Mount Vernon – Part II

Continuing yesterday’s post about my experience at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

The garden tours continued with a short walk along the serpentine walk to the Lower Garden. This was the main kitchen garden (fruits, vegetables, herbs) and under the direction of Martha Washington during her tenure at Mount Vernon. There is considerable documentation about the plants that were grown in the garden; one bit of trivia: Martha Washington liked artichokes! The lavender that grew around one bed seemed to be doing particularly well this year.

The garden was reconstructed in 1938….in a Colonial Revival style. Prior to that time the focus has been on the mansion rather than the grounds.

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Our group exited the Lower Garden toward the East Lawn of the mansion. We got a closer view of the scaffolding for the façade renovation project….and the walked far enough away to see the whole of the mansion.

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But the theme of the conversation was about the view….pointing out the minor changes but also the success that buying and conserving the land on the Maryland side has had on preserving the view shed of Mount Vernon. This is the view down river.

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We walked to the chairs on the river-side porch of the mansion and I took a picture upriver too. During Washington’s time the river would have been deeper (a lot of silting has happened since the 1700s) and there was a lot of boat traffic; It was also full of fish….actively harvested. Washington grew hemp to make rope for nets!

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Then it was time for a late lunch (most of us ate our box lunch outside on the library grounds – at tables on the porch or park benches). Then it was time to pick up a ‘goodie bag’ – plants and seeds! This year the plants included: chocolate mint, blackberry lily, spearmint, cardinal flower, pink turtlehead, and obedient plant. The seeds were larkspur, Purple columbine and spider flower. I have the plants on some shelves in a south facing window….will have to buy some pots to keep them happy through the winter. Then I’ll be putting them outside in the spring. The seeds will be planted next spring…and I hope they survive our deer population! There was a bar of bayberry scented soap which I unwrapped and have in my office….a pleasant scent to enjoy through fall and winter.

Overall – this was a fabulous volunteer appreciation event.

HoLLIE – Week 8

The Week 8 of HoLLIE (Howard County Legacy Leadership Institute for the Environment) class was a week later than originally planned because of our late season snowstorm. As I passed the gate and started up the drive toward Belmont Manor, I realized that not only was it the last day of class, it was also the last days of the ash trees in the park. The trees along the drive had been marked since the beginning of class and there was a truck already in position to start cutting one of the larger trees down. After I parked, I took pictures of one that has already been cut along the road between the manor house and the carriage house. The emerald ash borer has changed the landscape of our area of Maryland.

The last two environmental lectures were “Why protecting the environment is really about protecting our own health” and “The relationship between climate and weather.” The lectures were followed by a segment reflecting on leadership strengths and ‘what’s next’ for the class cohort and feedback on the class overall.

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The grand finale of the day was seeing the baby chicks and a visit to Myrtle Woods Farm which would become their home: pigs, chickens, hoop houses with veggies and edible flowers….fields with high fences to keep out the deer ready for planting. Its 9 acres of farm surrounded by housing developments!

I’m still reflecting on my follow-up to the class. I’ve done the easy thing of signing up for a few more volunteer activities like what I do with the pre-K through high school field trips with the Howard County Conservancy. I’m exploring other volunteering that diverges from my education focus up until now and am not sure yet on the direction I will take….something that is directed more toward adults or communities rather than children and their education – probably.

I judge the value of a class these days by how much I act upon what I learn afterwards. By that measure – HoLLIE is headed toward the top of my all time list of actionable classes!

Brookside Gardens Model Trains (continued)

The Brookside Gardens G-scale model trains exhibit’s last day is January 1. I’ve been volunteering as a conservatory docent since just after Thanksgiving – posting about my earlier shifts back on December 12. The shifts since then have been just as enjoyable at the first 4. Each one is a little different and I try to take a few pictures to document the differences.

The 5th shift was on a very cold afternoon with light sleet falling. Visitors to the exhibit were light so I had plenty of time to take some plant pictures in the other half of the conservatory and

The Ferris wheel and merry-go-round in the trolley track layout.

On the center track, Thomas and James were pulling trains. Emily was on a side track. The hard part of the shift was getting home; the roads had been treated and were not slippery…it was rush hour traffic. It took me more than double the normal time to get home. Aargh!

The 6th sift had my favorite engine of the season: one that smoked! The very coordinated volunteer from the train club that owned the train could use an eye dropper to add more oil to the smokestack (to make the smoke) while the train was moving!

Before the 7th shift, it took a series of ‘new leaves/fronds’ picture in the conservatory…and pink flowers to add some color.

Inside the exhibit – there was a Santa pumper added and Thomas was pulling a train. Both are favorites of the children,

The 8th shift was cold but I quickly took a picture of a dried hydrangea flower. I like the ‘lace’ of the weathering petals.


Indoors there were poinsettias and orchids.

A Christmas train was the highlight of the exhibit for that shift.

I also noticed the hopscotch that is part of the Brookside Gardens trolley for the first time.


The 9th shift included a festive train with lots of figures – including the Beetles –

And a more serious looking freight train.

I have one more shift to go – on the very last day of the exhibit!

Stream Assessment – October 2017


I had planned to volunteer at two stream assessments by 9th graders in October.  Both assessments were scheduled to be at the Middle Patuxent Environmental Area but one was cancelled after a heavy rain caused a dangerous situation at the stream – so I only have pictures from one stream assessment. The stream was smaller than the two other locations along the Middle Patuxent that were assessed in September. We crossed it on some rocks (the path came to the river  near where the big log is lying on top of the rocks).


All the gear for the abiotic and biotic assessments was set up on the side of the stream across from the path. It was very calm and shady as we set up.


Then the students arrived…60 in the first group…a little break…and then another 60. I took a few pictures of critters during the break.

One last picture before the second group…what a great place to escape into nature. I’m not sure that the students experience the psychological rejuvenation I often feel in places like this when they come with the larger group (and they are teenagers) - although it was obvious that most of them enjoyed being outdoors and in the stream. When we finished the assessment, the students helped carry all the gear – including the boots – on the 15 minute hike back to the road where they got on their buses and we packed up everything into cars….another stream assessment day complete.