A visit to Hillwood

Marjorie Merriweather Post's Hillwood in Washington, D.C.

Hillwood, Marjorie Merriweather Post’s estate, in Washington, D.C. opened its doors for the Garden Bloggers’ flingers on our first morning of tours. Hillwood reminded me of numerous other estate gardens I’ve visited over the years. It’s kept in about the same condition and style as it was when Post still lived there from the mid-1950s to 1973.

Post wanted her last home to be a museum, and, after some wrangling, it eventually happened. Post was an heiress, socialite, and philanthropist who inherited the Postum cereal fortune from her father. She began running the company at the age of twenty-seven after her father’s death. Post collected Russian and French art, jewelry, and furniture. You can view some of her jewelry, including a pair of Marie Antoinette’s earrings, at the Smithsonian. She is also known for overseeing construction of Mar-a-Lago, now owned by President Donald Trump. Her Imperial Russian collection, established while her third husband, Joseph E. Davies, was ambassador to Russia, is located at Hillwood.

Post purchased Hillwood, originally named Arbremont, after her divorce from Davies. That’s quite a story in itself. You can read it at the link about Post’s museum hopes, above.

Being a garden writer, I was most interested in, you guessed it, the gardens. Although the gardens comprise twenty-five acres, they don’t seem that large because they are broken up into rooms. Post was a fan of 18th Century France, and her French parterre is a tribute to her interests.

There is also a small Japanese garden which despite its size, is very well appointed. It’s quite beautiful and has wonderful views. You can see it in the first photo gallery show above. Click on the photos to make them larger.

My favorite part of the landscape was the cutting garden. Situated near the greenhouse, this garden supplies all of the flowers used inside the house/museum. It’s probably the best cutting garden I’ve ever seen.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to visit a lot of gardens, but I’m a bit weary of grand estate gardens. They all seem to have similar attributes, especially if they were created between the 1920s and 1950s. You can almost always bet upon a formal rose garden, a Japanese garden, either an Italian formal landscape piece or a French one–you get the idea.

Post did also have a really interesting pet cemetery and a dacha in her garden too.

Graves in pet cemetery at Hillwood.
Graves for Post’s favorite pets still reside in the pet cemetery at Hillwood.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s all very pretty, but I’m more interested in a working garden, and the cutting garden was just that. I loved how the gardeners placed netting in the rows for the flowers to grow through–a brilliant idea to keep stems straight and strong. Also, this cutting garden had great filler plants like bells of Ireland, dill weed, and Queen Anne’s lace to nestle between larger blooms.

After we had our photo made on the Lunar lawn and had lunch, the bloggers split up and were off to our next destinations. I really enjoyed Hillwood and hope you enjoy my thoughts about it too.

Favorite perennials from Bustani Plant Farm

Favorite perennials. Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii, hummingbird shrub

A couple of weeks ago, I ran up to Stillwater to visit Bustani Plant Farm, which as you know, is my favorite nursery. I had a lovely time, and I bought a lot of plants.

Where do I put them all?

Shrug. It’s a big garden–about an acre and a half total.

This post started out as a list of all my favorite plants from Bustani Plant Farm, but it became too long.

So, let’s start with my favorite perennials, shall we?

Cestrum ‘Orange Peel.’ I think Steve and Ruth Owens sell two other varieties of cestrum also, but the one I grow is ‘Orange Peel.’ It blooms in the middle of summer for a long time and is a great backdrop for other large-flowered plants. ‘Orange Peel’ grows about three feet high in my garden in full screamin’ sun. I grow it next to ‘Pink Velour’ crapemyrtle and Salvia greggii ‘Pink Preference.’

Wait, though, I also grow a purple cestrum. I like it too, but I don’t have a photo of it. Here’s a link to Cestrum x cultam ‘Cretan Purple.’ While not as bright as the yellow and orange ones, it’s very pretty too.

