George Washington’s Mount Vernon

 The mansion at Mount Vernon viewed across the large swathe of sloping lawn known as the bowling green.

Michael and I traveled to the Washington DC area recently to view gardens and enjoy the city.  When torrential rains cancelled our Sunday visits and Monday closures forced a total rethink of our intended itinerary, Michael said what about Mount Vernon.  We thoroughly enjoyed our visit there and would recommend it to gardeners and non-gardeners alike.

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This map of a portion of the Mount Vernon estate shows the mansion on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River with the sloped bowling green in front bordered on both sides by serpentine access paths enclosed in large trees.  Behind the trees on the left are the formal gardens and greenhouse.  On the right are the extensive kitchen gardens and below them the fruit gardens.

Mount Vernon was the home of George Washington, the first President of the United States, the Commander of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, and the president of the convention that produced the US Constitution.  Among his greatest achievements were the voluntary transfer of control of our country from the military back to civilians at the end of the war and the peaceful succession of John Adams as the second president after Washington’s two terms.  For an upstart country like ours, neither was a given.  But while shaping our history, he was also shaping his gardens, which are a delight to visit.


Michael stands by one of the huge trees that line the gravel paths climbing the hill to the mansion.  Despite the presence of numerous school groups and other visitors, we often found ourselves alone while wandering the grounds.


Washington made major changes to the mansion, which was originally just the center door and windows to either side.  The building on the right is the kitchen and, through the connecting archway, you can see the trees on the opposite shore of the Potomac River.  We were hesitant to stand in line for the mansion tour, but it was well worth it.  No photos are allowed inside.



The servants hall and side yard—you can just see the river on the left above the fence.

.The Potomac side of the house has a very large, two story porch with an amazing view of the river where George and Martha Washington would entertain their frequent guests—over 650 while they lived there.



The entrance to the formal gardens looking towards the greenhouse, which Washington built to house tropical and semi-tropical plants like citrus and palm trees.  Although Martha Washington oversaw the kitchen gardens, George Washington closely supervised the ornamental gardens and the estate, receiving weekly reports even during the Revolutionary War.  He designed and built the formal gardens for the enjoyment of his many visitors.


The formal gardens consist of six beds, two of which are parterres filled with boxwood clipped into fleur di lis.


The bright green boxwood combined with the redbrick buildings with red tile roofs was quite striking.


The remaining beds have exotic ornamental trees and flowers along the edges with rows of vegetables and fruit trees in the center.

.Ornamental flowers and espaliered fruit trees border the walls enclosing the formal garden.

.Southern magnolias line the access road behind the greenhouse.


The gorgeous flower and evergreen leaves of southern magnolia, M. grandiflora.


From the path on the right side of the bowling green, we entered the kitchen gardens, which were overseen by Martha Washington.

.The kitchen gardens have been continuously producing fruits and vegetables since the 1760s.


A cistern surrounded by geometrically laid out vegetable beds.



A view across the kitchen gardens towards the seed house.


Seeds for the coming year’s crops were collected and stored in this charming building.


There is a lot to see at Mount Vernon, and we could have spent another half day exploring the remainder of the property, including the distillery, gristmill, wharf area, indoor museum, Washington’s tomb, and the slave memorial.  Mount Vernon is so peaceful and beautiful that I had to constantly remind myself that the actual work was done by enslaved people who numbered 317 at Washington’s death in 1799.


P.S.  Mount Vernon receives no government funding.  It is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which purchased the estate in 1858 after the founder’s mother, Louisa Cunningham, brought its dilapidated state to her daughter’s attention.  Louisa wrote:“If the men of America have seen fit to allow the home of its most respected hero to go to ruin, why can’t the women of America band together to save it?” I find this 19th century quotation to be incredibly inspirational and relevant in the 21st century.


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13 Responses to “George Washington’s Mount Vernon”

  1. May Belle Rauch Says:

    Great article. Have just shared it with the current Pres of the board.

    Sent from my iPad


    • Thanks, May Belle. I meant to mention the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association in the post but was looking for the exact words of the inspirational quotation on the wall in the visitor center. I found the quote on the website and have now added it at the end of the post. The MVLA has done a tremendous job at Mount Vernon—it is gorgeous, beautifully maintained, and feels like you might turn a corner and find George Washington in the garden. I can’t wait to go back!

  2. My parents took me and one brother to visit Mount Vernon in ~1954. Alas I have not been back since. Your wonderful post has given me the impetus to get together a couple of friends to make the trip. Thank you.

  3. It has been a long time, but I have visited twice. It has always bothered me that the house is not quite symmetrical with the window alignment. A little OCD goes a long way.

  4. I first saw it some 80 years ago as a lad and again about 20 years later. My memory of details is vague so I thoroughly enjoyed the photos and the commentary.

    • Bill, I am so glad I was able to show you photos of Mount Vernon and revive memories from your youth. I wonder how it has changed over that time. They now have an introductory film and what looked like a very informative museum, although we didn’t have time to visit it. Carolyn

  5. Your lovely post reminded me of when we took our children, they must have been about 10 and 7, to visit. I remember feeling that American history was alive there. Thank you for mentioning that Mount Vernon was maintained by slaves. It is a sad, but critical part of American history that it is important to remember. I am so happy to know that it was a Ladies Society that took the challenge to preserve it. What a marvelous job they have done.

  6. Mount Vernon is one of my favorite historic properties and the formal gardens with their perfectly clipped boxwoods always look beautiful. Thank you for these wonderful pictures.

    Another beautiful garden to visit which is close by and also a Washington property is River Farm. It is now the headquarters for the American Horticultural Society. Lovely gardens and amazing views of the Potomac River and DC.

  7. Yang Ruflo Says:

    One of the coolest gardens

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