At the Franciscan Monastery, formality works, until it doesn’t



Another D.C. garden that few tourists ever see surrounds the curiously named Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, where glorious architecture meets formal rose gardens to great effect.  That link tells us a lot about the buildings – in the monastic style of the late Romanesque period – but nothing about the gardens except for blooming times, the highlights of which are the tulips and then the roses.

To see more of the gardens and outdoor sculpture, click here and then on the numbers 7-12 and 15-20.




Entrance to the Grotto of Gethsemane

To my eyes, formality works fine in this setting, through the rose gardens and the newer perennial gardens – all good!  But these soldierly rows of bedding annuals are jarring and downright ugly.  I find myself cursing them.

There goes my serenity!

Are YOU still seeing formally arranged bedding annuals in your town?  Anywhere besides gas stations?


  1. You know, if they had bedded the annuals out in concentric circles a la Disneyland or in some sort of circular parterre design, it would have worked for me. They obviously started at the statuary base and couldn’t see the big picture!

  2. I thumb my nose at recommended spacing and plant my annuals in clumps. I start many of them from seed, which makes the my-yard-must-be-a-golf-course types I know recoil in horror.

  3. I once designed a meditation garden for a Franciscan monastery and it was far from formal. I put in a softly curving path, magnolias, a series of reflecting pools and bamboo that tickled the chapel window above. Most of the monks had an avid interest in plants, but favoured a natural aesthetic. When it came to annuals, there were just two gigantic geraniums on either side of the front steps which they had coddled for years. It looks as though the garden in these pictures is well-loved too!

  4. Several of the residential developments in my city have kept up the parade of annuals for many years. Some of the public spaces & buildings, too. Fortunately, more recent landscape efforts have focused on perennials, grasses, and natives or near-natives. Very soothing, flowing, and natural-looking, IMHO. Easier & cheaper to maintain as well. While I like marigolds & petunias quite a bit, it has always irked me to see those annuals yanked out in their prime & replaced with something that went with each new season’s color scheme.

    The rows of annuals in that circle IS jarring. Certainly messes with the peaceful ideal of a Franciscan garden. Yet another spot to add to my list of places to visit with the kids next Spring.

  5. Did you do the tour inside–of the holy site replicas? This is my go-to tourists site for quirky visitors.

  6. The only laid-out annual bed that I can think of nearby is at an historic mansion and gardens that I volunteer at. It’s OK because it’s in the Italian garden, and it’s designed as a patterned carpet bedding scheme. The local shopping mall has annual beds, but whoever has the contract is very creative – they use more exotic annuals, and it has the effect of a meadow, or something. At the very least, it’s interesting. Not just the usual suspects.

  7. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Korea in the late seventies. There was a serious effort being made to replant the mountain forests that had been stripped during the Japanese occupation (which is why Japanese mountains are still covered with trees). They were planted with coniferous and deciduous trees (fruit and nut trees in case the people ever had to take refuge in the mountains during a future war). Imagine rows of mountain after mountain planted in stripes and checkerboard patterns like your annuals! Bureaucrats are the same every where!

  8. The Prescott Park Garden in Portsmouth, NH needs to be cited for annuals -planted-in-a-row! Plus they have a hideous color scheme that puts me teeth on edge – a row of purple, then a row or orange, then….you get the idea. All those straight rows and garish colors set my teeth on edge.

  9. Just got back from DC, visited the Dumbarton Oaks Garden. I love that garden! A must see when in DC.

  10. The hell strips in Charlottesville are often planted in regimented rows of flowering annuals. There’s several strips around town (maybe they’re in the county, not the city) that are totally neglected and sprouting annual grasses, chicory, and so on–which to me look nicer and far livelier than the sad little prison rows of begonias and marigolds.

  11. Susan
    “But these soldierly rows of bedding annuals are jarring and downright ugly. I find myself cursing them.”

    I totally agree. This sort of gardening gives me a visceral reaction. It’s like those poor roses are prisoners. Powdered all up with chemicals and breed to death.

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