- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

How to explain the mystique of the garden? It’s a tie to nature, a refuge from the world, a chance to coax a living thing toward the fullness of its beauty. It’s art, design and style statement rolled into one.

That may explain the popular appeal of the annual Georgetown Garden Tour, which lights up Mother’s Day weekend with a rare chance to view some of the best tended and most lavishly planted gardens in the District.

This year’s tour on Saturday, with all proceeds going to charity, is expected to draw around 1,000 visitors, as in past tours, say its Georgetown Garden Club sponsors.

The 2006 garden walk will feature nine gardens within a 10-block square around Christ Church Keith Hall at 31 and O streets Northwest, as well as a hotly contested tree-box competition, focusing on the many small patches of sidewalk growing space surrounding Georgetown trees.

Refreshments for tour-goers, as well as a gardener’s boutique, detailed garden descriptions and plant lists for most of the gardens will be available at Christ Church.

The tour will be held on one day only, with no rain date, says garden club President Lee Child.

“Serious gardeners don’t care if it rains — they’ll come anyway, to see all those plants,” she says.

Anyone who cannot make the tour and wants to view the gardening skills of garden club members, Ms. Child suggests, should stop by the Volta Park Habitat Garden behind the basketball courts at 33rd and 34th streets on Q Street Northwest. Created and maintained by garden club members, it is open to the public.

Club members “work hard to maintain that garden,” Ms. Child says. The Volta Park garden includes native plants that are at home in several different habitats. A sunny border with hardy perennials, and a shady woodland featuring columbines, are two habitats represented in the garden.

Hidden oases

The venerable tour is now in its 75th year, five of those under the guidance of the Georgetown Garden Club. It represents one of the rare opportunities that Washingtonians have to peek behind all those private brick walls just north of M Street and west of 25th Street to see what kind of lush green escapes can be produced in the city’s naturally acidic, claylike soils by a professional’s hand and big garden budgets.

“The gardeners who participate are very proud of their work and want to show off their plants,” says landscape designer William Morrow, who is opening up his own private Georgetown garden to the public for a second year in a row.

“It’s also a way to be part of the community,” Mr. Morrow says.

Michael Connors, who with his wife, Julia, owns one of the gardens on the tour, says that they are new to the Georgetown area and view participation “as a way to reach out to our new neighbors.”

In Georgetown, gardeners must work their designs around the natural hills and terraces that form the neighborhood and the abundant shade provided by centuries-old trees that grace the community. Many Georgetown gardeners also find themselves having to shoehorn a lot of plants into some very small urban spaces behind all those graceful Federal period townhouses, Mr. Morrow says.

Garden lovers attend the tour to learn about new plants and varieties they may want to try in their own yards.

“As well as having a good time, you can learn an awful lot about what works and what doesn’t,” says garden tour co-chairman Edie Schafer.

Designed and executed primarily by professional landscapers and garden design experts (with varying degrees of design, maintenance and upkeep provided by the owners), the Georgetown gardens feature elegant pools, fountains, planters and other hardscaping, rare orchids and unusual perennials and decades-old climbing roses, according to garden club members.

Among these unique gardens are the Colonial-era boxwood hedges and old trees of a historic 1803 Georgetown house, a garden of terraces and levels centered on a large lily pond, a small Asian garden of rich detail, and a secluded garden behind a quaint 1811 schoolhouse, now a private home.

Green streets

Tree box plantings by neighbors around Georgetown are heavily promoted by the garden club “as an effort to beautify the streetscape,” Ms. Schafer says, adding that some people in the neighborhood can be quite competitive about their tree boxes.

To motivate more people to plant flowers and other attractive plants in their sidewalk tree boxes, “we give out lots of awards and prizes as part of the competition, for tree boxes that are well-maintained, unusual or just beautiful,” she says.

Standards are exacting: Tree boxes must be located between 25th and 35th streets Northwest, and between Reservoir Road and M Street Northwest. Their flowers must be less than 1 foot tall, and the gardens must be “neat and tidy” in the judgment of garden club members.

While the first prize is “something tangible,” many other tree boxes are awarded honorable mentions, in the form of stakes with flowers and ribbons that judges place in the best-looking boxes.

The results of the contest will be on view during Saturday’s tour: The tree boxes were to be judged yesterday, and by tour time the the winning entries will already sport the coveted markers.

The real winners

At $30 per garden tour pass on the day of the tour, the cost of entry to Georgetown’s hidden gardens is not the cheapest ticket in town. But the money goes to several good causes, Ms. Schafer says. For example, the Georgetown Garden Club is now the largest donor to Book Hill Park, a restored historic landscaped area near the Georgetown Public Library at 32d and R streets Northwest.

