Shovel Ready! Knot Garden Restoration Underway

By Suzanne Bouchard, Director of Gardens & Grounds

Having progressed in the past year and a half from imagining to planning to scheduling, restoration of the formal English Knot Garden begins this month!  The project entails replacing the garden’s declining English boxwood with hardier varieties, improving the drainage system, and renovating soil beds. This ambitious restoration effort provides an opportunity to deepen our scholarship on the entire landscape feature and expand our commitment to sustainable gardening.

Tobacco blooms.

Phase one of the project requires: cutting back, digging up, and safely storing the rose bushes; removing the English boxwood, saving those that are still viable; and removing other plants growing within the beds such as the Cleome (common name: “spiderflower”) and flowering tobacco. Next, the soil will be removed down to ten inches and replaced with 3” of sand and fresh topsoil. At the same time, the drainage system will be restored to function effectively. In late October, we will plant new boxwood and replant the roses inside the new edged beds.

The restoration work has been generously funded by the Ruth S. Willoughby Foundation, and a donation from The Honorable Jane Sloat Ritchie and Mr. C. Jackson Ritchie will pay for replacement rose bushes. In fact, the question of which rose bushes to plant and which to replant poses questions both historic and botanical.

A copy of our knot garden, diagrammed and planted long ago at
Avenel in Virginia
offered insights into our garden’s history.

As we researched and documented the English Knot Garden, questions arose about the varieties of roses and their locations in the layout. We look to documentation of the grounds by Peter family members, in particular the last private owner, Armistead Peter 3rd.  The original Knot Garden design mentioned by Britannia Peter Kennon, his great-grandmother and the estate’s second owner, recalled a feature edged in boxwood and filled with a mixture of roses, perennials, bulbs, and annuals.  The Knot Garden was lost during the Civil War and the design “found” by Armistead Peter 3rd in 1926.  He and his father, Armistead Peter, Jr., replanted the box along with roses, sage, lavender, and ambrosia.

This 1984 photo shows the garden shortly after the property passed to
the Tudor Place Foundation.

Over time, more roses were added to the beds. The Knot Garden now holds a multitude of floribundas, hybrid teas, and several antique varieties. The Peters mentioned over 55 different rose varieties in writings that span 150 years.  However, when asked in 1982 to write an account of the garden’s evolution, Armistead Peter 3rd admitted he couldn’t identify all the varieties, because they had been replaced so often. In recent years, some have been identified with rosarian Nick Webber while others require further research.

Roses will be identified and
tagged before removal.

Tudor Place is committed to improving its maintenance program to incorporate more sustainable practices into daily routines.  The restoration project presents us with the challenge of maintaining rose beds surrounded by boxwood while using sustainable practices.  As our readers may know, rose cultivation can depend heavily on chemicals to control fungal diseases, mites, and a host of other insects.  We currently have a spray program that begins in March and ends in October. During spring, we spray the roses twice a week; in early summer up until fall, the schedule stretches to once every three weeks. For many varieties, this program is essential for healthy roses, preventing defoliation by June.

Cleome, or “spiderflower,” leaning in from the left, are among
several varieties of flowering plants growing alongside the roses.

New trials at the New York Botanical Garden and other public sites are testing which rose varieties best tolerate pests without chemical applications, while some public gardens have switched to an all-organic approach. When we reinstall the roses at the end of October, we will apply a new approach to caring for the Knot Garden. First, we will begin reducing the amount of pesticides we apply while monitoring the roses to see which ones can thrive with a less rigorous spraying schedule. We will stop the current spray program completely and replace it with an all-organic spray program. The boxwood hedges surrounding the rose beds will be added to the organic program to reduce the total amount of synthetic chemicals used in the garden.

As with any change in practice, it will take time to see what approach works best. Our goal is to continue showcasing the roses so loved by the Peter family while using sustainable practices. To retain aesthetic continuity in the historic garden, roses unable to thrive in the new environment will be replaced with hardier but similar varieties. The oldest and best-documented roses, such as ‘Old Blush,’ will receive special attention to support their continued presence. 

A Luminous “Harvest” Night at Tudor Place

“Hard” cider — easy to enjoy.

By Mandy Katz, Communications Officer

Nearly 100 guests meandered through our gardens this past balmy Thursday evening for “Hard Cider & the Harvest.”  The twilight romp was the latest in our Tudor Nights series for members and guests.  In the Administration Building, an 1867 Victorian house, guests snacked on tasty small bites including exotic dips, pates, pumpkin truffles, and fanciful “s’mores on sticks.” And of course, there was spiced and spiked cider!  Strolling through the garden to the main house, the focus was on a 20th century object in the collection, a beautiful vase from the world-renowned Rookwood Pottery of Cincinnati.

A mix of neighbors, newcomers and friends were on hand, including members, who attend as our guests.


This group from the Capital Striders club found
Tudor Nights perfect for socializing off the running trail.

Lively conversation filled the elegant reception rooms
of our 1867 townhouse.   

Some of our Georgetown neighbors have known us for years. For others,
Tudor Place and Tudor Nights are a new find.

There’s always something to talk about at Tudor Nights, because the surroundings themselves are part of the conversation. 

This quartet enjoyed cider and touring the house as a
“first course,” before their restaurant dinner. 

A few hundred feet away, along the gravel walkway lined with tealights and redolent of boxwood, the main house and its historic offerings beckoned.

Tudor Nights offers a rare
chance to see items from
our collection up close.
Director Leslie Buhler (left) chats witha Tudor Place member and 
Rookwood aficionado.

Inside, talk was informal yet informative, as Executive Director Leslie Buhler and Curator Erin Kuykendall chatted with guests and presented the evening’s “star,” a 1904 Rookwood Pottery vase, in the Saloon — the central foyer, with views of the South Lawn through the famed Temple Portico.

You can see from the golden tones of the naturalistic maple leaves why this baluster-shaped vase was perfect for an autumn event. And its craftsmanship offers a glimpse into an important element of the American Arts and Crafts Movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Founded in 1880 by Maria Longworth Nichols, The Rookwood Pottery Company was the country’s first female-owned pottery manufactory. Nichols hired gifted potters, decorators, and technicians, experimented with glazing techniques, and set high standards of quality. These assets led Rookwood to garner some of the first juried awards in Europe granted to American-made ceramics. The pottery closed in 1967, but has recently been revived under new ownership

Rookwood insignia.

Vases such as this one are typically stamped with Rookwood’s insignia (a reverse R adjoining a P, shown at right), a Roman numeral for the date of creation, and the decorator’s mark incised below. For more information on Rookwood ceramics, see Jeffrey B. Snyder’s Rookwood Pottery (Schiffer, 2005) or Anita J. Elli’s Rookwood Pottery: The Glaze Line (Schiffer, 1995). 

Hard Cider and the Harvest was a great way to usher summer out and welcome the brisker, festive seasons to come. We thank all who attended, and we enjoyed their company. (More photos can be viewed in our Facebook album.) To join us for another romantic and convivial evening, sign up now for the last Tudor Nights of 2011, “Punch Royal and Holiday Trimmings,” on December 2.

Your blogger (center) posed with two good friends who
joined her at Tudor Nights. They were wowed!