Posts Tagged ‘Hirshhorn Museum’

The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

One of my very favorite gardens in D.C., and one which I stop by frequently during my lunchtime bike rides, is the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. Conveniently located on the south side of the National Mall in the city’s Downtown neighborhood, the garden is tucked neatly in-between the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (MAP), in an area which had previously been slated to become a parking lot.

The half-acre curvilinear-shaped garden was designed by local architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen as a sensory garden, with raised planting beds and greater accessibility for handicapped and other visitors. Many of its original plants were brought in from the Litchfield, Connecticut home of Mary Livingston Ripley, an avid lifelong plant scholar-collector, active gardener, and wife of the S. Dillon Ripley, the Smithsonian Institution’s eighth Secretary.  The garden opened in 1978, and a decade later it was renamed in Mrs. Ripley’s honor by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, a philanthropic group she helped found.

The garden has evolved over the years, with more recent efforts focused on exposing visitors to the widest variety of plants and flowers possible, many of which are grown in the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Complex in Maryland.  Currently there are more than 200 varieties of plants in hanging baskets, borders, raised serpentine and circular beds, and even growing vertically on plant walls.

The garden is also adorned with a number of 19th-century cast-iron furnishings. These furnishings are part of the historical collection belonging to Smithsonian Gardens, and include a large Acanthus fountain anchoring the middle of the garden, ornate light posts interspersed along the paths, and benches that are far away enough from each other that they provide a sense of intimacy with the person you’re sitting with rather than people on the next bench.

Another asset of the Ripley Garden is horticulturist Janet Draper and her staff.  They not only maintain this incredible garden, but are also friendly, helpful if you have a question or need assistance, and even offer an informal walking tour of the garden every Tuesday at 2 p.m. through October, weather permitting.

For anyone who hasn’t yet been there, I highly recommend it.  And I would encourage you to spend some time there and be attentive, unlike the commuters and other pedestrians who simply use the garden as a cut-through between Independence Avenue and the National Mall.  And if you’re able, I would suggest going several times, perhaps at different times during the year.  It is worth repeated visits not only for the quantity and variety of plants. but because the garden is ever changing.

         

         

         

         

The following are some of my favorite photos, mostly of of flowers and plants, that I took over the past year
or so in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.  Click on each to see the full-size version.  Viewing them on a
high definition screen is suggested in order to better see the complexity and intricate beauty of each.

         

         

         

         

         

         

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Sign hanging in the Ripley Garden

Advertisements
ArgyleHouse03

The Argyle House Cat

While riding down Embassy Row in northwest D.C.’s Sheridan-Kalorama neighborhood during this bike ride, I saw what appeared to be a cat precariously perched on the roof of the house located at 2201 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP).  Not knowing if it was stuck or just sitting there taking in the view, I decided to take a closer look.  But upon closer inspection it turned out that it wasn’t actually a cat at all. It was a lone, gargoyle-like statue of a cat. Finding this to be unique to the neighborhood as well as interesting, I decided to try to learn more about the cat and the house upon which it sits.

Commonly known as the Argyle House, but also referred to as the Abercrombie-Miller house or Miller House, it is a Beaux-Arts mansion designed by the associate architect of the Library of Congress, Paul J. Pelz. Constructed around 1901, it was originally built for a wealthy, retired Navy Commander named Frederick Augustus Abercrombie-Miller. A few years after Miller passed away in 1908, the house was sold by his widow, and subsequently changed hands several times after that. During most of the 1920s it was owned by D.C. developer Harry Wardman or his business partners, who between 1923 and 1926 leased it to the Costa Rican and Salvadorean Legations. But like many mansions in D.C. at that time, it was divided into apartments during the Great Depression and rented as a boarding house. Today the Argyle House has been converted into a nine condominium units.

An integral part of the original house is the 500-square-foot, semi-detached garage, which is located adjacent to the alley behind the house, which can be accessed around the corner on 22nd Street.  Built at the same time as the house, it’s one of the first local constructions of its kind designed specifically as a garage to store an automobile instead of a stable house for a horse carriage. From 1986 to 2009 the garage was used by Olga Hirschhorn, widow of entrepreneur Joseph Herman Hirshhorn, and founder D.C.’s Hirshhorn Museum, to store part of her art collection. Hirschhorn named the structure her “Mouse House”, in a lighthearted reference to the house’s cat statue.

So what about that cat statue? It turns out that because Miller had been a Naval officer, the house includes a number of maritime architectural accents.  Among them is the cat on the ledge facing Massachusetts Avenue, which is intended to depict a ship’s cat.  Ship cats were a common feature on many trading, exploration, and naval ships of that time. The cats not only offered companionship to sailors who could be away from home for long periods, but would catch mice and rats aboard the ship, which could otherwise cause damage to ropes, woodwork and other parts of the ship, as well as damage to the cargo and provisions the ship was carrying. The ship cats could also be integral to preventing the spread of disease, which could be carried by the rats and mice, to other parts of the world.

So the Argyle House cat continues to sit there as it has for over a century, with most passersby oblivious to it.  And of those who do see it, most don’t know anything about it or why it’s there.  But now I do, and so do you.

ArgyleHouse02     ArgyleHouse07     ArgyleHouse06

ArgyleHouse01a     ArgyleHouse04
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]