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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. 

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

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$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, June 3

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

1:00-6:00 pm

Symposium Registration, Bookout Reception Hall

1:30 pm

 Welcome and Introductions

1:45 pm

The Ladies in the Garden: Stewarding the General's Legacy

Susan P. Schoelwer

When Ann Pamela Cunningham, the formidable founder of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, retired from her post in 1874, she issued a ringing challenge: “The mansion, and the grounds around it, should be religiously guarded from changes – should be kept as Washington left them.” Of course, by then three-quarters of a century had passed since Washington last trod his garden paths, and much had changed, the inevitable result of natural growth and decline as well as changing garden fashions. In subsequent decades Mount Vernon’s gardens have continued to evolve toward the goal of representing an 18th-century experience, even as they have remained a reliable source of delight for visitors in the 19th, 20th, and now 21st centuries.

Susan P. Schoelwer is Mount Vernon’s Executive Director of Historic Preservation and Collections She holds a PhD in American Studies from Yale University, an MA from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture, and a BA from the University of Notre Dame. She directed Mount Vernon’s 2014 exhibition, “Gardens & Groves: George Washington’s Landscape at Mount Vernon,” the first museum exhibition to focus specifically on Washington's landmark achievements as a landscape design; she also edited the accompanying volume, The General in the Garden.

2:15 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 Associate Professor of Art History at Roanoke College in Salem, VA and Terra Foundation Fellow at the American Academy in Rome. 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.

3:15 pm


3:30 pm

Middleton Place: A Lens Into the Nation’s Story at America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens

Virginia Christian Beach

The essence of the American story continues to reveal itself at Middleton Place ― a National Historic Landmark that encompasses a rare preserved 18th-century landscape.  In her new book, American Landmark: Charles Duell and the Rebirth of Middleton Place, Virginia Beach traces three centuries of American history in this one place, as well as its stewardship and transformation over the past fifty years by the last family member to own it.  Her lecture will focus on the men and women, both free and enslaved, who built and cared for Middleton Place, including America’s oldest landscaped gardens. Although the survival of Middleton Place was at times uncertain, today it has evolved into a leading center for research and historic interpretation – its venerable landscape serving as meeting ground, community resource and platform for contemporary debate.

Virginia Christian Beach writes for numerous publications on the subjects of plantation history and the environment. A native of Richmond, she earned a B.A. in English from the University of Virginia and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in East Africa. Her previous books include Medway, which is the history of a Lowcountry rice plantation; Rice & Ducks: The Surprising Convergence that Saved the Carolina Lowcountry, and Wholly Admirable Thing: Defending Nature and Community on the South Carolina Coast, written with her husband, Dana Beach.

4:30 pm

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 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.

6:00 pm

Reception, Donald W. Reynolds Museum Lobby

Viewing of the new exhibition, Mount Vernon: The Story of an American Icon

7:15 pm

Dinner, Ford Orientation Center

Saturday, June 4

7:30 am

Continental Breakfast, Bookout Reception Hall

8:45 am

Welcome and Introductions

9:00 am

Emerging Scholars' Panel

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

Miranda Elizabeth Mote

Miranda Mote earned her Ph.D. in Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 2021. Her dissertation focuses on the life and papers of Francis D. Pastorius, the founder of Germantown, Pennsylvania.  

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

Bethany McGlyn

Bethany McGlyn is a Ph.D. student and Jefferson Scholars Foundation Fellow at the University of Virginia, studying slavery, craft labor, and material culture in the 18th-century American South and Atlantic World. She holds an M.A. in American Material Culture from the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in American Material Culture and has worked in curatorial departments at Historic Rock Ford, Historic Annapolis, the National Parks Service, and Winterthur.

10:00 am


10:15 am

Lafayette, Robert and 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. 

11:15 am

Art and Nature: Homes, Gardens, Museums and the Human Spirit

Carrie Rebora Barratt

George Washington breathed a sigh of relief when he arrived at Mount Vernon, coming down the Potamac River to the sight of not only home, but a place of creative restoration.  His project inspired countless others–home owners, artists with studios, museum founders–to create places of culture writ large.  Think of George Washington’s project in relation to Henry Francis DuPont, Henry Clay Frick, Frederic Church, and Philip Johnson.  Mount Vernon’s model inspired Henry Huntington and Isabella Stewart Gardner. In the modern museum world, the connection between art and nature founded the great museums in public parks: The Met, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, the St. Louis Art Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and Oldfields (now Newfields) and so many others.  A look at the vital connection of art and nature is critical to human health, wellness, joy and resilience, more important than ever. 

