After a winter full of snow and cold, we were so excited for some spring weather to check out River Farm on the Potomac River in Alexandria. I have to admit, I was a little nervous when we got out of the car and the first thing my daughter asked was “is there a playground?”. But nearly an hour later she declared that River Farm was “awesome” and that we needed to come back in the summer with our friends for a picnic.
Situated on the Potomac River near Mount Vernon, River Farm was part of George Washington’s estate. While George Washington never lived here, the 25-acre estate is now the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society and is a national showcase for gardening and horticultural practices.
We picked up a map and guide at the entrance and took off down one of the paths. The daffodils are in full bloom, and my daughter (who is nearly 5) couldn’t resist stopping at each bed to smell them. As we came through the White House gates (yes, these are actual gates from the White House – used from 1819 to 1937), we could see the Potomac River and the beautiful Estate House. River Farm is a popular location for wedding receptions, and we could see why – if I had known it existed when I got married, I would have definitely wanted my reception here! It’s also an amazing place for photographers. I saw a fellow photo-buff taking pictures of the flowers, and I’m looking forward to coming back to take some portraits of my daughter here this summer.
We walked along the paths, enjoying the first of the spring flowers and the wide array of birds that came to greet us. One of the highlights were the children’s gardens. These gardens are designed to engage a child’s imagination, and my daughter wasted no time climbing into a little cottage and declaring herself safe from the big bad wolf. Everything in the children’s gardens is created to a child’s scale, and you could see how kids could play here for hours.
The other highlight for us was the Meadow Overlook. The views of both the river and the gardens were spectacular here. Even better were the small stone walls that were just perfect for a child to walk and play on. We weren’t alone in this thought – after we walked down closer to the Potomac, we saw another family playing similar games on the Meadow Overlook when we walked back. The sign said that you can sometimes see bald eagles from here – we didn’t spot any, but not for lack of trying.
I was pleasantly surprised by how much my daughter enjoyed our time at River Farm. We spent nearly an hour in the gardens, and in the summer when everything is in bloom, you could easily spend an entire morning here. It was also nice how quiet the gardens were. On the Friday morning we visited we saw 4 other families – it really felt like we had the place to ourselves. We will definitely be coming back.
- Maps & visitor guides are available as you enter near the parking lot. We didn’t follow the guide as much as we just wandered and explored. I think that the next time we come, I will try to follow the walking tour a little bit more so we see more of the grounds (and maybe learn a little!). A lot of the plants and trees are labeled so you can identify them, and signs around the grounds helped us to know what we were looking at.
- The gardens are not exactly stroller-friendly. Families with babies would be better off putting them in an Ergo-type carrier.
- Bathrooms are available inside the Estate House. There is no food or drink available to purchase, but picnics are encouraged. We are already planning to come back with friends for a picnic lunch this summer.
- Admission to River Farm is free, though donations are encouraged. River Farm is open Monday-Friday 9am to 5pm. It is also open Saturdays 9am to 1pm, April to September.
- The annual Spring Garden Market will take place April 10 to 12, 2014. This is your chance to purchase a wide variety of plants and seeds, garden accessories and more. Doug the Food Dude will be on hand selling his local gourmet food and beverages.
Photos by Mara Surridge.