Other organizations receiving funds this year from the garden club are the Georgetown Waterfront Park, which runs along the Potomac from the Key Bridge to 31st Street; the trees around the tennis courts at Rose Park at 26th and O streets Northwest; the rose/lavender garden at Montrose Park, on R Street Northwest near Dumbarton Oaks; and the Student Conservation Association at Dumbarton Oaks Park, with funds going to student summer interns from neighborhoods all over the city who will work on creek and path restoration.

In addition, money from the garden tour will go to Trees for Georgetown, a volunteer group that looks after the neighborhood’s street trees; to fountain repair at Tudor Place, a historic home at 1644 31 St. NW that is rented out for events; and to the Volta Park Habitat Garden.

Patios and lily ponds

Featured gardens this year include, on the east side of Wisconsin Avenue:

• A classic garden surrounding one of the great houses of Georgetown, dating from 1803. A sweeping lawn, a boxwood garden and stately old trees complement its location on a south-facing lawn.

• The garden of Michael and Julia Connors, in which cryptomerias (Japanese cedars) usher the viewer into a garden of terraces, levels and overlapping rectangles on a large and striking ornamental lily pond. A colorful planting palette of blue, purple and white is enhanced by masses of mounding roses. This garden is designed by Oehme, van Sweden & Associates.

• An escape in which French doors open onto a sunken patio. Up a few steps is a spacious back yard with perennial beds, a seating area, paths, statuary and an oval ornamental pool with water lilies. It is completed by a potting shed.

• An East Asian garden in which two large Indonesian bark masks face each other by the house, and a stone Buddha watches at the entrance. The small Asian garden is rich in details such as a teahouse, black river stones, and round pool, all updated by designer Gigi Lopez-Contreras.

• The garden of Mr. Morrow, landscape designer, and his partner Dr. Kent Ozkum, including several blooming orchids such as calanthes in several colors, and cryptopedium. Mr. Morrow also likes to work with native plants like jack-in-the-pulpit and bleeding heart, and employs lots of non-plant elements in his garden, such as stone patios and edging.

• The garden of Celia and Malcolm Lovell, one of the few on the tour designed and managed by the homeowners themselves, featuring mellow brick walls, an espaliered (trained) pear tree, old-fashioned perennial beds, several shade plants, a swimming pool and a small woodland. The lawn, seating areas and a wisteria arbor add to the charm.

Birches, terraces and koi

On the west side of Wisconsin Avenue, tour guests can expect to find:

• A site designed by Michael Bartlett in which river birches with their shaggy bark line a deep, narrow garden reminiscent of those in France. Espaliered white fall-blooming camellias, a round pool with large koi and a bold sweep of pebbles complete the ambience.

• A terraced garden designed by Joan Janssen of Cityscapes Landscaping in which curvilinear lines echo the 18th-century windows of the house. The garden features niches, an armillary sphere (a skeletal model of the Earth) and a round fishpond with large-leaved aquatic plants.

• A shade garden designed by Rogers & Co. featuring white crape myrtles, white redbuds, weeping birches, hellebores, cryptomerias, variegated plants, a water feature and bold stonework.

The ultimate challenge of this and any garden tour is to discern behind these mini-Edens the spirit of the people — homeowners, designers, landscapers — who conceived of them.

“Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are,” the old verse goes. When Georgetown opens up its hidden spaces on Saturday, tour-goers will have their chance.

WHAT: The 75th annual Georgetown Garden Tour

WHERE: East and west of Wisconsin Avenue Northwest, Georgetown

WHEN: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: $30 on the day of the tour, at Christ Church Keith Hall, 31st and O streets Northwest, or at any of the participating gardens

TRANSPORTATION, PARKING: Georgetown Metro Connection buses from Dupont Circle, Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn Metro stations, $1.50 per trip. Parking garages and lots along K and M streets and Wisconsin Avenue Northwest

INFORMATION: 202/965-1950 or georgetowngardentour.com

Tours in Del Ray, Hyattsville

Can’t make the Georgetown Garden Tour? Not to worry: Two other garden tours are coming up soon in nearby neighborhoods.

m The Del Ray Home and Garden Tour: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. May 20. Tour the gardens of the architecturally varied Del Ray section of Alexandria, whose houses range from town houses to Victorians to bungalows, some of them built in the 1930s and ‘40s from Sears Roebuck kits. Tickets $15, online at www.delraycitizen.org, in person at A Show of Hands, 2204 Mt. Vernon Ave., or on Saturday mornings in May at the Del Ray Farmers’ Market. Tour benefits the Del Ray Beautification Project. E-mail [email protected]

• The Historic Hyattsville House Tour: 1-5 p.m. May 21. The Hyattsville Preservation Association’s 27th annual tour of historically significant houses includes 10 homes, six of which previously have not been on the tour. Tour starts at the Hyattsville Municipal Building, 4310 Gallatin Place. Tickets $10 in advance at Franklin’s Store on Baltimore Avenue or $12 on the day of the event at the Municipal Building. See www.preservehyattsville.org.

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