Carrie Rebora Barratt, an historian of American Art, enjoyed a career that led to leadership at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and at the New York Botanical Garden. At The Met, she rose from summer intern to Deputy Director, immersing herself in the vital importance of museum work in our world. In 2018, she took over the New York Botanical Garden as ninth CEO and President, the first woman to hold the position in its 127-year history, leading a 250-acre campus of art and nature.  She is now the founder of The Solace Project, fostering advocacy for art and nature, and providing interim leadership to organizations going through difficult change in this time of the great resignation. 

12:15 pm

Lunch, Founders' Terrace

1:45 pm

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

Thomas L. Woltz

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.

2:45 pm


3:15 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.

4:15 pm

Landscape in a Time of War and Peace

John Phibbs

The title of this conference calls on a belief, shared by all humanity, that those are truly blessed who live in a time of peace and horticultural plenty. Never is this truth more apparent than in time of war. Just as F. L. Olmsted’s vision of a new kind of green city sprang from his terrible experiences in the Civil War, so 50 years earlier, his hero, the English landscape gardener Humphry Repton (1752-1818), forged a new relationship with Nature and a new way of organising society out of the equally terrible European war of  1793-1815. Repton was the last of the three great figures of English landscape gardening, preceded by William Kent and Capability Brown (1716-1783), and this talk will do justice both to the claims made on his behalf and to the remarkable body of work that is his legacy.

John Phibbs is the principal of Debois Landscape Survey Group, which specializes in the management and understanding of historic landscapes – generally, places associated with English country houses. In 2016, Rizzoli published his Capability Brown: Designing the English Landscape, which has sold over 9,000 copies. In 2017, Historic England, in partnership with the National Trust (UK), published his more detailed analysis Place-Making, the Art of Capability Brown. John is currently writing parallel books on Brown’s successor, Humphry Repton, which will be published in 2021 and 2023. John was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 2017 for services to landscape architecture.

5:45 pm

Reception, Mansion Bowling Green

Mansion Open House

7:00 pm

Dinner, Upper Garden

Sunday, June 5

9:00 am

Continental Breakfast, Bookout Reception Hall

9:30 am

Travelling through the Landscape: Private Carriages and the English 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.  Elizabeth Jamieson will assess the practicalities of private transport in England during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and 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 that time.  Charlecote Park still retains its stable block on the estate 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, and is the author of Travelling in Style (2021). Elizabeth was 2018/19 Fellow at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.

10:15 am

Transplanting Knowledge: Adapting British farming and gardening books to enslaved labour in Virginia

James D. Fisher

In May 1759, shortly after assuming full management of Mount Vernon, George Washington ordered some English books on both farming and gardening. This talk considers the various obstacles of transplanting knowledge of cultivation from Britain to North America in the eighteenth century, as seen through the lens of Washington’s books. It highlights the fragile nature of the transatlantic book trade, as potential American readers had limited information about what books were available and a limited ability to access them. It also draws attention to the various tensions encoded in the books that did cross the ocean, including the social struggles that stimulated their production and the difficulties of writing with authority about a practical art. Finally, it reflects on a neglected problem of adaptation; the fact that books originally intended to be used by landowners to instruct wage labourers were being used by elite planters to direct enslaved workers.

James D. 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.

11:00 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.  

12:00 pm

Symposium Adjourns


David Maxfield Scholarships

Through the generosity of David Maxfield, the Washington Library offers a limited number of scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students studying U.S. history, decorative arts, gardening, landscape design, historic preservation, and related fields. The scholarship will cover the cost of one ticket to the symposium. Students who receive the scholarship will also be eligible to receive a travel stipend based on need. Scholarship applications are due by 11:59 pm on Thursday, April 30, 2022.



The Fred W. Smith National Library has a partnership with the Hampton Inn & Suites Mt. Vernon/Belvoir-Alexandria South Area, the closest hotel to the Mount Vernon estate. Book a stay for nights between June 3-5 to take advantage of these exclusive, special rates. Call the hotel directly at (703) 619-7026, and mention the Group Code MVS.


Guests should park in Mount Vernon visitor parking lots, and enter the Library via the pedestrian gate near the four-way traffic intersection (across from the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant).

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