Mount Vernon is currently closed. We look forward to welcoming you to George Washington's estate very soon! Learn more

The 2020 Mount Vernon Symposium has been rescheduled for June 4-6, 2021. Please contact Stephen McLeod at smcleod@mountvernon.org with questions or concerns.

Join leading gardeners, historians, horticulturists, archaeologists, and preservationists as they reconsider the importance of gardening, landscapes, and design in early America. Learn how Washington and his contemporaries shaped the natural world to achieve beauty through gardening, profited through agriculture, and conveyed civic values through landscape design—and how these historic methods remain relevant in today’s world. Revisit long-lost gardens, explore contemporary creations inspired by the past, and come face-to-face with the most authentic 18th-century plantation landscape in the United States.

The Mount Vernon Symposium is endowed by the generous support of The Robert H. Smith Family Foundation and Lucy S. Rhame.

Date and Time

Cost

$375 for General Public
$350 for Members and Donors
Includes all Lectures, Meals, and Tours

"Under my Vine & Fig Tree": Gardens and Landscapes in the Age of Washington and Now

Friday, May 29

All lectures take place in the David M. Rubenstein Leadership Hall within the Washington Library. The schedule is subject to change.

2:00-6:00 pm

Symposium Registration, Bookout Reception Hall

2:30 pm

Welcome and Introductions

2:45 pm

Landscapes for Virtue: Benjamin Henry Latrobe’s Virginian Watercolors

Julia A. Sienkewicz 

 In 1795, Benjamin Henry Latrobe emigrated from England to the United States as a bankrupt widower—a far cry from the renowned Architect of the Capitol he would become. Aspiring to advance his architectural career, Latrobe made slow progress after he landed in Virginia in 1796. Yet, if he built little, his mind and art were active: Latrobe traveled with watercolors, sketchbook, and journal in hand. He was highly trained in landscape watercolor and familiar with contemporary European theories of landscape design and rendering. Latrobe produced a remarkable body of watercolors that document, meditate on, and envision the future of the Virginian landscape. This talk introduces the audience to Latrobe’s theories of and visions for the Virginian landscape, giving special attention to his studies of Mt. Vernon. Through innovative trompe l’oeil, serial, and allegorical landscapes, Latrobe probed the role of the design and representation of landscape in the virtuous development of American civilization and weighed the meaning of the American landscape as it would develop within the political experiment of the young democratic nation.

Julia A. Sienkewicz is Assistant Professor of Art History at Roanoke College in Salem, VA. She holds PhD and MA degrees from the University of Illinois and a BA from Mt. Holyoke College. She is the author of Epic Landscapes: Benjamin Henry Latrobe and the Art of Watercolor, published in fall 2019 and from which this talk is drawn. Her Latrobe research has received generous support, including fellowships at the Yale Center for British Art, The Winterthur Museum and Country Estates, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and from the ACLS/Luce.

3:30 pm

American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic

Victoria Johnson

In 1801, a young American doctor named David Hosack founded the first public botanical garden in the new nation. On twenty acres of Manhattan farmland, Hosack amassed a spectacular collection of medicinal, agricultural, and ornamental plants that brought him worldwide praise from the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Sir Joseph Banks, and Alexander von Humboldt. Hosack used his pioneering institution to train the next generation of American doctors and naturalists and to conduct some of the first pharmacological research in the United States. Hosack also served his friends Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr as the attending physician at their 1804 duel.

Victoria Johnson holds a BA from Yale and a PhD in sociology from Columbia. She is an Associate Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Johnson’s most recent book, American Eden, was a finalist for the 2018 National Book Award in Nonfiction, the 2018 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Biography, and the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in History.

