by Dawn Szelc of Clear Blue Landscapes
- from the June tour of Hillwood Estates
We were met by Brian Bart one of the horticulturists working at Hillwood. Brian explained that Hillwood had 25 acres of property and the mansion was built in the mid 1920’s. Marjorie Merriweather Post purchased the property in 1955. A landscape firm did a Master Plan for Marjorie at that time. Marjorie decided to create “rooms” both in the landscape and in the house. She added the Pavilion which was the movie theater in the interior of the home. In the garden many different spaces were created. The French parterre is a formal garden with intricate plantings of Morris dwarf boxwood. The garden was recently redone. A template was made of the parterre design and the boxwoods were trimmed using lasers to get the lines and angles correct. The stone in the boxwood beds is chipped Seneca stone. The ivy surrounding the area is grown on fences. Two fountains flank each end with a rill connecting them with the sculpture of Diana at one end.
From there we moved toward the Lunar Lawn which had been a bit trampled with an evening event the night before. Brian spoke about the azaleas on the property – over 5000 in number but 100 varieties. He showed us a bed that had been redone with a new horse chestnut tree, astilbe, and variegated dogwood (Cornus alba). When asked about lighting on the grounds Brian said that there was not much other than the east and west millennium spheres that we were standing near. They hoped to improve that as well as redo all the deteriorating walkways in the near future.
As we made our way to the Rose Garden, Brian pointed out that many of the woodland plants have found their way to the formal gardens. May apples were growing along the path. Marjorie had the original garden upgraded with the help of Perry Wheeler whose signature brick loops are seen at the four corners. Her ashes are interred here at the base of the pink granite monument.
We took the Friendship Walk to the Four Seasons Overlook. This was given to Marjorie by her friends. Along the way Brian pointed out the Snowball viburnum planted there. The Four Seasons Overlook was also designed by Perry Wheeler with the 4 statues of the seasons at each side.
We then walked into the wooded area to see the tulip poplar that had fallen in the derecho. They lost a total of 25 trees in the storm. It was decided to leave the large fallen base and plant into it. On the way to the Putting Green Brian pointed out a Loropetalum with is related to the witch-hazel. It blooms in late April or early May with a purple bloom that looks very much like a witch-hazel. The Putting Green is covered in bent grass which was very walkable and Brian turned on the large fan nearby which is used to keep the grass in good shape in hot humid weather.
We moved onto the Japanese-style garden which was designed by Shogo Myaida and restored recently by Zen Associates. We walked throughout the garden’s meandering path and waterfalls and pools. It is a very picturesque area and the children there were enjoying the water as well.
We walked to the Lunar Lawn as Brian decided he needed to pull a large weed from the bed. We all chuckled at that knowing how we too had many times just had to pull that weed right then! He described that the Cleome that was planted was actually a sterile version and he hoped that was actually true. He directed us to the back porch so that we could see the view of the Washington Monument from there. There are a number of American Elms planted near the house. One was a mature American Elm that needs application of fungicide every two years to keep it healthy. Princeton elms, a cultivar of American elm resistant to Dutch elm disease, have recently been planted.
Our tour then took us to the enormous cutting garden which is still used today to create the beautiful floral arrangements on display in the Visitor Center and the house. Finally Brian directed us to the Adirondack Building which has been turned into a museum display area and held a wonderful collection of Mrs. Post's dresses she had worn throughout the years.
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