- The Washington Times - Monday, March 6, 2006

As many as 63 mature trees — some as tall as 40 feet and weighing up to 4 tons — were planted at Mount Vernon yesterday.

A 175-ton crane hoisted some of the trees over the “Texas Gate” entrance to the estate. The trees will act as a shield between a complex that is being constructed and the historic buildings, including George Washington’s mansion.

“It’s great to be able to move these big trees in with nothing else around,” said Dean Norton, a horticulturist who has worked at Mount Vernon for 37 years. “They are all handpicked … the ‘Cadillac’ of trees.”

The trees — willow oak, maple, tulip poplar, elm, beech and American holly — are varieties that would have been found in Washington’s woods in the 18th century.

“We wanted trees that would not just be pretty, but historic as well,” said Emily Coleman Dibella, a spokeswoman for the estate.

The complex, scheduled to open Oct. 27, will consist of the Ford Orientation Center and the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. They are part of a $95 million campaign to boost Washington’s image.

State-of-the-art designs will highlight chapters of Washington’s life, from early adulthood to presidency.

The trees were picked from Halka Nurseries Inc. in Englishtown, N.J., hand dug and shipped by tractor-trailers to Mount Vernon.

Robert H. Smith, a business executive and philanthropist from Arlington, paid for the trees.

“Rather than waiting for trees to grow over several years, I felt strongly that the orientation center and museum and education center should blend in from the very beginning,” Mr. Smith said. “The best way to achieve this is to plant impressive specimens that will have an immediate presence in the landscape.”

The best time to transport and plant trees is in the winter, when they are dormant, Mr. Norton explained.

Planting the large trees in native clay soil is a challenge, he said.

“The key to survivability is drainage,” Mr. Norton said. “These trees require hundreds of gallons of water, but cannot sit in the water or they will drown.”

Underneath each tree will be pipes and volcanic rock that will hold moisture and allow better drainage.

The landscaping will be completed with smaller plants and an irrigation system.

In order to prevent the new buildings from detracting from the mansion, the architects tucked 65 percent of the 66,700-square-foot complex under the 4-acre pasture just inside Mount Vernon’s main gate.

Traditional Hogg Island sheep, like those Washington raised 200 years ago, will graze in the pasture.

The museum will include three life-size models, created by artists and forensic teams, to depict Washington in different stages of his life.

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