Japanese Garden and garden art at Hillwood Estate: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling


I almost missed the Japanese Garden, my favorite part of Washington, D.C.’s Hillwood Estate. It was hot and muggy on the first full day of touring during last month’s Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling, and after exploring for about 45 minutes I retreated to the gift shop to cool off.

There, a fellow blogger mentioned the Japanese garden as being particularly fine, and I realized I’d missed it altogether. That wouldn’t do! Back out I went to find it.


And there it is, hidden in plain sight alongside an open lawn, a leafy screen of clipped shrubs, burgundy Japanese maples, and weeping willows promising both shade and a gorgeous tapestry of foliage.


Water is a playful element in this Japanese-style garden, as Hillwood describes it. Spouting arcs of water appear to leap alongside a wiggly “floating” path of carved steppers resembling millstones.


A path like this just begs to be crossed — with a little thrill — and so I did.


Pagoda sculpture with colorful foliage


Roofed gate


A pretty waterfall tumbles through boulder-strewn ledges from the top of the garden.


Arching bridges cross a green lily pond…


…accompanied by more arcing spouts of water.


Stone lantern


Another view, with the pagoda in the distance


Foliage is the star of this garden, with rich colors and texture. Waterlilies add a dash of floral ornamentation.


As I exited the garden I stopped to admire a rusty-leaved, artfully contorted Japanese maple with a (surprising because not on-theme) St. Francis statue tucked amid boulders at its feet. Simply lovely.


Speaking of sculptural garden ornament, Hillwood’s gardens are studded with classical pieces, like this charming faun with cymbals…


…another faun with a horn…


…and even a sphinx whose female half resembles a kerchiefed and corseted 18th-century dame!


Regally at ease alongside the expansive Lunar Lawn, this stone lion marked the spot where we Flingers were to have our group photo taken.


Arraying ourselves on the steps of the Hillwood Mansion, we stood as still as statues for this picture taken by Wendy Niemi Kremer. Want to know who all these bloggers are? Check out the Capital Region Fling attendees page, organized by state — and by country for the handful of international Flingers.


Next I explored the French parterre, a formal garden designed to be enjoyed from an upper-story window of the house. Hidden behind ivy-covered walls, Diana the Huntress with her hound stands as focal point at the end of a limestone rill that connects to a central pool.


Scroll-like swirls of clipped boxwood grow in four symmetrical beds divided by gravel paths.


A pretty container combo


Next I found the rose garden, which is also the final resting place of the estate’s founder, art collector and heiress to the Post cereal empire Marjorie Merriweather Post.


The cutting garden was a favorite of many of the garden bloggers…


…perhaps because it felt more attainable than the grand formal gardens.


And it was very nice.


But the Japanese garden remains my favorite.

Up next: My final post about the 2017 Fling featuring Willowsford Farm, plus a sneak peek at next year’s Fling. For a look back at Brookside Gardens and a Patrick Dougherty twig sculpture in Reston, click here.

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Evening photo shoot at The Huntington Gardens: GWA Pasadena


The Huntington gardens near Los Angeles have, for years, been on my wish list of botanical gardens to visit. So I was thrilled to see an afternoon visit and after-hours photoshoot offered on the itinerary of the Garden Writers Association symposium on September 20.

Unfortunately, it was surface-of-the-sun hot that day, 103 F (39.4 C). By my mid-afternoon arrival, I realized, to my dismay, that I was completely uninterested in touring the much-anticipated Huntington under the glare of an unforgiving Death Star. Chagrined, I hid out in the gift shop for an hour. Lest you think this a travesty, I assure you that the Huntington’s is the most incredible garden gift shop I’ve ever been in. How I wish I’d taken photos to show you. But I simply browsed in A/C-contented bliss.

As the sun dipped toward the horizon, however, I realized that I needed to suck it up and get out there. I mean, this was the Huntington! And so as the early-bird GWAers were straggling back, sweat-stained and flushed, to the gift shop and an after-hours bar (courtesy of the good folks at the Huntington), I finally ventured forth, prepared to melt for the beauty of the gardens.


And beautiful they are. As described by GWA, the Huntington was “[o]riginally the private estate of railroad magnate Henry Huntington (1850-1927), with a grand Beaux Arts mansion as its centerpiece….[T]he research and cultural institution houses world-class collections, including Gainsborough’s famous portrait of The Blue Boy, a Gutenberg Bible, and a 15th-century illuminated manuscript of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Surrounding the estate are 120 acres of breathtaking grounds that showcase more than 15,000 different kinds of plants in a dozen specialized gardens.”

