Scenes from the Georgetown Garden Tour



I recently attended the Georgetown Garden Tour in DC’s toniest neighborhood to find out how the other half gardens spends money on their yards, and naturally I have some comments about all that.

Let’s start with the estate above, which was built as a home for the son of the Cafritz family next door. My tour-going companion told me this large gravel drive-up space is all the rage in England. I like the combination of modern art and traditional home style.

But notice that the evil English ivy is covering the  facade! And it’s high enough to have matured and will set berries, sure to be pooped all over town by birds.


But their container plantings are sure lovely!


Above and below, the back of the same home, with pool, turf stairs and more gorgeous planters.



In smaller gardens on the tour, we found lots more pools.



Above, this traditional scene reminded me of my mother’s garden in Virginia, only grander. The photinia blooming in this shot is the largest I’d ever seen.


Anchoring the end of a long narrow brick-and-box garden is this unusual combination of pine and banana.


I wasn’t sure what to make of this magnolia planted about 3 inches from a house and then carefully espaliered over I wonder how many years. Crime against horticulture or horticulture at its best? I’ll have to ask Billy Goodnick.

Gardens, Other1

Finally, a couple of details I loved – a magnolia blossom wreath and some fire engine plaques. Also called fire marks, they indicate which fire-insurance company would respond to fires at which homes. These are just two in a larger collection mounted on a garage.  In Georgetown, even the alleys are photogenic.

And one more observation.  We saw lots of lovely places to sit outside but not a single screened-in porch! Poor rich people, having to fight the mosquitoes or stay indoors all summer.


  1. That would have been quite the tour to see! I’ll leave it at that – but the only thing I have to say about the ivy is that the amount of spiders that would contain is phenomenal. I once lived in an old brick apartment building that had ivy all over it, and those bastards got into the apartment in hideous numbers. I was traumatized. No to ivy on building walls!

    • and as a groundcover, larger-leaved ivy harbors rats. I love holly & ivy as icons, but someone else should keep the ivy. I’m happy with a holly, shrub or tree.

  2. Large gravel courtyard means you have the money to pay for the constant maintenance.

    Love the photo of the traditional Virginia type garden. I was instantly soothed by it.

    Wall of ivy brought back a shameful childhood memory. We would throw fistfuls of limestone from the driveway (which did not look like the one above) at the wall of ivy to see the English sparrows fly out. Very mean. But exciting.

  3. All that ordered, expensive landscaping makes me think of commercial properties. It’s beautiful and all, but sterile. The giant round pots with the crape myrtles look like they should be in front of a bank or a government office building. But I guess a giant house needs giant pots?

    I think Dumbarton Oaks also has some espaliered magnolias like that, but they are fuller looking. I like it…I just wonder about the roots so close to the house foundations.

    • I very much agree–very sterile in its beauty. It’s as if anyone would be afraid to fully live there for fear of mussing.

      I took easily to various lines of Fitz & Floyd china because of the whimsy which permeates the designs. I like whimsy in quite a lot of places in my life.

  4. It’s easy to get envious of this kind of money, and it can blind us to the fact that such resources directed at a landscape can create great things if there are great gardeners attached to those resources – things that might well inspire more plebeian gardeners down the road. Of course, this isn’t always the case and the resulting sterility of a garden created by a wealthy socialite and her bog standard landscape designer is off-putting – provoking “poor little rich people” comments and scurrilous attacks on ivy-clad walls. Best thing to do? Stop going to disappointing garden tours through affluent areas and spend quality hours in specific expensive gardens that happen to be home to wealthy hoary handed sons of the soil.

  5. I don’t enjoy portfolio gardens or portfolio decorating. No warmth, personality, love. No garden envy.

  6. I’m a garden designer and I wouldn’t be able to make a living without wealthy patrons. And wealthy patrons that agree to put their gardens on tour are very good for business…
    As for the ivy – It looks well maintained and I’m certain they don’t allow it to go arborescent and throw berries everywhere and the magnolia is a curious espalier choice but fairly common. English gardeners back in the day admired our southern Magnolias but had a hard time growing them in the cool English weather, so they planted them against masonry walls where they could soak up the heat. It became a thing.

  7. I’m not generally one for large manicured gardens; they usually seem way too gaudy and overblown to my eye. But I have to say, I liked what I saw here. It’s hard to imagine any space as “homey” with pictures of strangers walking all around it. But I see lots of intimate spaces here where I could imagine sitting and reading, eating lunch or just spacing out, playing with a dog, chatting with a friend, etc. And the small details were charming, from the banana planter to the fire house plaques. Someone here has imagination and a playful creativity. I love the espaliered magnolia–although like Mary, I wonder about those roots and the building (do they trim them when they grow into the basement, like bonsai?). As for the lack of covered porches and potential for bugs: one wonders how often they spray to deter them? There is clearly a lot of money being put down here, for maintenance alone (lawn stairs? wow).

    • Because of my interest in things Medieval European, I have always wanted a walled garden and a benchseat planted with pleasantly scented herbs.

      I prefer espaliered fruit trees, especially if I’m grafting different varieties. One day I referred to espaliery as “tree bondage”, which freaked out a friend of mine with overly-tender sensibilities.

  8. And looking back over the pictures, I can’t help but think that all the trees on the property really help “naturalize” the whole thing. It feels like it’s in the middle of a forest, and the “wildness” of the mature trees contrast nicely with the formality of the trimmed vegetation, creating a balance somehow. It would be a completely different place without those old trees all around it, that’s for sure.

  9. I belatedly hasten to add that I LOVE the Cafritz garden shown in the first 4 shots in this post. (With the minor exception of the ivy thing.) To me, it’s a stunning public space, not a garden, so it’s not what I’d choose but for owners who aren’t into plants and gardening – in other words, for most people – it seems like a huge success. Susan

  10. Of course everyone has an opinion, but not everyone is OK with having hoardes of people walking around their property (even for a good cause) and then criticizing the layout publicly! To each his own I’d say. Many of us are “snobby garden geeks” (or is it just me?) and certainly have strong opinions-and perhaps just a rather smaller budget. After all Georgetown is a tourist attraction and cosy cottage gardens are presently NOT In Vogue-HERE

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