4:15 pm

Break

4:30 pm

American Plants in English Shrubberies in the Age of Washington

Mark Laird

Mark Laird's The Flowering of the Landscape Garden (1999) documented the importance of plants introduced from Eastern North America during the colonial period. Magnolias and azaleas, oaks and pines, Phlox and Monarda, all helped to generate the mania for 'theatrical shrubberies' and 'theatrical flower beds' in the second half of the eighteenth century. A recent study of planting in the garden of St. John's College, Oxford, points to the continued allure of American plants during the early republic and even up to the year of Washington's death, 1799. The archival evidence also raises a question of the place of women in English gardening -- a topic explored in many chapters of Laird's A Natural History of English Gardening.

Mark Laird is Associate Professor at the University of Toronto. From 2001 to 2015 he was Senior Lecturer in Landscape History at the GSD, Harvard University. As a Toronto-based consultant in historic landscape conservation, he advises on sites in Europe and North America. His most recent consultancy is for Drayton Hall, South Carolina, and for Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire. He is the author of A Natural History of English Gardening.

6:00 pm

Piazza Reception and Mansion Open House with Curators

7:15 pm

Dinner, Ford Orientation Center

Saturday, May 30

7:30 am

Continental Breakfast, Bookout Reception Hall

8:45 am

Welcome and Introductions

9:00 am

Emerging Scholars' Panel

Forgotten Contributions: The Overlooked Impact of Ellen Harrison and Early 20th Century Women in Urban Greening

Maggie McNulty

Maggie McNulty is a student in the Master's of Environmental Studies program at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the life and work of Ellen Waln Harrison, as well as other women who were active in landscape design and historic preservation 

"Something of a Gardiner:" Enslaved Gardeners and Landscapes of Labor in Early Annapolis

Bethany McGlyn

Bethany McGlyn is a Master's student in the American Material Culture program at the University of Delaware and a Co-Curator of a student-led exhibit at the Winterthur Museum. Her research interests include Early Maryland, American, and Atlantic World History; American Visual and Material Culture; Visual and Material Cultures of Slavery; African American History, and Public History.

Writing a Sacred Garden, Francis D. Pastorius’ Nature Prints from his Garden in Germantown, Pennsylvania (ca. 1683–1719)

Miranda Elizabeth Mote

Miranda Mote is a Ph.D. candidate in Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on the life and papers of Francis D. Pastorius, the founder of Germantown, Pennsylvania.  

10:00 am

Break

10:15 am

Confronting Arboricideaphopia: Managing Historic Landscapes and Gardens

Calder Loth

Architectural historian Calder Loth will stress the importance of understanding the dialogue between historic buildings and their landscape settings. The presentation will offer numerous before-and-after illustrations of historic properties where management and treatment of landscapes and gardens has been undertaken. American and European examples will be discussed with a focus on some well-known Virginia places. Gardens are living organisms, and their custodians must always question whether they are performing as intended or desired.

Calder Loth is the retired Senior Architectural Historian of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources He is Vice-President of the Center for Palladian Studies in America and is also an honorary member of the Garden Club of Virginia. He serves on the GCV’s fellowship committee, which awards annual stipends to graduate students in landscape architecture to record privately owned historic Virginia gardens. In 2017, Loth received the Virginia AIA Honor Award for significant contributions to the understanding of Virginia’s built environment.  

11:15 am

Lafayette, Robert & La Grange: the making and restoration of a 19th-century lieux de mémoire

Gabriel Wick 

To his peers, Lafayette’s La Grange was remarkable for its apparent simplicity. The general was emphatic that he wished to retire to a farm, not an aristocratic seat.  Nonetheless, keenly aware of his status as a public figure, he brought in a fashionable and talented collaborator – the painter, and former royal landscape designer, Hubert Robert. The artist’s interventions were modest, yet his very presence casts the general’s intentions in a different light. Certainly, La Grange was to be a profitable and rationally organized estate, where the general might receive his friends and admirers, but was he also using it to define his own image for posterity? As we prepare to restore the landscape of La Grange for the very first time, it is now more critical than ever to understand precisely what image and message Lafayette himself wished this landscape to convey.  