I did not see any of the indoor masterpieces. The garden was my sole focus. As it closed to regular visitors at 4:30 pm, those of us with GWA badges were allowed to stay on until 7 pm, giving the photographers among us a chance to shoot the garden in the kinder light of late afternoon and early evening.

Palm and Desert Gardens


I headed straight for the famous Desert Garden, figuring the afternoon light would be good filtering through spiny plants, and passing through the dramatic Palm Garden along the way.


The sun was still intense when I reached the Desert Garden, but as I’d hoped, it was incandescing the cactus.


As with the Lotusland cactus garden, it was like visiting a strange planet. At 10 acres and with 2,000 species of succulents and cactus, the Desert Garden is worthy of hours of poking around (pun intended). But amid the rocky beds and asphalt paving, the heat was like standing next to an open oven, and I ended up spending only about 45 minutes here.


Still, I saw many beautiful plants, like these blue echeverias creeping among black lava rock.


And aeoniums so black they looked scorched by the heat.


Otherworldly tree aloe


And barrel cactus in brilliant flower


High in this floss silk tree’s branches, a flock of green parrots chattered amiably.


Nearby, golden barrel cactus clustered in extravagant masses.


I’d never seen so many barrels, not even at Desert Botanical Garden.


I didn’t even know they grew this way, clustered one upon another in great, spiny mounds.


They littered the path edges like beach balls after a pool party, and each wore a golden halo in the afternoon light.

Lily Ponds


Seeking shade, I happened next upon the Lily Ponds garden. I could hardly imagine a more different experience from the radiating heat and dynamic plant arrangements in the Desert Garden.


Here, the mood was serene, green, and cool, thanks to a tranquil pond and stands of rustling bamboo.


I rested there a while before heading into the sun again, crossing a large lawn with a temple-like folly. What a mood shift, from one garden to the next!

Subtropical and Australian Gardens


Glancing at the map I decided to see the Australian Garden next, and I passed the Subtropical Garden along a path facing directly into the ferocious setting sun. This made for great lighting effects on plants like white-flowering sea squill (Drimia maritima) growing under live oaks…


…and bottlebrush, as I neared the Australian Garden.


But by the time I got there, I was cooked, and the garden didn’t look particularly shady, so I just kept trudging toward a towering wall of bamboo that promised coolness and relief.

Japanese Garden


Ahh, a leafy green wall tall enough to block the sun! The narrow entry from this direction might be easy to miss, were it not for the foo dogs (stone lions) guarding the path.


Roar!


I entered the Japanese Garden through a mysterious bamboo forest of swaying culms and rustling leaves.


Climbing steadily uphill, I came to a paved courtyard with a collection of bonsai displayed on wooden stands.


Montezuma cypress in miniature


And olive


Next I strolled through a meditative Zen courtyard, with raked white gravel, boulder islands, and cloud-pruned trees.


A grand stair, zigzagging along one side, exits the Zen garden, and from here I entered the main garden.


Completed in 1912, the tranquil Japanese Garden includes a tall, arching moon bridge and reflecting pond. It was growing lovelier by the minute as the hateful sun sank behind the trees.


Intimate vignettes, like this tsukubai fountain…


…and carved figure near a tumbling stream, made for delightful discoveries along the winding hillside path.

Chinese Garden


As the terrain leveled out, I came upon the Chinese Garden, enclosed along one side by an undulating, tile-roofed white wall.


Known as Liu Fang Yuan, the Garden of Flowing Fragrance, the Chinese Garden opened to the public in 2008 — a century after the Japanese Garden.


Having twice visited the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, I knew to expect covered walkways leading to a series of paved courtyards with intricate details.


What I didn’t anticipate was being completely alone with the garden. It was all mine.


The light was soft as dusk came on.


A beautiful detail


Pebble mosaic courtyard — and banana trees by the moon gate?


The teahouse was closed for the day, but I admired the woodwork…


…and rested on its terrace, which overlooks a picturesque lake. The building that resembles a boat, at center, is part of a phase two addition to the garden, currently under construction.


Along the opposite side of the lake, a pavilion known as Terrace of the Jade Mirror shelters amid weeping willows.


Moon gates invite you through it.


Another pebble mosaic path and a carved stone bridge lead on. Note the limestone rocks arrayed along the edges — similar to the holey limestone we have here in central Texas.


Pavilion of the Three Friends comes into view here, with a fine view of the San Gabriel Mountains in the distance.


