AHS celebrates 50 years of River Farm with new projects


The manor house at River Farm, headquarters of the American Horticultural Society

As the American Horticultural Society (AHS) prepares to celebrate 50 years at River Farm at its Sept. 23 Annual Gala, the national nonprofit is continuing to plan and implement changes designed to bring more visitors to the gardens overlooking the Potomac.

According to AHS President and CEO Suzanne Laporte, the organization soon will have access to the $2 million in grant funding from the state to begin the official planning, permitting and zoning processes for grounds updates at River Farm. While plans aren’t completely set in stone, AHS leaders hope to use the funding to build an accessible trail through the woods behind the Children’s Garden, add accessible bathrooms and increase parking. Volunteers have already started clearing invasives from the path for the trail, said Laporte, who estimated it will be at least two years before visitors see the fruits of these efforts.

Pomengranate plant at River Farm

“We’re really trying to find ways for people to come and enjoy the property,” said Laporte. “I’m incredibly grateful we’re able to make upgrades to get more people there.”

Another project, which AHS currently is shepherding through Fairfax County’s permitting process with guidance from the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens’ Associations, is the construction of a greenhouse for River Farm’s horticulturist. Much funding for the structure was raised during last year’s Gala, said Laporte, though AHS is seeking additional funding for remaining costs — particularly installation. Staff members are also considering options for the style of the future working greenhouse, which will be located behind the north garage across from the former gift shop.

One recent change that visitors will notice is the addition of a new ornamental garden on the south side of the oval driveway at the main entrance to the manor house. Donated by AHS Board Chair Scott Plein in memory of his grandmother, the garden contains approximately 2,300 plants, along with benches from which to enjoy them. The new space was scheduled for completion in time for the Gala, whose proceeds will support more River Farm restoration projects.

Part of the new ornamental garden along the oval driveway

For now, AHS is not planning a capital campaign, said Laporte, and the board is still weighing all options to preserve the property “in perpetuity for the public,” including a conservation easement. The nonprofit recently brought on three new board members and aims to add several more over the next few years, she said.

Beyond the Gala, community members can look forward to several more events at River Farm this calendar year, including a potential — yet to be confirmed — “Music at the Manor” concert in October, the Alexandria Fall Festival in November and a Holiday Open House in December. The manor house still is available for rental for holiday parties, said Laporte.

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