George Washington: New Exhibit Explores Landscape Architecture at Mount Vernon

Although the beautiful gardens, sweeping lawns, and inviting paths seem perfectly natural, these features were all carefully planned by George Washington.

On display: West front of Mount Vernon, attributed to Edward Savage, ca. 1787–1792, oil on canvas.
On display: West front of Mount Vernon, attributed to Edward Savage, ca. 1787–1792, oil on canvas.

Gardens & Groves: George Washington’s Landscape at Mount Vernon, is the first museum exhibition at Mount Vernon to focus specifically on Washington’s landmark achievements as a landscape designer.

The exhibition, which debuted last month, combines rarely seen original documents, artworks, and books with period garden tools, gorgeous landscape photography, and a scale model of the Mount Vernon estate. 

In Gardens & Groves, visitors can view the first president’s spyglass, watering can, and garden roller, in addition to reading Washington’s notes and instructions for Mount Vernon’s landscape in his own hand.
“Each year, more than a million visitors enjoy the remarkable beauty of Mount Vernon’s gardens and grounds,” said Mount Vernon curator, Susan Schoelwer.  “But few realize that the views that we enjoy today were all carefully planned by George Washington himself. Gardens & Groves aims to change that, as visitors have the opportunity to ‘unpack’ the landscape surrounding the Mansion, following in Washington’s footsteps to examine each of the elements in the design.”

The exhibition features five 18th-century views of Mount Vernon—oil paintings of both river and land fronts of the Mansion, by Edward Savage; two detailed drawings of the layout of the grounds, by English admirer Samuel Vaughan; and a recently-acquired image of the Washingtons relaxing on the piazza in 1796, by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, architect of the US Capitol Building. Due to their fragility, the Vaughan and Latrobe drawings will be on view in Gardens & Groves through August 17, 2014.

“Bringing these five important works together presents a rare opportunity to see Mount Vernon through the eyes of artists who visited during George Washington’s lifetime,” said Mount Vernon exhibition curator Adam T. Erby. “These artworks record details of the landscape that we would not otherwise know—information that continues to inform our ongoing research and restoration efforts.”  

At the center of Gardens & Groves is an 8’x 9’x 11’ model of Mount Vernon’s landscape as Washington last saw it in 1799. Developed by Mount Vernon historians, archaeologists, and curators, this state-of-the-art model has returned home from a national tour in Mount Vernon’s traveling exhibition, Discover the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon. The model incorporates scenes from daily life – laundry drying in the laundry yard, a sailing ship on the Potomac, just-planted trees along the bowling green.

Garden & Groves: George Washington’s Landscape at Mount Vernon is open through Jan. 12, 2016 in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center.          


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