275 years ago, George Washington - 'Father of Our Country' - was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. While we may picture him standing in the boat crossing the Delaware River, or think about his wooden teeth (they weren't really wooden), he was also a plantation owner, raising wheat as a cash crop. He owned 8000 acres containing five farms with over 3000 acres in cultivation.
The farm at Mount Vernon where his family actually resided was on 500 acres and had a pleasure garden, a kitchen garden, serpentine walkways, and groves of trees. He had a greenhouse, where he kept tropical and semi-tropical plants such as coffee, orange, lemon, lime, sago palm, and aloe. He grew hollyhocks, peonies, primroses, heliotrope, larkspur, and many other annuals and perennials. It is documented that he grew the sometimes difficult Crown Imperial.
We have an offspring of one of George's trees. In 1785, he directed the planting of tulip poplars (Lirodendron tulipifera) on the bowling green near his house. When Jenna was doing her leaf collection for biology class in ninth grade, I learned about this tree with the uniquely shaped leaves. I've always loved foliage that's out of the ordinary, so decided then that I would one day own sweet gum, gingko, and tulip poplar trees. Through American Forests Historic Tree Nursery, I purchased a tulip poplar propagated from one of those that grows at Mount Vernon. They no longer offer this particular tree as grown from one at Mount Vernon, although you can get a white ash that is.
Our tulip poplar got off to a rocky start. Both the first and second one died, but they have a lifetime replacement guarantee on their trees and the third time was a charm. Just this past year, in spite of the Tiger Swallowtail caterpillars munching on its leaves, ours began to grow in earnest and we hope to see it really shoot up this summer.
I visited Mount Vernon in the spring of 1994, with Kara's eighth grade class. It was a beautiful place and if I'd been into gardening then and if I'd not been responsible for several adolescent girls, I would have enjoyed it even more. Sad to say, I don't recall the tulip poplars, but Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area is somewhere I'd like to return to, so maybe someday I can see the ancestors of the one growing in our back yard.
*Photo of Lirodendron tulipifera leaf by Bill Thompson III