Getting to Know the Trees at Tudor Place

 

By Kelly Whitson, Summer Intern, Garden & Grounds
 
My internship in collections management at Tudor Place this summer introduced me to a type of “artifact” I had never worked with before: trees. Tudor Place is rare among historic house museums in undertaking a complete inventory of its woody plant material – some 400 trees on 5.5 leafy acres – to officially accession them into its collection, the same as it does with interior items like dishes, beds and paintings. As a horticulture collections intern to Director of Gardens and Grounds Suzanne Bouchard, my main task was to help research and document about 100 of these trees and enter them into the collections database Suzanne created in the PastPerfect program, with codes and formatting developed to professional standards.
Histories and mysteries: This towering Scarlet Oak, planted in honor of George Washington,
left a hefty “paper trail.” Stories behind other specimens are harder to trace.

In evaluating my internship experience, I find the most unexpected result was a sense of knowing the trees personally. Some of their histories were easily discovered, like the Scarlet Oak, above, planted in 1932 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birth. Others are mysterious in origin: historic photos, slides, family records, garden committee notes – nothing reveals their planting date or story.

 

The trees’ solidity is comforting, while their
changes are fascinating, even to a novice.
The trees’ structures and growing habits depend on their locations in the garden and provide interesting visual dynamics. From the towering Border Oak and famous Tulip Poplar (at left), which have reigned over the house and garden since the their inception, to the tiny seedlings just “joining” the collection, they all have personalities. Getting up close and personal with them, measuring them, evaluating their health and discussing their histories creates a feeling of intimacy.
I want to visit in the fall to see their changing leaves and return again in the winter to see their “bones.” I want to visit in the spring to see their flowery offerings and in the summer, to be enveloped by their lush green leaves. I encourage visitors, too, to return repeatedly to get to know the trees at Tudor Place:
Their solidity is comforting, while their slow changes and distinct characteristics are fascinating, even to a horticultural novice.

Kelly is an M.S. Candidate in Museum Studies at The George Washington University.

 

Old Roses

Old Blush Rose
The Peter family has had a long history of admiring and cultivating a very special type of plant…the rose. In the early years of Tudor Place, roses were found in almost every area of the garden: down near the southern perimeter which borders what is now Q St, along the lower walk, and scattered throughout the north garden. Today, visitors to the Tudor Place gardens can still see some of the descendents of the first roses cultivated on the property.

 

Roses were first mentioned in the family writings referring to Martha Custis Peter, who with her husband Thomas purchased Tudor Place in 1805. Their daughter, who inherited Tudor Place, Britannia Kennon remembered a small double flowering white cluster rose, a damask rose, and the hundred leaf roses were in the garden before she was born in 1815. She later wrote, “Every year mother would have the old hundred leaf roses gathered and sent to Mrs. Arney who owned a sweet store on Bridge Street. Mrs. Arney would distill rosewater from rose leaves. It took one bushel of roses to make a bottle of rose water – about a quart. She would keep one bottle and send mother the other.” At one time hundred leaf roses could be found in a large clump in the area which is now known as the Orchard garden. The roses were divided and replanted along the center axis path by Armistead Peter 3rd and were present well into the 20th century. Rosa × centifolia are highly fragrant and still used in perfume making.

 

Another family favorite was the old monthly rose, pink daily, or “Old Blush” rose. This rose is a hybrid of the first China rose and was brought into cultivation in the 1750’s. The old monthly rose was at Tudor Place from the beginning. Martha Custis Peter had this rose saved and transplanted in the garden while the house was being built. It was returned to its proper place and replanted by the parlor window after the house was complete in 1816. The monthly rose is still grown on the south side of the house by the parlor window. We believe the specimens on the south façade are cuttings from the original rose bush.

