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Blog Posts

A Horse Comes Home

OSGF

(UPPERVILLE, Va.) The Oak Spring Garden Foundation (OSGF) has unveiled a bronze replica of the statue of Paul Mellon’s most famous racehorse, Mill Reef, in the courtyard of the Oak Spring Broodmare Barn where the original statue once stood.

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A Lifetime of Flowers, a Library of Books

OSGF

The nurseryman Robert Furber (c. 1674-1756) was a pioneer in utilizing botanical art to advertise his plant varieties. Based in Kensington, a neighborhood in London, Furber owned and ran a successful nursery garden that provided plants both native to England and imported from around the world. He was the first person in England to use such extravagant illustrations in his advertising pamphlets, and these images remain iconic for their beauty and detail.

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Conferences in the Cold Months

OSGF

This year has already been a busy one here at Oak Spring: throughout the month of February, we've been hosting a variety of conferences, students, scientists and scholars. Scroll through the photos below to see what we've been up to. 

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Making a New America: The Poetry of Phillis Wheatley

OSGF

Born in West Africa before being captured and brought to slavery in the American colonies, Phillis Wheatley was the first African-American woman poet in history. For all her poetic brilliance and international renown, Wheatley died destitute at the age of 31. Triumphant and tragic, eloquent and owned, Wheatley’s writing and life are integral to our understanding of fledgling America.

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The Miracles of William Edmondson

OSGF

William Edmondson (c. 1874-1951), the son of former slaves, started his sculpting career later in his life. That didn't hinder him, however, from becoming the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 

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The Bounty of January: Robert Furber, Oak Spring, and Winter Gardening

OSGF

The nurseryman Robert Furber (c. 1674-1756) was a pioneer in utilizing botanical art to advertise his plant varieties. Based in Kensington, a neighborhood in London, Furber owned and ran a successful nursery garden that provided plants both native to England and imported from around the world. He was the first person in England to use such extravagant illustrations in his advertising pamphlets, and these images remain iconic for their beauty and detail. 

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The Plants We Use to Celebrate

OSGF

As the weather grows colder and the winter solstice has passed, the holiday season is reaching its peak. In nearby Middleburg, Christmas decorations adorn lampposts as parades go through town. Around Oak Spring, colorful evergreen wreathes are hung on doors and fenceposts, providing vibrant green amidst the drab browns of winter. Plants–especially evergreens and agricultural crops–gain an added significance around the peak of winter, as we seek reminders of summer’s warm bounty. In this blog, we look at several different holidays that fall around this time of year and dig into the plants that play such prominent roles in our winter practices. 

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A Fall Without Color

OSGF

For a tree renowned for its vibrant, golden autumn leaves, this year was more than a little
dull. Our friends at the New York Botanical Garden noticed a trend appearing in ginkgoes across
the city: instead of bright yellow leaves covering the trees and then carpeting the sidewalk in
color, the ground appeared awash with dark green leaves usually indicative of late summer. The
trees seem to have skipped the middle step that so often characterizes autumn, the yellow
coloration that we know and love.

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Giving Tuesday

OSGF

This #GivingTuesday we reflect on the philanthropy of our founder, Rachel (“Bunny”) Lambert Mellon.

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A Bountiful Harvest

OSGF

The formal garden at Oak Spring is half an acre of wildflowers, herbs, ornamentals, espaliered fruit trees and vegetables. For the past two years, our team of gardeners has been working to revitalize the garden, resulting in a place of great beauty and serene peace. There is another outcome of this new life, however – the garden produces a lot of food. 

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Apple Cider

OSGF

Along with its alcoholic derivative, hard cider, apple cider was a staple in the early days of the United States. Apple cider provided hydration and nourishment for many people along the American “frontier” and more developed areas alike. Having brought in a large apple crop this fall, we made a couple batches of our own at Oak Spring.

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Ginkgo: A Sexual Curiosity

OSGF

From above, the trees appear as a mass of vibrant yellow covering the western corner of Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce, Virginia. At eye level, rows of tree trunks shade grassy hillocks that abut cattle and horse pasture on one side and a patch of forest on another, all framed by a winding gravel road. Amidst the grass itself, seeds sit enclosed in a pungent, fleshy covering that lends an inescapable aroma to the air of the grove. In China, these trees are called “silver apricots.” In the United States, we know them better by the Chinese-derived scientific name, Ginkgo biloba, or just “ginkgo.”

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A Season for Caterpillars

OSGF

It seems like everywhere we go there are caterpillars – crossing streets, crawling through fields, on fallen logs. They dot the fall landscape like leaves. In many ways, these insect larvae are synonymous with fall and the coming of winter: they are the Wooly bear caterpillars, larvae of the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrhactia isabella). 

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A New Old Meadow

OSGF

From no-mow zones to native reforestation, we have been ramping up our sustainable land management plan at Oak Spring. Our most recent project in this plan is an eight-acre native wildflower meadow, which is showing some early signs of new life. 

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Eating Acorns

OSGF

It isn't common to see acorns on the ingredient list for modern recipes. Unless prepared properly, they have a bitter taste and can cause an upset stomach. Acorns do have a long culinary history, however, and we decided to explore this with a hands-on approach – by making our own tree to table treat.

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Joseph Dalton Hooker

OSGF

Joseph Dalton Hooker is remembered as one of the greatest British botanists and explorers of the 19th century. Among his many accomplishments, he founded the field of geographical botany, served as the director of Kew Gardens, and was responsible for the creation of countless artworks of foreign plants. The Oak Spring Garden Library is home to four rare books by Hooker, which altered the history and future of plants for centuries to come.

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Coffee and Climate Change

OSGF

When Ellis discovered the fragrant and popular plant, he wrote an introduction to An Historical Account of Coffee describing the flower and fruit. While many of Ellis’ affiliated contemporaries studied plants, he was not only interested in growing them: he was most interested in the culture plants created. By the time he caught wind of Coffea arabica, it was most prominent as a beverage consumed while people assembled “in crowds to pass the time agreeably.” In 2017, we face the threat of losing the cultural staple to climate change.

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Friendly Weeds

OSGF

Vanity Fair once described Bunny Mellon as the “high priestess of pruning and pleaching” for her devotion to gardening and personal love for pruning. While Bunny had an affinity for picking wildflowers and celebrated vegetable gardens, she loved pretty weeds as well.

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John Ellis and the Venus Flytrap

OSGF

Charles Darwin once said that the Venus flytrap was “one of the most wonderful [plants] in the world.” The carnivorous plant was discovered in North Carolina, soon to become one of the most fascinating studies in plant discoveries during the 18th century. Behind the doors of the Oak Spring Garden Library is a manuscript of England’s first formally recorded encounter with Dionaea muscipula.

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