Each year, springtime at Mount Vernon ushers in an abundance of beauty, vibrancy, and joy. Birds sing from atop the woodland canopy. The gardens bloom in lush and resplendent colors. The animals tend to their newborn. And visitors walk the grounds or perhaps enjoy the sunset over the Potomac River from the chairs lined along the piazza.
In writing to his friend Arthur Young in 1793, George Washington said of Mount Vernon, “No estate in United America is more pleasantly situated than this.” Washington had a keen interest in landscape design, gardening, and the planting of trees, in part because the estate needed to reflect wealth and status as he welcomed the many guests visiting the famous general of the American Revolution and first president of the United States. Characteristic of the man, each landscape detail is studied and purposeful—with an eye toward beauty, yet unfailingly practical—especially so in the upper garden with its beds lined with flowers, and fruits and vegetables growing in the interior.
Washington, like most of America’s founders, considered himself a farmer. He would experiment with tropical plants and conduct soil experiments. He was even known as the father of the American mule for his fondness for and breeding of the animal. Washington frequently invented new agricultural tools out of necessity, but rather than patenting them, he would make the designs publicly available to advance American agriculture. This issue of the magazine contains excellent scholarship from Mount Vernon’s academic fellows and staff, as well as outside scholars, that highlights Washington’s horticultural and agricultural achievements. It also explores the consequences of owning more than 8,000 acres of farmland and using enslaved labor to ensure its economic viability and to provide domestic comforts.
Through the longstanding efforts of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, visitors to Mount Vernon today can increasingly experience the estate as it appeared during Washington’s time. As early as the 1930s, the Ladies recognized the need to “find someone versed in forestry and possessed of a knowledge of horticulture which would allow for the restoration of the greenhouse and of the Garden”—an endeavor that brought Harvard-educated Morley Williams to Mount Vernon and ushered in a new era of systematic research and restoration of the gardens and grounds. Through archaeological work, the upper garden has been researched, restored, and replanted to more accurately reflect the appearance and utility Washington designed.
Since the 1950s, the MVLA has protected Washington’s viewshed across the Potomac River—working in partnership with homeowners, corporations, the National Park Service, and nonprofit conservation organizations. Even earlier in the Association’s history, the Ladies disregarded calls to remove certain outbuildings connected with slavery, thus ensuring Mount Vernon’s ability to accurately and continually tell the stories of those who labored here. In short, the MVLA remains committed to expanding research, scientific exploration, and restoration to showcase Mount Vernon’s entire breadth as it was at the time of Washington’s death in 1799.
As you explore this issue, I hope it will inspire you to visit Mount Vernon—to enjoy the gardens and natural landscapes, to walk in the footsteps of Washington, and to reflect on the peace and beauty of the place Washington longed for throughout his many years of service to the nation.
Sarah Miller Coulson,
Concert recap, new acquisitions, birthday events,
and more Read
Christine Yordán’s passion for gardening led her to support Mount Vernon’s upper garden restoration. Read
A rolling stone helped keep Mount Vernon’s lawn
looking lush. Read
New Jersey teacher Kimberly Wurtzel Kirstein
and her students plant a garden inspired by
George Washington. Read
Two British books helped inform Washington’s
landscaping designs. Read
A hand-colored image circa 1920 offers a different perspective of the upper garden. Read
In a challenging year, the Spirit of Mount Vernon event and a virtual birthday party raise both funds and spirits. Read
The father of American architecture visits the father of the country at Mount Vernon.READ THE STORY
Archaeologists find signs of the other farms that were once part of Washington’ estate, with a little help from technology.
The big reveal: the Washingtons’ “best bedchamber” returns to its former glory.READ THE STORY