 

Tudor Place has many antique varieties and newer cultivars in the garden. Some are in their original locations while others have been moved due to changing growing conditions. The roses have been admired by family and visitors for over a century. In an 1879 article for the Georgetown College Journal, Mrs. Anna W. Dorsey writes ”In summer the grounds, in which Mrs. Peter took great delight and pride, present a scene of unrivalled beauty with their great shade trees, and sloping velvety lawns, flowers of every shape and hue, vines, shrubbery with rare varieties and, above all, thousands of roses as famous for their beauty and fragrance as the ‘thrice blooming rose of Paestrum'”. Tudor Place continues this tradition.

National Public Garden Day

On May 6th, we will be participating in National Public Garden Day sponsored by the American Public Garden Association and Rain Bird. This event gives us an opportunity to highlight our historic landscape and our ongoing preservation efforts. The Tudor Place gardens have evolved over the past 200 years with each generation of the Peter family leaving their imprint on the garden. Thomas and Martha Custis Peter purchased the property in 1805 using an $8000 legacy left to her by George Washington, Martha’s step grandfather. They set about designing formal garden spaces to improve the landscape of their new suburban villa along with the agricultural areas of the property. Some of those formal features can still be seen today.
The most outstanding feature that still survives is the English boxwood Ellipse on the north side of the house. This hedge was originally kept at twelve inches high and had a large black locust tree (the stump is still there) in the northwest portion where visitors’ horses would be tied. Martha Peter wrote in her journal that the horses would nibble the boxwood hedge while they were waiting. The original formal features in the north garden also included the east garden which was the original home of the knot garden, the west garden square which was more open, and the circle seat overlooking the dell which was enlarged in 1930. The South Lawn’s formal features extended to the east and west islands which were typical design elements of an English inspired landscape. In 1805, the house overlooked the port of Georgetown and the beginnings of Washington, DC.
We will be offering two free guided tours of the garden on May 6th at 11 am and 2 pm, each led by a member of the garden staff. The garden will also be open for our regular self guided tours from 10 am to 4 pm. Admission to the garden will be free for this event and we will have a plant sale on May 6th and 7th to celebrate National Public Garden Day highlighting our plant material including English boxwood cuttings from the Ellipse.
Please join us on May 6th to celebrate National Public Garden Day.

Garden Restoration at Tudor Place

Over 178 years of Peter family ownership, Tudor Place’s garden has seen many changes and improvements. In 1969, the last Peter owner, Armistead Peter, 3rd, published his book on the history and evolution of Tudor Place. Included at the end of the book was a formal landscape plan that he had commissioned for that purpose. The plan details the garden’s structure as well as the tree and shrub plantings around the property. This map gives us the clearest view of the family’s intentions and leads our preservation efforts.

A garden by nature is not a static entity. With a changing landscape, preservation becomes a challenge. Questions arise concerning the future of plantings and what to do when replacements are necessary. Over the years, as weather patterns change and plants mature, changes become necessary in the garden. This past week we held our second planting event with the help of Casey Trees. With their help we have added 24 new trees to the Tudor Place landscape in less than a year.

 

 

As part of our garden restoration project, each missing tree was looked at to determine the feasibility of replanting the same species. For most trees, the same species is still available and were replanted. There were a few trees which required decisions to be made. Most were easy decisions like the American elm we planted last fall. Originally the south lawn was home to three English elms but with the threat of Dutch elm disease and the reality that a red maple and beech tree had been planted in previous years, only one could be restored. We chose to plant a more disease resistant variety of elm, ‘Valley Forge’. Another example would be the three Malus species needed for screening the tool shed on the western side of the south lawn. Originally a tea crabapple and two carmine crabapples stood there. With the difficulty of acquiring those exact species, two newer species were chosen to provide a similar look to the landscape and overall better disease resistance. The hardest decision involves the copper beech trees on the north façade. According to family lore, these trees were bought by Tudor Place’s second owner, Brittania Peter Kennon, from a travelling peddler. Since there is such a variance in what is considered a true copper beech tree, we are not sure what type of tree she purchased. The true variety, ‘Cuprea’, is very difficult to find today and we have not found documentation that this variety was what the peddler was selling. These trees have not been replanted yet.

