America's Garden Showcase
A short drive along the scenic George Washington Parkway from Alexandria, Virginia, River Farm is acclaimed for its spell-binding vistas stretching down to the Potomac River, along with its creative children’s gardens, beautiful four-acre meadow, and colorful flower displays. It is a favorite site for weddings, family picnics, bird-watchers, and painters.
The Perennial Border
A series of smaller gardens offers an ever-changing succession of color and interest throughout the year. Plants in each section of the garden are coordinated by color, season of bloom, size, and texture. They have also been selected for resistance to diseases and pests.
White House Gates
At one end of the Perennial Border stands a set of historic White House Gates. These gates were first installed at the White House in 1819, as part of the reconstruction project to repair damage from the War of 1812. They stood for more than 120 years at the northeast entrance to the White House before being removed during a renovation project. The gates found a second home on the River Farm property and remained in relative obscurity for more than 50 years. In 2004, the Society undertook restoration and conservation of the gates to return them to their original splendor.
River Farm’s Estate House is home to the Society’s Administrative and Membership offices. The lower floor is open to the public and features a charming parlor with a stunning river view, and a beautiful ballroom. Rotating exhibits by area artists are often on display in these rooms. The Estate House is a popular venue for weddings, corporate events, meetings, and memorials, and is available for rental.
The plantings in front of the Estate House consist predominantly of native shrubs and trees, including Allegheny serviceberry (Amelanchier laevis), fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii), and Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina). An underplanting of mixed perennials and annuals provides seasonal color, and is especially eye-catching in spring when thousands of bulbs are in bloom.
The bluestone terrace beside the Estate House is framed on one side by a stately hedge of English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) containing specimens nearly 100 years old. Perennial and annual display beds behind the Estate House provide seasonal color and interest.
André Bluemel Meadow
The André Bluemel Meadow is a naturalistic four-acre area that includes many species of native grasses and wildflowers. Two large black walnut trees (Juglans nigra) in the middle of the meadow are believed to date from the time of George Washington’s ownership of River Farm. Red foxes, bluebirds, marsh hawks, ospreys, and bald eagles are often sighted in this area, as well as numerous butterflies and other insects. Learn more about the meadow.
A sunken brick Ha-Ha Wall borders the western side of the meadow area. In England, these walls were introduced in the 18th century to keep livestock and wildlife out of manor gardens without erecting a noticeable fence to spoil the view.
The Wildlife Garden features a small pond that is home to frogs, goldfish, and turtles. Surrounding the pond are plants that provide food and shelter for birds, including blueberries, northern bayberries, grasses, junipers, and hollies.
A small grove of Franklin trees (Franklinia alatamaha) stands nearby. These American natives, extinct in the wild, were named by early American plantsman John Bartram for his friend, Benjamin Franklin. The trees bear white camellia-like flowers in late summer; their leaves turn red in autumn.
River Farm’s popular Children’s Garden, initially developed by school groups and professional landscape designers, is made up of more than a dozen, small, themed gardens designed to stimulate children’s interest in plants and nature. With the help of many volunteers and a dedicated staff, these gardens delight the child in all of us. Today there are thirteen gardens for imaginative play and exploration.
The Garden Calm
The Garden Calm is planted with shrubs, trees, and perennials that prefer full or part shade. The large tree that provides most of the shade for this area is an Osage-orange (Maclura pomifera). This particular tree has been recognized as the largest Osage-orange in the United States by the National Register of Big Trees in 2011, and is estimated to be 200 years old.
An Orchard of apple, pear, cherry, plum, and Japanese persimmon trees produces a beautiful spring display and bears an abundant crop of fruit in late summer and fall.
The George Harding Memorial Garden
The George Harding Memorial Azalea Garden includes hundreds of different azalea species, varieties, and cultivars, which provide a dazzling display of color in May. Planted among them are several small ornamental trees, including river birch (Betula nigra ‘Heritage’), dogwoods (Cornus spp.), dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides), and rare dove trees (Davidia involucrata).