Native Son: Agent 008

Time: 2:31am, Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Location: Room 5209 of an upscale hotel in the heart of Washington, DC

1. To attend the annual American Public Garden Association’s annual conference
2. Visit some righteously fabulous gardens

Current Situation: Red Alert. Usual morning’s intake of coffee has been disrupted by the hotel’s cheesy little coffee maker and little packets of “the world’s finest coffee,” which, let me assure you, is not. (Someone in Costa Rica has grown some nice coffee beans –actually seeds– only to have another someone “dark roast” them into something just shy of ash, then another someone actually bought these incinerated semillas and put them in my hotel room.) Of course, I predicted this scenario before arriving and brought my own java. I had not predicted that my 1:48am state of mental oblivion would result in me forgetting to put the little paper cup back under the coffee maker while it was brewing. Must decide what to do with a once bright white luxury hand towel that now resembles a tiny panda taking a nap in the corner of the counter.

Daily Report: Concluded visit to four horticultural wonders in the near vicinity: Green Spring Gardens, Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, and two private estates, the locations of which I cannot disclose for obvious reasons—I was completely lost. Fortunately, I was traveling incognito on a tour bus. Enclosing photographic evidence of these locations.

Green Spring Gardens is a 31-acre public park in Lincolnia, Virginia. The namesake Green Springs plantation house was constructed from 1777 to 1784 and features a garden designed by renowned landscape designer Beatrix Farrand in 1942. A collection of more than 20 themed gardens radiate out from a central circular lawn, which is enclosed by a popular walking path. The Visitor Center features a rather remarkable design and is surrounded by several demonstration and children’s gardens.

A lovely gazebo does double-duty as a focal point and the perfect wedding site. Japanese Forest Grass and Hostas thrive in the full sun. All photos by Steven Chamblee.
The children’s gardens feature many creative, hand-crafted features, including a heartfelt tribute to a local hero.
Continued Below

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is a 95-acre horticultural gem located in Vienna, Virginia. More than 30 themed gardens are spaced luxuriously around the triangular-shaped site, each beckoning you to experience its unique sensory delights. Intelligent foresight separated the Visitor Center and Atrium, allowing the garden to accommodate weddings and special events without disrupting normal visitation.

Surrounded by dense native Piedmont forests, expansive vistas and lush wetlands fill the heart of Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.
Beautiful plants are highlighted throughout the garden, such as the Golden Locust tree lighting up a pool garden and the striking Bromeliads reflected in the Atrium windows.

Secret Garden Alpha is a little piece of paradise carved into the woodlands at the end of a long, thin, winding road. The garden has a split personality of sorts; one half a rather sophisticated elegance and the other a fun-loving, almost cheeky poke at the first. The magic lies where the two overlap, as in the spiderweb of near-mythical moss carpet pathways accented with quirky and irreverent art. The owners obviously take as much delight in a cute storebought ceramic as in an expensive original sculpture, ultimately leading me to admire these bon vivant folks’ undeniably affluent, yet delightfully unpretentious spirit.

The contemporary design of the pool & cabana is in stark contrast to the green carpets of woodland moss snaking under huge trees only a few feet away.
Mesmerized into a stupor by the sumptuous blue Hydrangeas, I couldn’t choose between these photos…so you get both.
Bountiful and elegant plantings of chartreuse Hostas border the woodland…notice the pink flamingo flamboyance in the upper right. Hiding within that fabulous flamboyance, the dreaded attack flamingo.
This magnificently-constructed circular stone portal is both spectacular and expensive, yet shares the same space as whimsical owl birdhouse. Both made me smile.

Secret Garden Omega is one of the most amazing spaces I’ve ever seen. Thirty years in the making, this concrescence of creative thought, impetuous ideas, inspired designs, top-notch materials, brilliant craftsmanship, and meticulous maintenance is the stuff of dreams. (I apologize…the photos simply do not do it justice.) My short visit was an emotional thrill ride, literally making me laugh out loud with delight, coaxing me into contemplative thought, tickling my funny bone, and sending me down memory lane…over and over. From tenderly subtle to elegantly formal to intellectually intriguing, the garden reflects quite well the qualities of the woman who built it. I was forturnate enough to spend a few minutes with her and express my admiration. I told her how much I loved her garden, and I thought it is, “Complex, provocative, captivating…and just the right amount of too much!”

Crystal clear waters cascade from a hewn-stone pavillion into a koi-filled pond with its own little Fantasy Island.
An intriguing mermaid sculpture behind the waterfall forms the terminus of a pathway out the back of the pavillion to another pond, this one under the gaze of a gazebo.
Natural and exquisitely-sculpted accents fill the niches around the garden: delighting you one moment, piquing your sense of wonder the next.
Whimsical artisan cats pay homage to several feral cats that live on the garden’s periphery.
Like a giant scimitar, this bold black stone portal dramatically separates the formal and woodland gardens; the wall’s chunky capstone accents reminiscent of a dragon’s back.

I need a road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come and speak to your group sometime. I’m low maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town to small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Come out and see me at Chandor Gardens! Located in the heart of Weatherford’s Historic District, Chandor Gardens is the perfect place to get away and enjoy the simple pleasures of life that can only be found in gardens. Call 817-613-1700 or visit for details.

Posted by Steven Chamblee
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