 

The ongoing restoration of the garden is an important project which requires research, understanding, and patience. Tudor Place has been fortunate to partner with an organization like Casey Trees to help us move forward toward accomplishing our goals. We would like to thank the staff and volunteers of Casey Trees, the Nussbaum family for sponsoring our spring planting, and the garden staff and volunteers of Tudor Place for being a part of the preservation efforts here at Tudor Place.

 

 

 

BOLD COLORS

As warmer temperatures arrive, more plants begin to emerge from their winter slumber. Along with the abundance of white flowers like those of the cherry trees (P. x yedoensis and P. subhirtella), bridalwreath spirea (S. prunifolia) and Kobus Magnolia (M. kobus), the garden at Tudor Place boasts some bold spring color.

 

 

 

Spread throughout the garden, visitors will come across bold reds, bright yellows, and vibrant purples among the whites, pinks, and greens. Nestled in the northern beds of the Tennis Lawn, yellow Primula are in full bloom while in the kitchen beds, our red Primula veria are about to bloom. The Florentine tulips which we are known for are beginning to open along the center walk and the forsythia is still holding on to its color.
The center walk is showing reds and bronzes with the emergence of this season’s peonies and astilbe. Reds can also be seen along the entrance walk and East Island where the flowering quince is full of red flowers. While the crocus has come and gone, our vibrant purples can be found in groups of grape hyacinths and beds of Vinca in full bloom.
Spring at Tudor Place is a wonderful time of year with the garden offering something new to be enjoyed every day.

SPRING

The last two weeks have been very busy in the Tudor Place garden. We have sheared the box hedges throughout the north garden and renovated the center axis grass pathway. We have also completed the overseeding of our turf areas in preparation for our upcoming events. Spring has arrived at Tudor Place…

Mertensia virginica, Summerhouse Walk

 

Narcissus spp., Center Walk

 

Prunus subhirtella & Forsythia, East Island

In the Garden, Early March

This week has been busy in the garden and our recent weather has everyone eager for spring. Visitors and staff have remarked on how great the garden looks and have stopped to admire the early flowering bulbs like the crocus coming up in the Thistle Terrace lawn. We have been working hard this winter to get things ready for the upcoming year. Last week, one of our oldest Catalpa trees and a smaller holly (Ilex opaca) on the South Lawn were professionally pruned to take care of some broken limbs damaged in recent storms. Two California Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) trees by the grape arbor are being removed this month because both trees are diseased and have been officially deemed hazardous. The lean of one tree has become a major concern for visitor safety while its neighbor lost most of its canopy last year during an August storm. We will be replacing both trees in the near future.

Late winter is the time to prune rose bushes. Pruning practices vary depending on rose species and location. We cut back our floribundas and hybrid teas in our knot garden to reduce their size in relation to the boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) hedges. The remaining rose species around the property are pruned to remove dead wood and to reshape them like our moss, damask, and china varieties. We also apply lime sulfur spray to our roses to get a jump start on our rose maintenance program.

Have a Cocktail with the 1919 Pierce Arrow Roadster

Strolling the grounds of Tudor Place, across the back driveway and to the garage, if the weather is nice, you will find the garage door open to display a 1919 Pierce Arrow Roadster.  This antique car, now decommissioned, belonged to Armistead Peter, 3rd and was one of many Pierce Arrow Roadsters owned by the Peter Family.  It is the highlighted object at the upcoming Tudor Nights Coctail Event on September 30 6-8 p.m. (free for members! details: www.tudorplace.org/calendar.html ) So I thought I would share a little of its history to prepare you for the excitement of seeing it up close…

Photo by Cathy Kerkham

The Peter family had a long history with the Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Company. Armistead Peter, Jr. and his wife, ‘Nannie’, bought their first Pierce-Arrow in 1913. It was a 48-B2 Vestibule Suburban and cost $6,353.90. Between 1914 and 1920 the Peter family purchased at least four more Pierce-Arrows.
In 1920 they purchased a Town Brougham for a staggering $8,958.00! The Pierce-Arrow currently on display was purchased in 1919 for their son, Armistead Peter 3rd in 1919. It was his second Pierce-Arrow and proved to be his favorite. It is the only Pierce-Arrow he retained from its purchase until his death in 1983. The chassis was bought from the local Washington, DC Pierce dealer, The Foss Hughes Company, for $5,441.25. The body however, was built by the Brewster Company in New York, at a cost of $3,041.45.

