Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

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United States of America - Virginia - Vienna

Institution Code:

BGCI Member: Yes

About the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens:
A Garden Born of Politics and Environmentalism
Keith P. Tomlinson

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a man of bold ideas. The New Deal was his greatest domestic policy achievement. Every working American for the past 60 years has benefited from one of those New Deal programs- Social Security. Implementing such a vast social initiative required experts in many fields. Among these dynamic thinkers were Harvard-trained economist Gardiner Means and social historian Caroline Ware. In 1935, they bought a 74-acre farm in Virginia’s rolling Piedmont outside Washington, D.C.
As Dr. Means and Dr. Ware worked to bring the New Deal to life, they became ingrained in Washington’s lively political and academic scene. Over 50 years, they grew to love the farm- raising sheep dogs, farming wheat, and planting flower gardens while writing and teaching. By the 1970’s Washington’s suburbs were fast surrounding the once rural farm. Lifelong environmentalists, Means and Ware wondered if their land might make a good public park- perhaps an arboretum or public garden.

Donating the Land

Means and Ware entrusted their beloved 74-acre farm to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) in the summer of 1980. NVRPA already owned several thousand acres of parkland in Northern Virginia. Caroline Ware simply stated the property should “create a permanence in the land…a way by which the farm could remain a haven for trees, shrubs and flowers to preserve the bounty of the Virginia country side.” Following these wishes, NVRPA bought a contiguous 21-acre parcel and started planning a public garden.
The 95-acre site is unparalleled in the Washington region for development of a public garden. Topographically, the property embodies the Virginia Piedmont with large hills dropping off to small streams, forested hollows, and expansive views. As early as 1607, Captain John Smith recognized the beauty of the Potomac Piedmont: “The country is not mountainous nor yet low but such pleasant plaine hils and fertle valleys, one prettily crossing an other and watered so conveniently with the sweete brooks and christall springs, as if art it selfe had devised them.”

Facilities and Collections

By the mid-80s, three lakes were added to the largest stream course. Several trails outlined in an early master plan took shape. Collections of hosta, daylilies, and ornamental cherry trees were planted. Later, an azalea garden, lilac collection, and a Siberian iris and native tree trail were added. Three gazebos were built in different areas of the garden. Meadowlark opened officially in April 1987 with Means and Ware as the guests of honor. Less than three years later both had passed away but their vision of a public garden was taking shape.
The Meadowlark Visitor Center opened in 1992, featuring a gift shop, library, large fireplace, and high vaulted ceilings. A short time later, the garden received a large donation of dwarf conifers from the private collection of Dr. Albert Paulsen. Perennial, butterfly, herb gardens, and an ornamental grass collection were established by the mid-90s concurrent with irrigation expansion. In 1998, The Atrium, an events facility opened. Built to match the Visitor Center in the architectural style and attended by an exquisite White Garden, The Atrium rapidly became a premier public garden event venue. In 2000, Washingtonian Magazine voted it among the top three event venues in the Washington metropolitan area.

This year, a historic log cabin dating to 1755 opened to the public and an exceptional new wooden bridge was built between islands in Lake Gardiner. Built of seven native hardwoods, the bridge is both curved and arched. A revised master plan is in development and taxonomic survey of collections is in progress. The Visitor Center will be remodeled this year to expand exhibit space.

Instilling a Conservation Ethic

In 1999, Meadowlark initiated development of a regional native plant conservation program. Like most native collections, the objective is to foster conservation of native plants and their habitats through public education and display. The administration of the gardens deemed it important that the new collection be regional in scope. Instead of allowing political boundaries to define the native plants of this particular region, staff developed a criteria based on biogeographic factors. Regional geology, topography, and forest composition are important to development of the collection. Within this framework, we identified the Potomac River Valley as a geographic province that determines which native plants we accession.
The Potomac Valley Collection plays an increasingly important role as our principal initiative in support of both in situ and ex situ conversation of regional plant diversity. No selections are used in the native collections. Moreover, the collection focuses on regional genotypes and ecotypes. The Washington, D.C., Academy of Sciences recognized establishment of this collection with its annual Biological Sciences Award this spring.

Education and Community Service

With a balance between ornamental and conservation collections, Meadowlark is expanding programmatically. Classes and tours throughout the year teach topics in ornamental horticulture. A new Biodiversity Series education program started four years ago. Participants can join wildflower and birding hikes, study the Gaia Theory, canoe a wetland marsh, or learn about invasive species and plan diversity. Interns from local universities and community colleges join the staff each year for training opportunities. Meadowlark coops education programs with Elder Hostel, Smithsonian Associates, gardens clubs, public schools, and regional community centers. The garden also works with the U.S. Department of State training elite Diplomatic Security Service agents for visits to public gardens and museums. Embassy staff, diplomats, and members of Congress use the garden as a retreat from the city and for entertaining.
President Roosevelt was an innovator who offered a new social paradigm. Presumably, he had no idea his political agenda would also give birth to a public garden. Environmentalists long before the term had meaning, Gardiner Means and Caroline Ware made their contribution to the nation’s social fabric and then bestowed an extraordinary gift on the people of Northern Virginia- a public garden devoted to aesthetics, conservation, education, and community service.

