage with plants for a roof. Above the ha-ha wall is a sod sofa facing out toward the Potomac. The Andre Bluemel meadow below is filled with native plants, flowers and grasses and a large black walnut tree dating back to George Washington’s time.

We walked up to the house and enjoyed the view of the river from rockers on its broad porch. Plein air painters too appreciate River Farm, its gardens and vistas. We have encountered them setting up their easels to capture the meadow, the black walnut tree, the river beyond, as well as the gardens and the house itself. A large stone patio beside the house was tented, ready of one of many events held there.

Indoors, the living room facing the river featured paintings of magnolias by Salon 8. Elsewhere in the house, the walls were hung with the bounty of summer: paintings of hydrangeas, peppers, fruits, vegetables, berries, and flowers of all sorts, also all by Salon 8. Art shows at River Farm tend naturally to botanicals, still lifes and landscapes.

Back outside, we wound our way around to the west side through the White House gates. They were fabricated about 1819 in New York by Paulus Hoban, an Austrian smith and foundry man. The gates were part of the reconstruction of the White House following the damage done by British forces during the War of 1812. They were removed during a 1937 renovation and were stored and lost at River Farm for 50 years. Now a garden path leads visitors through these ornate iron gates. From there, we walked back to the parking lot to drive home refreshed. River Farm is a favorite place to visit in all seasons.

Peter and Alison Lattu