Pulling into the driveway at River Farm gives you the feeling of gaining access to one of the luxurious private waterfront residences which are found along this stretch of the Potomac River. Where you might expect snobbery and pretension, the atmosphere could not be more relaxed and welcoming. The grounds are very well maintained and there is a great deal of history here, yet visitors are encouraged to meander all over the property and enjoy it almost like a park.
The first surprise was finding a raw, developing meadow instead of a typical manicured lawn stretching down to the water below, and sharing a moment of eye contact with a large red fox before it darted into the trees. The meadow houses numerous varieties of native grasses and wildflowers, which provide habitation to all manner of wildlife. There was a refreshing lack of structure in the way a visitor can explore the hillside and waterfront with its sporadic plantings of unique trees, walking down winding paths that are simply mown meadow grass. Even the formal gardens are spacious and inviting and not overly precious.
The most impressive history of River Farm is not who owned it or sold it to whom, but instead the age and size of many of the rare trees and hedges that give the place its grandeur. There are two large black walnut trees towering over the meadow that are said to have been planted by George Washington himself. The oldest on the farm and the largest of its variety in the US, a giant Osage orange tree is tucked into a walled garden (appropriately named the “Garden Calm”) and is said to have come from seeds brought back from a Lewis & Clark expedition. I was taken with the unruly and imposing hedge of English boxwood bushes lining the edge of the property above the meadow, their gnarly old trunks giving away their age of over 100 years.
Serving as the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society, there are multiple formal gardens along with demonstration and educational gardens. Although it is just across the river from DC, River Farm feels worlds away. This was my first visit and I am thrilled to have a new beautiful destination to visit so close by.
Final Rating: It is all too exciting to have found another nearby horticultural destination to explore at different seasons of the year. I can easily envision how enchanting the trees and hedges must look in the fall or the sight of the orchard’s fruit trees in full bloom. Though I might have rolled my eyes at the occasional busy bustle of wedding planners, I understand the appeal—this is a stunning location that has a certain enchanting quality to it. River Farm has all the stately charm and lofty Potomac River views of Washington’s other nearby residence Mount Vernon, but with a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere that is more appealing to the meditative nature enthusiast. FOUR BLOOM RATING