A Visit to Maclay Gardens

It had been cold and gross in Tallahassee for about a week. I know, all my Northeastern readers are crying foul since apparently they are still in the dead of winter in April. I remember those winters. They are not fun. Which is another reason on my growing list I am very happy to call Florida home now. So, this past weekend when the weather finally decided to be sunny and 80 again, I decided to take myself off early and do some exploring at Maclay Gardens.

The House Path leading from the Front Gate

Now, if I’d done a little more homework before I went, I would have realized the state park, which the Gardens is a part of, was hosting a triathlon that morning. Though it was winding down by the time I arrived, it made for a crowded entrance to the park. However, once I was parked and into the Gardens area, I found it to be quiet and serene. I started out walking directly to the house at the tip of the Gardens. However, the House path travels alongside the lake so I took lots of detours to the lake edge, running into some turtles sunning themselves in the perfect morning sun.

Found some new friends lakeside

Once up at the house, a docent gave me a welcoming spiel of history surrounding the Maclay family, how they came into the area and how the house and its gardens were donated to the city. The house is half museum, half still kept decorated as the family had it when they lived there. The museum exhibits were a bit outdated and faded in places but full of good information about the family and the flowers I would see in the surrounding gardens.

The House itself is quite small; of course there was a separate house for the kids!

After the house, you enter the gardens proper. The path from the house leads directly to the Walled Garden which is when I wanted to move in. It was like something out of The Secret Garden. Though small, it embodied all you’d want to find in a walled garden: a fountain, lots of flowers, trees growing out and overhanging, benches, a secret corner. It was awesome; a childhood dream come to life. Stepping out of the garden, you find a long reflecting pool leading back down to the lake. When I visited, there was a young woman having pictures taken in an old fashioned costume along the reflecting pool.

From the Fountain in the Walled Garden to the Reflecting Pool and the Lake Beyond

Once you’re past the reflecting pool, the trails get a little more wild, more like nature trails than garden paths. I did run into another bricked path that ran along a pond for a little while but that faded out once I reached the azalea patches and the Oriental tree grove. It was also about this time I realized I should have brought bug spray…the mosquitos were out in full force. Following one path after another, I found my way out at the main entrance to the Gardens again.

The only bricked path beyond the Walled Garden runs along a pond

I did explore a little more on the Native Plants trail which lead me down towards the lake again but at this point the bugs won the battle and I decided to come back another day to explore more of those trails. Despite the mosquitos, I adored the Gardens. I could have explored a lot longer as paths just seemed to go in every direction. Though I don’t think you could get lost, you could definitely spend more than the few hours I did seeing what’s down each of them. Also, afterwards, treat yourself to a cupcake at Lucy and Leo’s Cupcakery as I did. It was, as luck would have it, on the way back to my apartment!

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Visiting TJ’s crib and my weekend last week

Last weekend, I ventured out of DC on a road trip of sorts with two of my fellow interns. We went down to Charlottesville to see Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s homestead and to see the campus of the University of Virginia, TJ’s brainchild in his later years. First off, we took the scenic route to get there. We were so involved in looking out for southern fast food joints that we need to try, we missed our first exit. No big though, after a stop so Matt and I could try our first Chik-fil-A sandwiches (which was delicious but I am not a sweet tea fan), we went the long way to Charlottesville. It was a picture perfect day. After being complete tourists and stopping at a “scenic view” stop on the highway for our first good look at the Blue Ridge Mountains, we arrived at Monticello. We got our tickets for the house tour and then took the bus up to the house. First off, TJ knew how to pick a spot. He had a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains and more land than he knew what to do with. We started out with the Plantation walking tour. Bob, our guide, was very knowledgeable about the daily life on the plantation in Jefferson’s time. He mainly discussed the lives of the slaves on the plantation and focused a lot on the Hemings family. I did like that they were very upfront on the fact that Jefferson definitely fathered at least one, if not all of Sally Hemings’ children. DNA cannot lie of course. But that wasn’t the focus of the tour, it was a walk down Mulberry Row and where the nailery and joinery would have been located. I liked the storytelling aspect of the tour but Bob was a bit long winded.

After the tour, we headed down to the graveyard and saw Jefferson’s grave. Very different from the tomb of the Washingtons. It was sort of a mini-Washington monument. After taking our pictures of the headstone, we walked back up the hill and wondered about for awhile. I love the look of the house. Jefferson was an amateur architect and designed Monticello himself. All his travel in Europe meant he tried a lot of things at Monticello that hadn’t been seen in the States yet at the time. The all-weather tunnel running under the house, the design on vents from the cellar into the house as a sort of pre-electricity air conditioning system. We chilled in the garden for a bit and then went to get in line for our house tour.

