I know of a secret garden where herbs and flowers sweeten the air, where mango yellow Monarch butterflies suck the nectar from the purple throated phlox, and where peaceful lakes give cooling comfort to the grey-frocked geese honking parental guidance to their young in the quiet peacefulness of Nature’s bosom. The clustered mounds of pumpkin orange zinnias and rainbow colored petunias hug the narrow edges of the mulch-filled mounds of pink and lavender salvia, leaning close to the star spiked cleomes, harboring sweetness to be savored on the sun-drenched slopes. The homey robins seek their savory worms while the purple finches and perked-up-tailed wrens swirl and swoop in the gentle breezes from the trees to the lakeside bushes. This is a place of solitude, peace, and tranquility. It is a magical place. It is the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.
Located in Vienna, a scant six miles from Tysons corner, on 96 acres of rolling hills and deeply indented dales, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is a property of Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which is maintained and operated for public education and enjoyment. This was the wish of the donors, Dr. Caroline Ware and Dr. Gardiner Means, who donated their beloved farm in 1980 to the park authority. Dr. Ware and Dr. Means, well-known authors, teachers, and committed environmentalists, had purchased the seventy-five acre farm in 1935. They left their native New
England to move to Washington, D.C., to assist President Franklin Roosevelt to implement social and economic initiatives related to New Deal policies. They paid seven thousand dollars for the farm, raised sheep dogs, farmed wheat, planted flowers, lived in their comfortable home, lectured in some of the local universities, developed numerous government programs, and entertained the Washington elite.
Growing older, the couple decided to entrust their beloved farm to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. When they made their donation in 1980, they expressed their wish that the property should “remain a haven for trees, shrubs and flowers to preserve the bounty of the Virginia country side”. An additional 21 acres of property contiguous to the farm, owned by the Northern Virginia
Regional Park Authority, was added to create the 96-acre Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.
Meadowlark opened in April of 1987 and both Dr. Ware and Dr. Means were in attendance. Neither one survived to see the miracle of their gift mature. From the onset, the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens has been and continues to be a work in progress. In 1999, in keeping with the conservation ethic, a regional plant conservation program was implemented. The objective is to conserve plants in their native habitats. Regional geology, topography and forest composition determine the collection of
native plants identified as the Potomac River Valley as the geographic province.
In 1992, the dignified low brick Visitors Center, tastefully sheltered by welcoming shrubs and flowering bushes, opened. Inside the entrance and on the right wall, are the words which spell the mission statement: “Collect and display plants native to the Potomac River Valley and plants from around the world; to provide educational opportunities in gardening, horticulture, botany and conservation of plant diversity and to provide a place of aesthetic beauty to foster the stewardship of nature for public enrichment.” Displays of native flowers, birds and fish are on the walls along with historical information about the origins of the gardens.
Three lakes have been added to the main stream course, trails have been outlined, and an azalea garden, a lilac collection, several day lily beds have been planted. Hundreds of hostas, some Siberian iris, cherry trees and a native tree trail were added. Later, three gazebos were built in various locations, a historic log cabin, vintage 1755, was opened to the public, and a new wooden bridge, curved, arched and composed of seven native hardwoods, was constructed between the islands in Lake Gardner. Shortly after the opening of the Visitors Center, the Conifer Garden was enlarged by the generous collection of dwarf conifers donated from the collection of Dr. Albert Paulsen.
In 1998, the Atrium was constructed to the right of the main entrance. Designed as an Events Facility, the interior is a place of peace and beauty with small wells of gently flowing water, shrouded with evergreens of various sizes and delicate blooming flowers. Huge white hibiscus, daisies, petunias, pale white-green caladium and hundreds of unnamed flowers and plants, all in varying shades of white, enhance one side of the Atrium and the small pond beside it. A circular path, swaddled in white blooms and plants, leads to an open, shaded garden and benches. The Atrium is truly a place of beauty and is a popular locale for weddings, receptions, and other social venues. The newest creation in the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is the Korean Bell Garden which opened in May 2012. Forged by the collaboration of the Northern
Virginia Regional Park Authority and the Fairfax County-based Korean American Cultural Committee, the four-and-a-half acre garden features three unique structures that were designed and constructed, over a period of two years, by four Korean craftsmen using highly-detailed joinery and few nails. The entrance pavilion, beautifully landscaped with plants indigenous to Korea and America, features the words “Korea” and “America” spelled in Korean characters. The Bell pavilion houses the bell, which was forged in Korea and bears engravings of plants and animals indigenous to Korea and Virginia, and Korean characters spell the words “the Bell of Peace and Harmony.” The third pavilion features a gurgling fish pond, faced by a patio and a wall, which bears the raised white images of animals, plants and flowers familiar to Korea and Virginia. Totem poles, hewn by hand and painted in vivid colors, welcome visitors to the Korean Bell Garden and offer protection to visitors just as they did in Korea centuries ago. The unique Korean Bell Garden was built to celebrate the friendship, harmony and peace honoring the long relationship between South Korea and the United States and was financed and maintained entirely by donations.
While Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is a place of magical beauty, it continues to be true to its mission. Educational programs are held on a year-long basis by staff horticulturists on a wide variety of subjects, ranging from lectures on worm composting and organic gardening to garden tours and full moon hikes. Camp Grow combines fun and education for children to learn and enjoy nature and investigations in gardening. Tours for garden clubs, school field trips, and science programs are offered through staff arrangements.
How is such a wealth of knowledge and beauty available to everyone in the Metropolitan areas of Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia? The secrets of this wonderful place are revealed through the visions and hard work of a small staff of dedicated professional horticulturists, garden assistants and volunteers who share their creative genius to make the secrets of this garden visible to all who visit. Each season’s chosen gifts are on display. Colorful bulbs welcome springtime, roses bask in summer sun, mounds of flowers bloom through autumn and a glorious display of multicolored LED lights, draped in majestic evergreen trees, welcome Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights.
Finally, in this secret garden where miracles are discovered, there is something for everyone: picnicking under the wisteria-clad arbor; strolling among the pink-turning crab apple trees; sitting on one of the many benches and feeling nature flow over you; watching the slow-moving, principled turtles inch their way to the pond; watching the birds seek comfort and food as they flit from perch to tree; searching for that last delicate pond lily blossom in the edge of the silent lake or luxuriating on one of the many benches with a page worn favorite book contemplating the unknown
miracles of the universe.
Do come to the Secret Garden, the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, off Beulah Road in Vienna. Children under six visit free of charge and adult tickets are $5.