Regional Gardens: Meadowlark Botanical Gardens

Text by Elaine Mills, Master Gardener
Photos by Bob Kline & Elaine Mills

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Panorama looking toward gazebo on Lake Caroline

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, located in Vienna, VA, are open to the public daily, except for major holidays and under icy conditions. This 95-acre property, operated by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA), features a wide variety of planted beds, three lakes, four gazebos, and special plant collections, which are linked by multiple walking paths and surrounded by lovely forested hills. Numerous benches and seats are located throughout the garden, allowing visitors to relax and enjoy both garden details and panoramic views.

Much of the land that forms the gardens today was a 74-acre farm, which was purchased in 1935 by Gardiner Means and Caroline Ware who came to the Washington, DC area to work under Franklin D. Roosevelt. After many years, these lifelong environmentalists decided to entrust their land to the park authority in order to assure that the farm “could remain a haven for trees, shrubs and flowers and to preserve the bounty of the Virginia countryside.” In 1980, the NVRPA purchased an adjoining 21-acre parcel of land and began plans for a public garden, which opened officially in April 1987.

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Gardiner Means and Caroline Ware, donors of the park land

An unusual feature of Meadowlark is the Korean Bell Garden, which was envisioned by the Korean American Cultural Committee as a way of commemorating the equality, opportunity, and freedom Koreans have found in the U. S. The centerpiece of the garden is a traditional wooden pavilion, which houses the Bell of Peace and Harmony. The three-ton bronze bell is engraved with Korea’s national flower, the Rose of Sharon, and the Virginia state flower, the Dogwood, as well as ten symbols of longevity. The garden also includes a smaller pavilion, decorative walls, and replicas of Korean monuments and statues, as well as many trees and shrubs native to Korea.

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Traditional pavilion and plantings in Korean Bell Garden

Meadowlark has three native plant collections, which were created with the goal of fostering the conservation of native plants and their habitats. The Virginia Native Tree Collection features some of the state’s best choices of native trees for home landscaping, among them fringe tree, paw paw, musclewood, and sweetbay magnolia. The Virginia Native Wetland, located around Lake Lena, has wonderful examples of bald cypress with their characteristic “knees”, as well as black gum, river birch, and sweet gum trees; aquatic plants such as pickerelweed, water lilies, and arrowhead; and shore plants such as cardinal flower, great blue lobelia, and blue flag iris. The Potomac Valley Native Plant Collection, which occupies an entire hillside, showcases many wildflowers, ferns, and shrubs in the understory of the forest of tulip poplars and American hollies. Although not designated as an official collection, the garden also has an experimental meadow with many native plants.

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Great White Trillium, one of the native plants in the Potomac Valley Collection

The gardens are a delightful destination year-round. In early spring, visitors can enjoy bulbs, forest wildflowers, and the spectacular show of blooming cherry trees surrounding Lake Caroline. In May and June, flowering shrubs, peonies, daylilies and the butterfly and herb gardens come to life. Paths of ferns and hostas offer a shady retreat in the heat of summer, and the salvia beds and meadow present both vivid and subtle beauty against the backdrop of colorful foliage of the surrounding woods in the fall. From November through February, the conifer garden, grasses, and Lenten roses provide winter interest. A special treat during the holiday season is the annual Winter Walk of Lights, a nighttime display in which 500,000 lights illuminate the trees and create colorful animated fountains, flowers, insects, and animals.

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9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna, VA 22182


See the gardens’ web site for hours, directions, admission fees, and listings of educational events:


See related book review in this month’s Master Gardeners’ Bookshelf blog entry.


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