Springtime beckons at gardens nearby
Onlookers gaze in awe at topiary sculptures of riders astride galloping horses and hounds pursuing a frantic fox.
Grandparents look on with delight as grandchildren make mud pies and dig in dirt to find ersatz dinosaur bones.
Exquisite statuary, ornate stonework and splashing fountains create a scene which could be set in Italy — but isn’t.
These seemingly disparate scenes have one thing in common: They’re all taking place at gardens located within a convenient drive of our mid-Atlantic neighborhood.
With flowers in full bloom and trees sporting a blanket of green, there’s no better time to get outside to enjoy one of Mother Nature’s most magnificent Technicolor shows.
Whether you’re an experienced horticultural expert, a casual gardener or merely someone seeking a pleasant getaway in beautiful surroundings, a visit to these nearby places can lift your spirits.
Lush gardens, wetlands and wildlife
Consider that fox hunting scene, which could take place in the English countryside. The shrubs, clipped and shaped into life-size figures, greet visitors at Ladew Topiary Garden in Monkton, Maryland, deemed “the most outstanding topiary garden” in the country by the Garden Club of America.
Among more than 100 forms that inhabit the expanse are a Chinese junk boat complete with sails, a graceful swan and a long-necked giraffe. Its 22 acres also contain rose, white and sculpture gardens. (For more information visit ladewgardens.com.)
That Italian-like setting is one feature, among many, at Maymont Gardens in Richmond, part of a Victorian estate dating back to 1893. A Via Florum (“Flowering Way”) leads from the mansion to the formal Italian Garden.
Bears, bobcats and bison roam in the wildlife habitats. Among other areas on the 100-acre estate are a Native Virginia Landscape, Wetland Habitat and Ornamental Lawn, which appears much as it did in the late 19th century (maymont.org).
A lush wetland area is one of five distinct habitats encountered at Boxerwood Nature Center and Woodland Garden near Lexington, Virginia. Another is the Play Trail, a fenced-in area where children can play in spaces created from natural materials.
Youngsters may get down and dirty in a Mud Kitchen, unearth “dinosaur bones” during a Dig to China, and crawl through a “bug tunnel” (boxerwood.org/garden).
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, has more than two dozen gardens, ranging from grand, decorative layouts to tiny kitchen plantings.
The highlight is the complex at the Governor’s Palace, which resembles those at 17-century English country estates. It covers 10 acres and includes “falling gardens” (terraces) that were planted during the 1800s.
The Colonial Garden and Nursery displays heirloom roses and examples of culinary and medicinal herbs that were used by the colonists (colonialwilliamsburg.com).
Native plants; tropical orchids
Some outstanding gardens focus their collections on flora native to the Mid-Atlantic region. That’s the case at the Mt. Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware, where walking paths lead through hundreds of acres of plant life indigenous to the state.
The center was created by a du Pont who strayed from the family practice of filling gardens with imports from around the world. Instead, the focus is on gardens filled with floral displays found throughout Delaware (mtcubacenter.org).
Native plants, shrubs and trees also are on display at the West Virginia University Core Arboretum in Morgantown. Three miles of foot trails introduce visitors to more than 250 species of herbaceous plants and 80 types of trees, some of which are more than 200 years old.
Adding to the experience at the 91-acre arboretum is that more than 180 species of birds have been observed there (arboretum.wvu.edu).
While the greatest diversity of orchids is found in the tropics, the orchid collection in the C. Fred Edwards Conservatory at the Huntington Museum of Art in Huntington, West Virginia, showcases about 100 species.
Along with pleasantly fragrant plants are unusual types such as the carnivorous pitcher plant, which traps insects, and a “sensitive” orchid that folds its leaflets when touched (hmoa.org).
Historic garden in D.C.
Gardens also can conjure up interesting chapters of history. The layout at Dumbarton Oaks is an inviting oasis in Washington, D.C. The mansion is surrounded by 16 acres of terraced gardens, kitchen plots, orchards and meadows.
The estate was the residence of Robert Woods Bliss — a diplomat, art collector and philanthropist — and his wife Mildred. In 1944, at the height of World War II, they hosted a series of diplomatic meetings among high-ranking delegations from the United States, United Kingdom, China and the Soviet Union. The gathering led to the establishment of the United Nations one year later. (Starting May 15, timed tickets for admission to the gardens can be purchased at doaks.org.)
Due to restrictions and temporary closures caused by the pandemic, it’s wise to check ahead before planning a visit to any of these gardens.