April 10th, 2008 Categories: Things to Do
Living in the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area – in this case Alexandria – often means playing tour guide to visiting friends and family. Sometimes you can just drop them at the nearest Metro Rail station with a good map and good wishes. Other occasions merit a more personal approach and a bit of advance planning. My sister-in-law is in town this week and with my mother-in-law in tow too, we needed to plan around chancy weather, handicapped access/wheel chair availability and, preferably, small crowds.
Our first choice for a ‘leisurely’ day of adult activity was Hillwood, the Washington home of Marjorie Merriweather Post – one of the true hidden gems on the Washington site-seeing circuit. Set on a 25 acre estate overlooking Rock Creek Parkway, Hillwood’s catch phrase is “Where Fabulous Lives.” And does it ever.
Marjorie Merriweather Post was the sole heir to the Post Cereal fortune and when she married E.F. Hutton they combined forces to create food giant General Mills. Later married to Joseph E. Davies, Ambassador to Russia during Franklin Roosevelt’s tenure, Mrs. Post became a consummate collector of French and Russian furnishings. At her death in 1973 she bequeathed her house to the public as a living museum.
My favorite room in the house is also the smallest. The breakfast room, a small room adjacent to the sumptuous dining room with its 28ft. table, has vaulted ceilings and bronze metalwork from Mrs. Post’s New York City apartment. The plantings in the window make it difficult to tell where the garden ends and the room begins. Today it was filled with masses of deep pink hydrangeas. Double French doors on the side open onto the patio and the gilt bronze and green glass chandelier comes from one of Catherine the Great’s favorite residences outside St. Petersburg. The idea of starting each day in this bastion of beauty and tranquility is wonderful thing to contemplate.
The gardens offer another serene setting for the soul. As my sister-in-law noted, it was hard to believe that we were in the middle of the city.
Composed as a series of outdoor rooms, Mrs. Post gave the same attention to landscaping that she did to interior design. Hundreds of azaleas, dogwoods, camellias, and magnolias tumble down the hillsides while beds of spring bulbs delight at every turn. There is a French Parterre, rose garden, English garden walk, a putting green and the lunar lawn, so named for its crescent shape.
A visitors center offers a gift shop, a 15 minute introductory movie about Mrs. Post and the development of Hillwood. Lunch is available at the Hillwood cafe; reservations are always advised and the patio is a must. Docent led tours require reservations as do the garden tours but self-guided tours are also available.
My suggestion? Don’t wait until you have visitors. Treat yourself to Hillwood where, indeed, fabulous lives!