The garden at the Oak Spring Estate, located near Upperville, is a must-see for any lovers of horticulture and elevated garden design.
The gorgeous property was the former private estate of the philanthropist, art enthusiast, and renowned horticulturist Rachel “Bunny” Mellon. Mellon had an eye for design, and her life-passion fell on gardening and landscaping, says Max Smith, head of communications for the Oak Spring Garden Foundation (She once redesigned the White House Rose Garden at the request of President Kennedy.) Mellon passed away in 2014 at the age of 103, leaving behind her legacy in the stunning estate that is still used today by those intrigued and interested in horticulture, gardening, and art.
“When she was nearing the end of her life, Mellon established the Oak Spring Garden Foundation to maintain the collections of her art books and make them accessible to scholars in the future when she was no longer around,” says Smith. While the estate isn’t often open to the general public, it does offer several short courses, internships, and guided workshops throughout the year. In addition to these, the estate is often used to host researchers, artists, and writers who go through a fellowship or residency program.
“That is one of the special things about this foundation,” says Smith. “We’re here to help educate people about plants, landscapes, and gardening through leading experts and materials that are kind of peerless in their quality.”
The foundation does open the estate to the general public a few times a year, which offers a chance to see Mellon’s design for yourself.
“Mellon was kind of a trendsetter in both the style and fashion world, as well as the landscape design and horticulture world,” says Smith. “So for people to be able to come and see her personal garden is really special.” The Oak Spring Garden Foundation actively manages the garden, keeping the spirit of Mellon and her evolutionary garden style in the forefront as they care for and plant for the future.
“Our head gardener worked as a gardener for Bunny for three decades, so it is really great to have his knowledge and memory of the way Mrs. Mellon liked things,” says Smith. “It is just a really special opportunity to use the landscape and preserve the central part in honor of Bunny.” One highlight when visiting the garden is the arbor with a white gravel path and lined with around 60 Mary Potter crabapple trees.
This walkway connects the garden with the formal glasshouse.
“It is really stunning in the way that the interlaced branches cast shadows year-round,” notes Smith. “And in the Spring, the trees will fill with blossoms. It is just a really beautiful feature that we’re proud to still have.”
Want to catch a glimpse of the beauty for yourself? The Oak Spring Garden Foundation is open for the general public several times a year. You can register for a visit, which includes a self-guided tour as well as the opportunity to experience the new exhibit, “The Fabrics of Life: The Mellon Collection of Linens at Oak Spring.”
Megan Herr is an editor and writer residing in the Shenandoah Valley. She graduated with a degree in journalism from Penn State University.
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