Speaking of S. greggii ‘Pink Preference,’ if you have a hot and sunny spot–and who in Oklahoma doesn’t–‘Pink Preference’ will do the job beautifully. It’s also a native S. greggii introduced by nurseryman and plant hunter, Logan Calhoun. Click the link to read more about Calhoun and his influence on gardening. I grow many plants which he discovered in his travels.


Muhlenbergia capillaris ‘Fast Forward’ pink muhly grass, is another plant that steals the show in fall. Plant it with anything and watch the traffic stop outside your house come September. ‘Fast Forward’ is supposed to bloom earlier than other muhly grasses.

Favorite perennials. Gaillardia 'Punch Bowl'
Gaillardia ‘Punch Bowl’ in my garden in 2015.

Gaillardia ‘Punch Bowl.’ I know gaillardias are iffy in the perennial department because they often bloom themselves to death in summer. Even if you had to replant ‘Punch Bowl’ each and every year, it is worth doing that. Such a gorgeous pink and yellow. I also really like ‘Arizona Red Shades,’ but I probably wouldn’t plant it right next to ‘Punch Bowl.’ I think they might clash.

Ajuga ‘Burgundy Glow.’ I don’t take a lot of photos of this plant because it blooms in early spring when I’m usually knee-deep in leaf removal. I do know I like the blue flowers against the multi-colored foliage. In summer, ajuga creeps out of my garden beds and into the paths in a charming, but non-obtrusive way. I love that ‘Burgundy Glow’ is variegated, pink and purple, and that it loves the heat. Sometimes, I have to replace a section of it in the spring if we get a lot of rain and cold over the winter.

Amsonia hubrichtii, threadleaf blue star amsonia. This sweet little native should be in everyone’s garden. It takes awhile to get it started, but it’s worth the wait. Remember, with perennials, it takes about three years for them to get their legs. This type of amsonia is my favorite because of its texture, the blue flowers in spring and its yellow foliage in fall. I’m sorry I don’t have a photo of it. Again, I’m usually busy working. Trust me. It’s gorgeous.

Anisacanthus quadrifidus var. wrightii, hummingbird shrub. Whew! What a mouthful! This is one of my all-time favorite shrubs. I love the shade of orange the blooms are. I love the shape it grows in and that just when you think it’s dead (It dies back to the ground in my garden each winter) it comes up and starts vigorously growing. It is beautiful, drought tolerant, and hummingbirds love it.

Japanese false nettle, Boehmeria nipononivea 'Kogane Mushi,' with Phlox paniculata in partial shade.
Japanese false nettle, Boehmeria nipononivea ‘Kogane Mushi,’ with Phlox paniculata in partial shade.

Boehmeria nipononivea ‘Kogane Mushi’, Japanese false nettle. A wonderful plant that lights up the shade garden. In my garden, it grows quite large, about four feet by four feet, which makes it a glowing shrub-like plant in my late-summer landscape.

Hibiscus ‘Moy Grande.’ Not many flowers bloom in July, but ‘Moy Grande’ never disappoints. It’s one of the summer flowers I recommend for summer heat. In my opinion, this is still the best of the perennial hibiscus, and I grow several of them. The big, bold hot pink flowers are simply amazing, and bumblebees can’t enough of the pollen and nectar.

Spigelia marilandica, Indian pink, has the cutest pink/red and yellow flowers. It is an upright growing, small native perennial that is great for the front of the border.
Spigelia marilandica, Indian pink, has the cutest pink/red and yellow flowers. It is an upright growing, small native perennial that is great for the front of the border.

Spigelia marilandica, Indian pink. This little plant is a U.S. native. It attracts hummingbirds, and it blooms in sun or shade. I grow mine at the edge of my shade garden. It is slow to multiply so I’ve been working increasing its numbers in my garden for several years. Such a pleasure to see it blooming every morning.

One more thing, buying your plants from local nurseries is important. Although I have nothing against box stores, I try to support my local nurseries with the bulk of my purchases. They frankly need the money more.

There are many other perennials I’ve purchased from Bustani over the years, but I’m tired, and I need another cup of coffee. You can’t go wrong with my favorite perennials. Take a quick road trip and get yourself some.