Gabriel Wick is advising the Chambrun Foundation on the restoration of Lafayette’s La Grange in France. He received his doctorate in history from University of London – Queen Mary, and holds advanced degrees in landscape architecture and historic conservation from UC Berkeley and ÉNSA-Versailles. His research focuses on the role of public spaces and landscape gardens in the political life of pre-Revolutionary France. He has written a number of books and articles on 18th-century landscape gardens and recently curated an exhibition on the designed landscapes of Hubert Robert. He teaches at the Paris campuses of New York University and Parsons / The New School. 

12:15 pm

Lunch, Founders' Terrace

2:00 pm

The Dazzling Continuum: Bridging the Past and Future in the Historic Landscape

Thomas L. Woltz, Keynote Speaker

Land holds the cultural marks of humankind; fragile traces that connect us to our dynamic past, often concealed through varied maintenance regimes or by intentional erasure. Over twenty years of practice, Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW) has developed a research-based process that reveals the intertwining layers of cultural and ecological history through contemporary design. The compelling power of these complex stories is manifested through design which provides an expansive platform for addressing pressing issues of today including racial equity, regenerative agriculture, and climate extremes. In his keynote, Thomas L. Woltz will present a range of projects in historic and cultural landscapes, revealing the firm’s process and the narratives that inform the designs. These projects include Olana, the home of Frederick Church in Hudson, NY; Sylvester Manor, a former slave owning plantation on Shelter Island, NY; and Centennial Park in Nashville, TN.

Landscape architect Thomas L. Woltz has forged a body of work that integrates the beauty and function of built forms with an understanding of complex biological systems and restoration ecology. As principal of Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects, Woltz has infused narratives of the land into the places where people live, work, and play, engendering stewardship and inspiring connections between people and the natural world.

3:00 pm

Break

3:30 pm

Creating Gardens for Historic Homes

 Chip Callaway

Creating Gardens for historic homes dealing with the realities of the 21st century.  North Carolina based garden designer Chip Callaway leads a tour of his 40-year career highlighting gardens he has designed for historic homes in both Carolinas and Virginia, including 18th, 19th and Colonial revival homes of the early 20th century.  

Chip Calloway is the President and CEO of Callaway & Associates, headquartered in Greensboro, North Carolina. Over the past forty years, he and his staff have designed nearly 1,000 gardens, ranging in size from large estates to small patios. He has restored important historic landscapes at Stratford Hall, the Alexander Graham Bell house, and the Ellen Biddle Shipman Garden at Wake Forest University, and has completed commissions from Nantucket and Long Island, to Palm Beach, and England, with the majority of projects coming from the Carolinas and Virginia. He is an honorary member of the Garden Club of America.

4:15 pm

Conserving the Royal Splendours

Todd Longstaffe-Gowan

Few British landscapes are so rich in historical associations, or have been so celebrated, so visited and the subject of so many panegyrics as Hampton Court; and fewer still retain attractions so uncommon and yet so varied and numerous – from ranges of humble Tudor courtyards to miles of grand and venerable avenues – which chart so comprehensively five centuries of landscape change. Todd will discuss his role in some of the most dramatic landscape improvements which have taken place in the palace gardens in the wake of the devastating fire of 1986, including the redevelopment of the King’s Privy Garden, the replanting of the Long Water Avenue (est.1662), the re-establishment of the Lower Orangery Garden and the re-forming of the New Kitchen Garden.

Todd Longstaffe-Gowan is a landscape architect, historian, author and collector based in London. He is Gardens Adviser to Historic Royal Palaces and has been involved in most major landscape initiatives at Kew, Kensington and Hampton Court Palaces. He is currently redesigning the gardens at the Morgan Library in New York City.