Mr. Peter was actively involved in the design process. In the exhibit case are some copies of his designs. He asked Brewster to incorporate a new seat-to-steering wheel ratio designed by Rolls Royce to accommodate his height. The headlights are also by Rolls Royce. There is a box on each side of the running board. One contained the very light Arctic Brand oil that the car used, while the other held tools. A mobile tool kit was essential for an early twentieth century driver. In the 1920s service stations were not commonplace and therefore a driver needed not only to know how to maintain the car but also how to fix it when necessary. This Roadster covered some 37,000 miles, with few problems. Mr. Peter ordered the new Budd-Michelin disc wheels used on General Pershing’s car during World War 1. They were the first to be installed on a civilian car in the Washington area. An earlier skid on an icy winter road had led to a broken wooden spoke wheel, so Mr. Peter was keen to not repeat the performance.

Armistead Peter, 3rd in the 1919 Pierce-Arrow Roadster Model 48-B5

In 1973 Armistead Peter 3rd decided to have the car restored to its original condition. The body and works were restored to running condition and Mr. Peter finally drove it home in 1977. Afterwards he wrote, “When the car was delivered to me in Bethesda, Maryland, I drove it the seven miles to my home here in Washington, and I admit that it felt more like a truck than a car. Everything was built very heavily in those cars, including the gears, and a special trick has to be employed in shifting which I still remembered, although I had not driven the car for forty-seven years.”

Posted by: Heather Bartlow

Pocket Treasures

It seems Armistead Peter Jr. did not empty his pockets before storing away his hunting jacket in the 1930’s!  While inventorying the textile collection here at Tudor Place, Collections Assistant Joni Joseph and Intern Rachel Jakab found a whistle, a cup, a leather strap, and a match case in the pockets of that jacket.  Joni says –  “We think the whistle was to call the dogs while hunting, though I didn’t blow it! We’re not sure what the leather strap was for.  The cup is not a collapsible one – it is simply smashed beyond use and as stiff as can be. It is made with a material treated with a waterproof coating.”

All of the items have been removed and stored properly for better preservation of both the objects and the jacket.  They have been entered in our PastPerfect database with a note as to where they were found to retain their history.

Teaching Teachers at the Civil War Washington Teacher Fellowship

As the Education Director of Tudor Place, I work on developing and implementing a number of educational programs and one of my favorite programs, Civil War Washington Teacher Fellowship, takes place over the summer. We partner with Ford’s Theatre, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, and Lincoln Cottage to create a week long program that focuses on providing teachers with the resources they need to feel comfortable teaching the Civil War to students. This year we had 36 enthusiastic teachers participate in the program. I was overwhelmed with the engaging discussions and creative ideas generated throughout the week.

At Tudor Place we focused on teaching with primary sources. Teachers participated in a Civil War Walking Tour of Georgetown and then performed 3 short plays based on primary documents from the collection. Using additional primary documents teachers took on the role of enslaved workers living in Georgetown in the 1850s and based on their circumstances decided whether they would escape to freedom or stay in bondage. This activity led to a lively discussion on slavery in Washington D.C. and the nation. After working with documents for the majority of the day, teachers turned their attention to teaching with artifacts. Teachers learned the basics of artifact analysis and how artifacts can provide a tactile connection to the past. The day concluded with an engaging discussion on using historic places and artifacts for both history and language arts classes.

Although, teachers spend only a week working onsite with us, we have established an online learning community to encourage discussion and sharing throughout the school year. About 80% of the teachers have already posted lesson plans based on the information they learned throughout the week to the website!

Posted by: Talia Mosconi, Education Director