- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2003

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is a testament to the beauty of nature and what a backyard gardener could do if he only had the time, space and expertise. One could stroll the 95-acre site in Vienna and never take in the same view twice. The paths roll over hills and into woods, around ponds and through meadows. All the while, there are hundreds of flower beds to admire, as well as countless benches and gazebos where one can take a rest or merely think. The plants are clearly marked, so amateur horticulturists can see, for instance, a dozen types of hostas grouped together, or the varieties of herbs that can successfully grow in the region’s climate.

Meadowlark attracts all types. On a sunny day recently — the first break in weeks of rain — were power walkers, artists with sketchbooks, and many moms with preschoolers out to feed the ducks or just push strollers and enjoy the view.

“It is a lot of fun to come here,” says Karen O’Hara of Oakton, who was strolling with her 18-month-old daughter, Emily. “You can get exercise for yourself, and you can let them out of the stroller if they want to explore. I like to see the peonies in bloom. She likes the ducks.”

Garden administrator Keith Tomlinson says the park is indeed many things to many people.

“Our mission statement is about aesthetics, conservation and education,” he says.

The aesthetics can be found in the awesome beauty of the flowers this time of year. Education opportunities abound, from gardening lectures to nature walks, bird-watching walks to preschool science programs. Some programs are free; others have a registration fee.

One of the important conservation projects at Meadowlark is the Potomac Valley Nature Plant Collection, an area of the gardens that displays plants with regional origins. The collection serves as a tool to foster an understanding of the ecological value of native plants in the community, Mr. Tomlinson says.

Two other special areas at Meadowlark are the sensory garden and the garden of cancer-fighting plants. In the sensory garden, near the visitor’s center, visitors are encouraged to touch woolly lamb’s ear plants, smell the lemon-scented geraniums and listen to the sounds of bluebirds and robins.

The cancer-fighting plants garden, also near the visitor’s center, was opened in 1998. The garden was inspired by Vienna resident Lenore Parham, who died of cancer in 1997. She had made many visits to Meadowlark while undergoing cancer treatment, and believed that those undergoing chemotherapy might benefit psychologically from seeing the beautiful plants used to make cancer-fighting drugs.

New among the flowers this year is a one-room restored log cabin, which is believed to date back to 1755, Mr. Tomlinson says. The old cabin was part of the farmhouse in which the gardens’ most recent property owners, Gardiner Means and Caroline Ware, lived for more than 50 years. The farmhouse recently was torn down, but the cabin was restored and now sits on a hill, among flowers common to 18th-century Virginia homes.

The cabin and farmhouse came with the donation Mr. Means and Ms. Ware made to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority in 1980. The couple, he an economist in the Roosevelt administration and she a social historian, lived on the property for 53 years. They raised sheep and cattle and, of course, nurtured the land.

The couple helped supervise the design for the gardens, which opened in 1987, shortly before the death of Mr. Means. Ms. Ware died in 1990. Their plan, however, which was to preserve the bounty of the Virginia countryside, can be found among the lawns, lakes, meadows and groves that remain at Meadowlark.

When you go:

$4 for adults, $2 for the elderly and students. Children younger than 6 are admitted free. Admission is free from Nov. 1 to March 31. Memberships are available for individuals, families and groups.

Parking: On-site.

Note: Picnics are permitted in the picnic pavilion. Bicycles and pets are permitted only on the perimeter trail along Beulah Road and Meadowlark Gardens Court. The visitor’s center has many nature-theme items for sale in its gift shop.

More information: 703/255-3631 or www.nvrpa.org/meadowlark.html.

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