5:45 pm

Reception, Upper Garden

7:00 pm

Dinner, Upper Garden

Sunday, May 31

9:00 am

Continental Breakfast, Bookout Reception Hall

9:30 am

In Praise of Noble Trees

 Michael A. Dirr

There are many reasons for praising noble trees, including their durability, adaptability, aesthetics, shade, CO2 sequestration, storm water mitigation, and particulate matter interception. Considerable quantitative data supports the health and economic benefits of noble trees. Sustained emphasis on selection of superior native trees has increased awareness and availability of the rich and diverse genetics of North America. Superior cultivars of Acer, Betula, Carpinus, Catalpa, Gymnocladus, Liriodendron, Nyssa, Quercus, Taxodium, Tilia, and Ulmus have been introduced. For example, Nyssa sylvatica now umbrellas 30 cultivars; 20 years ago there were less than 10. The loss of Fraxinus and ash to the emerald ash borer has fostered a renaissance in tree breeding and selection. This lecture will present the rationales for planting noble trees and discuss the best adapted species and cultivars for North America. 

Michael A. Dirr is also a Professor Emeritus of the University of Georgia, where he taught Landscape Plant Taxonomy, Propagation, and Introductory Horticulture. He is the author of The Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, 6th Edition, the major teaching and nursery reference in the US, and Dirr’s Encyclopedia of Trees and Shrubs. His new book, The Tree Book, was published in May 2019 by Timber Press.

10:15 am

Travelling through the Landscape: Private Carriages and the Country House 1700-1900

Elizabeth Jamieson

For well over two hundred years, the British aristocracy and the landed gentry travelled between their various properties either on horseback or in a carriage.  Carriages had a significant influence on the design and planning of country houses and their surrounding landscapes.   Now that they are no longer ubiquitous, we can easily forget how essential they were in maintaining the peripatetic lifestyles of their owners. This presentation will assess the practicalities of private transport in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  It will look at the different carriage types and their associated servants.  A brief case study focusing on the journals of Mary Elizabeth Lucy (1803-1889) of Charlecote Park in Warwickshire, will explore the dangers and delights of travel at this time. Charlecote Park still retains its stable block and ten of the family carriages survive, allowing us a rare opportunity to examine material culture alongside written evidence.

Elizabeth Jamieson is an independent researcher, lecturer and art-historian.  She is Study Programme Director for the Attingham Trust and was Director of the Attingham Summer School from 2013 to 2017. She is curatorial advisor to the National Trust on horse-drawn carriages and historic stables, is currently writing a book on The British Carriage which will be published in autumn 2020, and is organising a conference on Horses: Art, Politics and Mobility at the University of Cambridge in spring 2021. Elizabeth was 2018/19 Fellow at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.

11:00 am

Break

11:15
am

Pleasurable and Profitable Knowledge: George Washington’s British Farming and Gardening Books

James Fisher

In May 1759, shortly after assuming full management of Mount Vernon, George Washington ordered some English books on both farming and gardening. The long association of gardening with pleasure and farming with profit was being reimagined in England during the eighteenth century. Books on agriculture and horticulture expressed new ways of thinking about and ordering the rural landscape in the pursuit of both pleasure and profit, associated with the harmony or tension between gardening and farming. Similarly, these books offered the pleasure of reading about dirty subjects while keeping one’s hands clean, and the promise of profitable knowledge. This talk will explore the georgic pleasures of reading and gardening, and the pleasures of the profitable intellectual work of the plantation or farm manager. It will examine the contrasting ideas of scientific agriculture and the picturesque held in richly illustrated books that crossed the Atlantic to be read by Virginian planters like George Washington.

James Fisher is a Lecturer in Early Modern British Economic and Social History at the University of Exeter and a Visiting Research Associate at King's College London. He is a historian of early-modern Britain and the Atlantic World. He completed his Ph.D. at King's College London in 2018 on the theme of eighteenth-century British agricultural literature and agrarian capitalism.

12:00 pm

Symposium Adjourns

 

Buy Tickets What to Do Calendar Shop Restaurant Donate Membership
Estate Hours

Open today from Mount Vernon is currently closed to visitors until further notice.

iconDirections & Parking
buy tickets online & save