The gardens began as the private gardens of the Knop family, for both pleasure, conservation and medical research. Werner Knop, his mother Elsbeth Knop and his wife Dr. Catharine Knop began the first construction and plantings in 1950, followed by their son, Peter J. Knop and his wife Beata Knop. The gardens hosted many notable artists, authors, diplomats and statesmen over the years, with an artist in residence for many years in one of the converted tenant houses. Art, which took a second place over the past 30 years due to the need for major physical construction, is high on the agenda of the foundation, to expand the opportunity to attract peoples of varying interests and tastes, and in the process exposing them to the wonders of nature and the plant world.
Sixty years of hardscaping has utilized over 7 million tons of earth, stone and concrete (more material moved than for the Hoover Dam) to build the largest constructed garden in the United States. The actual planting of most of the gardens only started in earnest 15 years ago and is now in full swing working toward public opening, the 65th anniversary of the first plants planted and the first shovel of dirt moved (it was all dirt then, and has taken 50 years to create truly suitable soil for our plants). The very first trees were Catalpa bignonioides from President Monroe’s home at Oak Hill and Buxus sempervirens from Mt. Vernon, both of which are still thriving with numerous offspring. In those days the majority of plants in the gardens were what we now call heirloom, and many of the original still survive, either from divisions or from self seeding year after year, from various varieties of Phlox to Lunaria, columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and numerous daffodil displays. Of course the largest original collection are the very plants which have existed on the property for the past few thousand years – our local natives, with a prime undisturbed diabase community at the top of the pile so to speak.
The following pictures are illustrative of the construction phase involved in these gardens. Please return in a few months as we expand the gallery of photos of actual gardens, living sculptures, maturing collections and as well as more of the history of these unique gardens.