And the three friends? According to Chinese tradition, bamboo, pine, and plum are considered the three friends of winter for the pine and bamboo’s evergreen foliage and the plum’s early spring flowers. Together, explains the Huntington’s website, they symbolize fortitude, integrity, and resilience.


One last look. The Chinese Garden surprised me by turning out to be my favorite part of the Huntington gardens, in part, no doubt, due to the perfect golden hour during which I visited.

North Vista and Camellia Garden


The light was still sweet as I made my way through the Camellia Garden via the North Vista, a vast lawn anchored at one end by this baroque fountain adorned with carved fish and shells. The website explains, “The Italian fountain had been brought to England in the early 18th century and remained there until it was purchased by Henry Huntington in 1915. It was shipped from New York in 48 boxes that filled an entire railway car. Oddly enough, the fountain arrived without assembly instructions and with a few extra pieces. It eventually was installed five years after the completion of the main house (ca. 1916).”


The lawn is lined with 18th-century sculpted figures, camellias, and palms, and at the opposite end sits the former home of Henry and Arabella Huntington, which today houses part of their art collection.


I’m sure this garden sees most of its traffic in winter, when the camellias bloom, but it’s lovely in its summer greens too — although that lawn no doubt requires a lot of water to remain so green. The tall, skinny palms lend a distinctly California vibe to all the classicism.

California and Celebration Gardens


As the sun set and the staff prepared to close up, I straggled back, blissed out, toward the entrance, passing through the Mediterranean-style Celebration Garden, which is part of the water-wise California Garden. A shallow rill descends along a series of terraces formally planted with lavender, grasses, kangaroo paws, and other dry-adapted plants.


Red kangaroo paws looks especially pretty against cool-blue yuccas.


I would imitate this in a heartbeat if kangaroo paws tolerated Austin’s humid summer climate.


The grasses looked great too.


I love this combo, although I recognize only the yellow-flowering yarrow. Anyone know what the purple flowers are (update: looks like Scaevola aemula; thanks, Lara!), and is that a euphorbia at lower right?


Closer to the entrance, the garden loses its formality with casually inviting seating areas tucked amid billowing grasses.

The Huntington truly is an amazing collection of plants beautifully designed. I’m so glad I had a chance to explore it after-hours, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this very long recap.

Gift Shop


Part of my hideout time in the gift shop was spent autographing copies of my book Lawn Gone!, which I spotted prominently displayed as soon as I walked in the door.


How exciting! My thanks to the Huntington for carrying it and for treating us at GWA to a very special after-hours visit.

That wraps up my series of Los Angeles-area garden tours. Click through for a look back at the beautiful Volk Garden, which has a borrowed view of the Huntington. You’ll find links back to my other L.A. garden posts at the end of each post you follow.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Farewell visit to James David’s Austin garden, part 2


A grand limestone staircase bisected by a rill leads from the back of the house to a large pond in the lower garden.

Yesterday I showed you around the upper level of James David’s magnificent garden, which I visited in late March and which is currently for sale as the owners prepare to relocate to Santa Fe. Today let’s take the paths that lead down into the ravine behind the house and back up to the detached studio.


Behind the house a large cistern collects rainwater from the roof and seems to spill surplus water into a stone trough. In actuality, I think this must be an illusion because otherwise the water would soon run dry — even though our current rainy spring might suggest otherwise. I’d guess the rainwater is actually stored for use on Gary’s vegetable garden, visible in the background. This running faucet must be plumbed via a hidden pipe, creating the illusion that the cistern is the source of a long water passage through the back garden.


The water reappears a few steps below, spilling from a hidden stone channel into a small, stone-edged pool.


A wider view shows glossy holly ferns (Cyrtomium falcatum) doing a good air plant impression by sprouting from gaps in the wall.


A collection of fossils and pretty stones adorns a corner of the wall.


From the pool, water flows below ground into a simple metal pipe, which spills into a stone trough that’s been repaired with board-formed concrete. A second, smaller trough accepts an overflow stream. These troughs, with their musical splashing, sit next to the dining patio shown yesterday.


Underground the water goes again, and then it reappears at the top of the most dramatic feature of the garden: a grand limestone staircase bisected by a rill that runs a trickle of water all the way to the rectangular pond at the bottom of the stair. Behind the pond, an off-center stone stair leads up to a lap pool. Another path leads to a large greenhouse.


Here’s the view from behind the pond, looking back at the grand staircase and the house. ‘Will Fleming’ yaupon hollies once lined each side of the stair, creating a vertical screen, but these days it’s edged with boxwood.