Main Address:
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court
Virginia 22182 United States of America

Telephone: (703) 255-3631
Fax: (703) 255-2392
Primary Email:

Staff Details

  • Director's Name: -
    Curator's Name:
    Plant Records Officer's Name:
  • Total Staff:
    Horticultural Staff Number: 6
    Educational Staff Number: 2
    Research Staff Number:
    Administration Staff Number: 1

About the Garden

  • Institution Type: Botanic Garden
  • Status
  • Status: Private: No
    Status: State: No
    Status: Educational: Yes
    Status: Municipal: Yes
    Status: Satellite: No
    Status: Trust: No
  • Date founded: 1980
  • Physical Data
  • Natural Vegetation Area: Yes
    Natural vegetation area: Size: 20 Hectares
  • Landscaped Area: Yes
    Landscaped Area: Size: 15 Hectares
  • Total Area: 35 Hectares
    Latitude: 38.9377350
    Longitude: -77.2809490
    Annual Rainfall: 1145 mm
    Altitude: 100.00 Metres
    Total area of shadehouses: 400 Metres
  • Additional Locations
  • Satellite Garden Names: Meadowlark Staff helps manage more than 10,000 acres of forestland belonging to it's parent agency the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Conservation of regional plant diversity and invasive control are two areas of concentration.
  • Locality: Information
  • Locality: Garden Name: Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
  • Local Address: 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Ct.
  • Locality: City: Vienna
  • Locality: State: Virginia, USA 22182

Features and Facilities

  • Herbarium: No
    Arboretum: No
  • Micropropagation/ Tissue Culture Facilities: No
    Seed Bank: No
    Published Plant Catalogue: No
    Computer Plant Record System: Yes
  • Open to public: Yes
    Friends society: Yes
    Retail Outlet: Shop: Yes
    Retail Outlet: Plant Sales: No
    Disabled access: Yes
  • Number of Visitors: 150000
    Number of Volunteers: 40

Plant Collections

  • Special Collections:Please see attached Journal Articles for information on Conservation Collections. Horticultural collections are found below according to seasonal interest.

    Seasonal Overview:

    March & April- Daffodils, Minor Bulbs, Tulips, Magnolias, Flowering Cherries, Potomac Valley Native Wildflowers, Rock Garden, Conifers Collection, Lenten Rose.

    * Check out the Daffodils near the Woods Gazebo and Lake Carolyn Irises & Cherry Trees.

    May- Scillas, Azaleas, Rhododendron, Dogwoods, Lilacs, Siberian Irises, Bradford Pears, Flowering Plums, Butterfly Garden, Crab Apples, White Garden, Tulips, Potomac Valley Native Wildflowers, Peonies, Alliums and Flowering shrubs.

    * Don’t miss the White Garden near the Atrium & Peonies behind Lake Carolyn.

    June- Hosta Garden, Hydrangeas, Herb Garden, Daylilies, Wildflower Meadow, White Garden, Butterfly Garden, Native and Non-Native ferns, Alliums, Perennials.

    * Take a moment to enjoy the lush shade and serenity of the Hosta Garden.

    July & August- Hosta Garden, Herb Garden, Perennial Garden, Butterfly Garden, White Garden, Bold Garden, Salvia Collection, Hydrangeas, Container Plantings, Crepe Myrtles, Ferns & Fern Allies, Annual Plantings, Aquatic Plants, Grasses.

    * Stroll through the Potomac Valley Collection to see the diversity of native plants and experience the seclusion of a mature hardwood forest.

    September- Hosta Garden, Herb Garden, Ferns, Butterfly Garden, Container Plantings, Grasses, Chrysanthemums, Annuals, Salvia, Early Fall Color, Cancer Garden.

    * Walk out to the Salvia & Herb Gardens for a real sensory treat.

    October- Chrysanthemums, Grasses, Conifers, Pansies, Perennials, Virginia Native Trees, Fruits on Native and Ornamental Trees & Shrubs, Salvias, Fall Color Peak.

    * See the Salvia Peak and Hike the mulched nature trails to experience great Fall colors.

    November thru February- Conifer Garden, Hollies, Grasses, Lenten Roses, Indoor Plantings, Red Twig & Yellow Twig Dogwood, Heaths, Nandinas.

    * Escape the winter chill inside the Atrium Gardens or take brisk a hike and then drop by the Visitor Center fire place to warm up.

Conservation Programmes

  • Conservation Programme: Yes
    Medicinal Plant Programme: Yes
    Ex Situ Conservation Programme: Yes
    Reintroduction Programme: No

Research Programmes

  • Biotechnology: No
    Plant Breeding: No
    Conservation - Biology: Yes
    Conservation - Genetics: No
    Data Management Systems and Information Technology: No
    Ecology: No
    Ecosystem Conservation: No
    Education: No
    Ethnobotany: No
    Exploration: Yes
    Floristics: Yes
    Horticulture: Yes
    Invasive Species Biology and Control: No
    Molecular Genetics: No
    Pollination Biology: No
    Restoration Ecology: No
    Seed/Spore Biology: No
    Systematics and Taxonomy: No
    Sustainability: No
    Pharmacology: No
    Agriculture: No
    Land Restoration: Yes
    Urban Environments: Yes

Education Programmes

  • Visitor/Education Centre: Yes
    Education Signs in Garden: Yes
    Public Lectures/Talks: Yes
    Education Booklets/Leaflets: Yes
    Guided Tours: Yes
    Permanent Public Displays: Yes
    Special Exhibitions: Yes
    Courses for School Children: Yes
    Courses for University/College Students: Yes
    Courses for General Public: Yes
    Education Programme: Yes