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

A visit to Hillwood

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.

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26 comments on “A visit to Hillwood

  1. Robin Ruff Leja

    I’m with you Dee. While I haven’t seen many grand estate gardens as you have, it would have been the large cutting garden that drew me in. What fun to have it all at your disposal!

  2. Layanee

    Such an interesting person. I do think that a garden reflects a personality although that reflection is a bit murky in estate gardens. Still, the maiden headed sphinxes are unexpected and a bit bizarre.

  3. Jeanette Hyden

    Dee, I was fascinated by the plastic mesh so I sent an inquiry to the horticulturist at the gardens and he was kind enough to reply. He said the mesh does not protect the plants from wildlife. Too bad! Like you stated, it’s used to support the stems. Great article and photographs for those of us on a virtual tour!

  4. Lisa Greenbow

    I am with you about the big estate gardens. They are gorgeous but I don’t feel the heart beating there. A friendship garden sounds like a good idea.

    1. Dee Nash

      A heartbeat is a good thing.

  5. Beth @ PlantPostings

    Wow, that’s really beautiful! Now I really regret not making it to the Fling. Too many trips this year. That part of the country seems like perfect gardening territory. I’ve been to DC many times, but I’m really enjoying all your DC-area gardening posts!

    1. Dee Nash

      Beth, I’m sorry you didn’t make it to the Fling either. There’s always next year in Austin though. 😉

  6. Pam/Digging

    It’s always nice to see a new garden. As you say, it’s an estate garden, so not as exciting to explore as a private garden (to my mind, anyway), but it had special moments. The Japanese garden was my favorite.

    1. Dee Nash

      I liked the Japanese garden very much too.

  7. hb

    That is indeed a spectacular cutting garden. Oh, to have a staff to work it for me, like MMP. ;^)

    1. Dee Nash

      I don’t think the cutting garden was here during her lifetime, but yes, a staff would be glorious.

  8. pbmgarden

    Dee, nice reflections on the Hillwood gardens. The cutting garden was amazing but I reached it just as lunch was served so I hurried on. The Japanese garden satisfied my expectations and more.

    1. Dee Nash

      Thank you! I’m sorry you missed the cutting garden, but the Japanese garden was outstanding too. I heard they had just redone it a few years ago. We saw it at its best.

  9. Loree / danger garden

    I was too hot and sticky to enjoy the cutting garden. Maybe even a little weary of the jealousy it would inspire.

    1. Dee Nash

      Loree, you always make me laugh. I felt that way when we got to the mall. I just wanted my air conditioning.

  10. Carol

    I’m with you, Dee. Show me the working garden. I would have been drawn to that cutting garden like a bee… thanks for sharing your visit with us. As always, you take great pictures and combine with great prose.

    1. Dee Nash

      Thanks Carol. You would’ve loved this cutting garden. It was huge!

  11. Helen at Toronto Gardens

    The cutting garden at Hillwood was a general favourite. I think we all fantasized about having it for our own!

    1. Dee Nash

      Yes, I have a small cutting and vegetable garden, but to have one so huge would really be something. However, I would need gardeners to care for it too. Alas, I have only me.

  12. Laura

    Beautiful photos. I loved the cutting garden as well. I’d love to have one outside my back door!

    1. Dee Nash

      It really was “something!” I loved it. Thanks for visiting and commenting Laura.

  13. Phillip

    I visited this garden about 8 years ago but I do not remember the Cutting Garden!

    1. Dee Nash

      Phillip, I think that’s because the cutting garden is a relatively new addition. You didn’t overlook it. 😀

  14. Marian St.Clair

    Many estate gardens do feel out of step with their “styled landscapes,” rather than the naturalistic compositions we favor today. But I never get over the thrill of seeing a garden for the first time and, like you, I always find something to admire.

    1. Dee Nash

      Marian, one thing I forgot to mention was the friendship walk. I liked it very much and can see how individual gardeners could incorporate a friendship walk of their own in their gardens perhaps with passalong plants from friends. That’s one way estate gardens can be a source of inspiration I think.

  15. Diana Kirby

    Lovely photos and great background about Marjorie Merriweather Post. I enjoyed the statuary in this garden, as well as the sweet pet cemetery. Like you, the cutting garden was my favorite.