Detouring to the right, let’s follow a path that leads up the side of the garden, past a low retaining wall beautifully made of various materials, including urbanite (broken concrete) on top.


Variegated agaves behind the wall


And a chicken coop!


Turning around, let’s head back down to the lower garden. Ahead is the large pond, and beyond that are pollarded Mexican sycamores.


Hardscape in this garden is masterfully crafted and enticing. You want to explore every curving stair, cross every bridge, investigate every long path framed by arbors and shrubs. But there’s also an element of danger to many of the walks, which universally lack handrails. They imply, you will be mindful of where you put your feet. I find it delightfully adventurous. But you definitely don’t want to get so distracted by the plants or the views that you fall backwards off a wall.


Now we’ve found the swimming pool, which sits well above the pond. Flowering shrubs and trees screen one side…


…while the other is open and offers a lovely view of the pond garden.


I was smitten by this flowering tree at the end of the pool: jack tree (Sinojackia xylocarpa), which James said he got from Forestfarm online nursery. They don’t seem to have it in stock now, but I see that it’s also grown by Texas grower Greenleaf.


The flowers dangle like white parachutes, reminiscent of those on white potato vine.


Stone stairs by the greenhouse are used to display potted agaves and other succulents.


Beautiful, but mind your ankles.


They are such camera hogs. They know they look good from every angle.


Potted cacti line a long limestone shelf along the front of the greenhouse.


A few tropicals, like this clivia, add colorful flowers to the mix.


Looking back toward the house you see the grand staircase and, closer, a wooden bridge that crosses a dry stream and wet-weather garden. The Mexican sycamores (Platanus mexicana) are planted in a grid, their pollarded canopies creating an umbrella effect.


Crossing the bridge, which is lined on one side with more potted plants, you get another view of the sycamores and their white and green mottled trunks.


A stone stair by the greenhouse descends to the dry creek.


I’m sure the dry creek has seen a lot of action this spring.


On the left, another view of the pond


Pulling back a little, you can appreciate the lushness of the garden, with purple flowers of Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora) in the foreground. Now imagine that we’ve crossed the wooden bridge again, walked behind the greenhouse, and followed a decomposed-granite path that leads to the right…


…and to the newest section of the garden: a semi-wild meadow garden behind the award-winning concrete studio. A ruler-straight path leads the eye and foot between stone pedestals topped with cornucopia-like urns, across a metal bridge, and up some steps to a concrete wall that supports a contemporary pond (shown below). Notice the concrete balcony jutting out from the topmost window? I’ll share a picture from that vantage point in a moment.


A topiaried oak. James told me he’s not afraid to try topiary on any kind of plant.


Looking back, I find this view through the columns very romantic.


I liked this grassy, white-flowered plant, whose fleshy leaves reminded me of bulbine, but I can’t remember the name. Update: It’s St. Bernard’s lily (Anthericum liliago). Thanks, Diana, for the ID! Update 4/16: It’s actually Asphodelus fistulosus (see discussion in comments, below).


Asphodelus fistulosus, or onionweed


Native red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) was blooming too.


As you climb the stairs up to the studio, you come to an asymmetrical, concrete-edged pond. Here’s an overhead view from the studio balcony. What looks like a metal bridge from this angle…


…is actually a gabion wall that supports a metal pipe spilling water into the pond. A dry garden planted with Argentine saguaro and other xeric plants offers a contrast between wet and dry.


Koi live in the pond and came running swimming when Gary pulled out the fish food.


The view across the gabion wall and pond to the cornucopia urns and meadow garden


To the left of the pond, the dry garden continues, with Yucca rostrata and a pruned-up Chinese photinia (Photinia serrulata), if I recall correctly. James is a big fan of this photinia, though not of the overused red-tip variety.


More steps lead up to the studio. This is the view from the walk connecting studio and house.


The studio


A porch at the studio door holds a trio of potted plants. I like the circle motif of the tabletops and rear pot.


Ice plant in vivid bloom


James and Gary’s dog Alice made herself comfortable on the porch’s wooden bench.


I somehow neglected to take a photo of James while he was showing me around. But I’m grateful to him and to Gary for inviting me into their beautiful home and garden again. Visiting their garden has always been the highlight of the Open Days tour, and I’ll miss it. But who knows — maybe it’ll be on tour again one day with new owners at the helm. I hope so, and I’m sure James and Gary do too. Until then, I wish them bon voyage and happy garden-making in their new home.

For a look back at part 1 of my garden visit, click here.

All material © 2006-2015 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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