Georgetown Garden Tour is Living History
Gardens are living tableaux that change with seasons and with owners. But for a few hours in May, the Georgetown Garden Tour permits visitors to peek at the constantly evolving private gardens of the neighborhood.
Saturday May 7th marks the 83rd annual Georgetown Garden Tour (10a.m. to 4p.m., sponsored by the Georgetown Garden Club). Large and small private gardens in both the East Village and the West Village will open their doors to visitors throughout the day, accompanied by garden accessories features by Bo and Alison Jia of Middle Kingdom porcelain arts, and the secrets to Persian cooking by local cookbook author Najmieh Batmanglij. Tea and light refreshments will be served from 2 pm to 4 pm at nearby Christ Church.
The Georgetown Garden Tour is a self-directed walking tour that leads visitors to nearby private gardens that are formal or eclectic, large and small, but which all reflect their owners and designers. Tour volunteers expect about one thousand curious gardeners on Saturday to participate, rain or shine.
Originally started by the matrons of Georgetown society, the garden tour was put in place to help fund a school for the neighborhood’s domestic staff—The Children’s House, which still stands on N Street. Local historian and co-chair of this year’s Garden Tour, Edie Schafer, explains that starting in the 1920’s, Georgetown society supported the school with activities that included the Georgetown Garden Day. After many years, The Children’s House closed, but the Georgetown Garden Tour soldiered on, supported by the efforts of a few committed volunteers, including Schafer. In the late 1990’s Schafer and the other tour organizers combined forces with the Georgetown Garden Club and the current incarnation was born.
This year about fifteen club members join Schafer and co-Chair Jane Matz in identifying nine homes for the 2011 garden tour. The homes selected as part of this year’s tour range from an old farmhouse on a hill, to a garden that embraces an unusual Georgetown home with a lap pool tucked into geometric pavings. East Village gardens include the former home of Abraham Lincoln’s son and the Evermay estate.
Garden Club members responsible for selecting gardens for the tour explain that prospects are identified by word of mouth. To be part of the annual garden tour, gardens may be large or small but should reflect a point of view and the personality of the owner. A garden with unusual plants or one that cleverly breaks up the omnipresent rectangles of Georgetown lots can be very attractive. Several years ago, the tour even included a “plastic garden” on Cambridge Place, which was carefully crafted to fool viewers into seeing a living space.
Helen DuBois has been a Georgetown Garden Club member for nineteen years, and her garden will be part of the 2011 Georgetown Garden Tour. DuBois does not want to give away too much, but she is delighted to open her garden on 35th street across from Visitation as a stop on the 2011 tour. She explains that her garden can be appreciated by both experienced and novice gardeners and that she hopes it will be an inspiration to visitors looking for ideas to enhance their own garden spaces. Selecting the gardens begins about seven to eight months before the tour date. Some of the gardens invited to participate have been identified earlier, but owners ask to be included the following year because they want extra time to prepare their garden.
Past projects supported by proceeds from the Georgetown Garden Tour include Trees for Georgetown, Tudor Place, Montrose Park and Book Hill. In addition, local urban students have participated in outdoor activities in partnership with the Student Conservation Association and the Georgetown Garden Club.
The sixty-member Georgetown Garden Club is an active member of the Garden Clubs of America. This year the Georgetown Garden Club’s congratulatory “stakes project” has been suspended. In past years, these mysterious stakes appeared in visible plots, tree boxes and front yards signaling the garden club’s appreciation for the gardener’s efforts to beautify Georgetown. Because of the controversy around how to care for the trees in the tree boxes, the Garden Club has decided to take a hiatus on this tradition.
Tickets for the Georgetown Garden Tour are $35 and are available by calling 202-965-1950, or visit GeorgetownGardenTour.com. Tickets are also available at Christ Church on the day of the tour.