A Golden Anniversary is a significant milestone, whether for a marriage, a business, or a park. For Green Spring Gardens, the jewel of a public garden and horticultural center in the Lincolnia area of Mason District, the anniversary was October 26. Fifty years previously, in 1970, Michael and Belinda Straight, who had owned Green Spring Farm since the early 1940s, gifted 16 acres of the farm, with its historic 1784 Manor House and outbuildings, to Fairfax County for a park. In the ensuing years, Green Spring Gardens has become a treasured location for plant collections, Master Gardeners, children’s programs, seasonal events, art shows, tea parties at the Manor House, and a variety of other activities. For many visitors, Green Spring Gardens provides a well-needed respite from everyday challenges – a quiet locale for shaking off the cares of the day, for strolling, plein-air painting, discovering enchanting secrets in the garden, or just enjoying being outside.
The park opened in 1975, but the public advocated for a garden setting rather than a traditional park with playing fields. A horticulture center with a greenhouse was constructed in the early 1980s, and a number of demonstration gardens quickly followed. Spring plant sales brought more people into the park in the mid-1980s, with a Young Gardeners Program to instill the joy of gardening from an early age. Those successes faced an occasional interruption by Mother Nature – an ice storm that destroyed the greenhouse collections, a windstorm that tore out 35 mature trees around the Manor House, a massive blizzard that collapsed the meeting room ceiling. Nonetheless, the 31-acre site now boasts the national witch hazel collection recognized by the Plant Collections Network of the American Public Gardens Association, accreditation by the Alliance of American Museums, and a Virginia historic highway marker commemorating the 1942 collaborative work of restoration architect Walter Macomber and landscape architect Beatrix Farrand at the Manor House and gardens.
The success of Green Spring Gardens has been supported, for the past quarter century, by the Friends of Green Spring Gardens, or FROGS, perhaps the most active and enthusiastic group of volunteers in the region. The FROGS donate their time, ideas, funds, and more, “working closely with staff to improve the quality of the gardens and its activities,” according to Sandy Austin, the group’s first president. Today, FROGS membership exceeds 1500, and the FROGS have raised and donated back to the park more than $2 million, and tens-of-thousands of hours of volunteer work. In 2003, legendary Green Spring Gardens manager Don Humphrey put the mystique of the gardens in a nutshell: “At the heart of the day-to-day operations are professional and dedicated permanent employees, doing what they like and doing it well. And we must not forget that somewhere out there in the gardens is a seasonal employee and a volunteer keeping the dream alive. The seasonal isn’t being paid very much and the volunteer not at all. Tells you something right there.”
The first 50 years of Green Spring Gardens is history; what comes next likely will be just as interesting and fascinating, probably different, but always inviting, a place to marvel at the myriad wonders of nature, and a place to restore one’s soul, especially these days! Learn more about Green Spring Gardens at www.friendsofgreenspring.org.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]