This was the best part of the day for me. If I ever design a house, I want Monticello. First off, his library was an extension of his “study” which led into his bedroom with a very cool alcove bed that was a running theme in the house. Best use of space was Jefferson’s goal for the entire house so he came up or brought back from Europe all these “space saving” elements. Like, in his bedroom, his bed is between his study and the room but his closet is above his bed, accessible only by a ladder. A lot of his doors folded into the walls so they didn’t take up space in the room. He had a fabulous “tea room” that I would have gladly lived in and the guest bedroom had another alcove bed for best use of space. Overall, I loved the house tour. Our tour guide (who’s name I have sadly forgotten) was amazing – telling all the great stories but not being over-tedious. After the tour, we walked back down to our car (all down hill) and headed back towards Charlottesville to find food.

We found the main downtown district which is chock full of used bookstores – great and bad at the same time. I escaped with only one book so I was impressed with myself. After a quick dinner, we hopped on the free trolley and rode over to UVA. It is a good thing I never came to look at this campus, I would have had to come to a school that is huge but has the most beautiful campus I have ever seen. Seriously, I would live on it now. We got caught in a storm however so we cut our tour of campus short and headed back toward the car. Once back, the rain had stopped so we took a driving tour of campus instead. We found the stadium to take pictures as well. Heading back to Washington, we were treated to a fabulous sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Breaking what I am sure was quite a few laws, we pulled over to take picture which I think are my best yet this summer. It was a great trip though, full of lots of fun. I really enjoyed seeing the house at Monticello and UVA.

That was Saturday. On Sunday, I did a mini-museum marathon. I started at the Freer Gallery (Asian art with Whistler thrown in for good measure), the Sackler Gallery (more Asian art) and the Hirshorn Museum (Modern art). All three are lesser knowns in the Smithsonian family. I really enjoyed the Hirshorn actually which surprised me – I am not much of a modern art fan but they have a fabulous exhibit right now, temporary, on cinema art which was very interesting to walk through and take all the different films in and what they are trying to convey. After the museums, I walked through the Castle (now a visitor’s center) and paid my respects to Smithson’s tomb before I headed over to the National Botanical Gardens. I had done the outside gardens earlier in the week but the Conservatory closed too early for me to go after work. I liked this a lot – the big greenhouses host different areas of the world – jungle, desert, forest, endangered species. In the jungle greenhouse, they have a canopy walk which was a lot of fun to go through with the mist going off every few minutes, making you think you’re actually in the jungle (for about a second, but hey, atmosphere is everything). That was pretty much my Sunday. Next post, this week and my weekend plans…

DC Adventures

So, update on my life. I have been walking a lot around the Capitol Hill and Mall area since our weather finally broke and it’s bearable to be outside and one doesn’t feel like dying. I love the area I live in – it’s so walkable and beautiful to explore. This past week/weekend I finished going through both the NMNH and NGA. I have decided I don’t particularly like the NMNH – I like the gemstones and the dinosaur bones but all the stuffed animals were too eerie – give me a zoo any day. The NGA however, is my kind of museum. I love to look at artwork and really take my time to look at the brush strokes and the way an artist may have gone about the work. The areas I hadn’t gotten to yet included the museum’s Rembrandts as well as the only Leonardo da Vinci painting in the United States. It looked a lot like the Mona Lisa to be honest and it was even smaller. Yet another painting to go, “huh” and walk along.

After I finished the NGA, I walked home via the Capitol (after walking through the festival happening on Pennsylvania Avenue – very interesting group of people). I have decided I really love the Capitol Building. It is absolutely beautiful. I just wish the steps were open more so I could get a view of the city from the top. I imagine it’s breath-taking. I then walked around the building to the actual front of the Capitol where inauguration takes place in January. It’s a big mess right now as they are constructing a new underground visitors center. Walking around, I found the Library of Congress (which I’m visiting this weekend – so excited!!) and the Supreme Court building. Turning up towards home, I found the Sewall-Belmont House near Stanton Park which I was more excited about than anyone else probably would be. It was a house where Alice Paul lived so I now need to add that to my list of things to visit. I might try to get it in this coming weekend.

This week I haven’t done too much. With the weather being so nice, I have walked home from work and watched the Representatives queue up for taxis at the end of the day at their office buildings. Yesterday, walking back from the Botanical Gardens where I ate lunch, I go caught up in a motorcade. It was unmarked but with the amount of firepower in the SUVs around it, I figured it was the president which it was, I found out later. The whole city gets put on hold, all the traffic stopped – cars pulled over etc. I didn’t take pictures though. I thought reaching into my purse to dig out my camera might be misconstrued by the military contingent surrounding his car.

Work continues to go well. I was appraising in the NMNH today in the paleobiology department – it was like a dungeon in there and the office was everything you would expect – furniture that was ancient, piles of paper everywhere, more bones, shells and unidentified “dirt” then I think I’ve ever seen (including the Paris catacombs which is saying something). After we finished taking what we wanted, I worked on a collection of correspondence to and from Julia Anna Gardner, a geologist with the museum and the USGS from the 1920s until her death in 1961. It’s amazing how many people spend their lives identifying fossilized mollusks – but some of the letters are fun. They were so formal – “thank you for the specimen you sent. It was beautifully packaged and arrived unharmed” and etc. Tomorrow it is back to scanning.