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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.