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Monday, April 16, 2012

White Horticultural Park was saved from development


There’s a “secret garden” in the Mason District, a 13.5-acre parcel of woods and meadow that will never be developed.

For that, we can thank Margaret White for her generosity in selling her homestead to the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) in 1999 for much less than she could have gotten from a developer with plans chopping it up and building houses.  

“Mrs. White sold the property to us, the people of Fairfax County, for $600,000. She wanted $100,000 for each of her five children and $100,000 for herself,” says Marie Reinsdorf, an at-large member of the Park Authority Board who lives in the Mason District.

According to Reinsdorf, “Mrs. White said that it was really her children who gave up what would have been a much larger inheritance—if the property was sold to a developer—because she wanted to preserve it for the enjoyment of all.” The deed covenant requires the property to be maintained as a horticultural park.

The property, surrounded on all sides by single-family housing, lies between Annandale Road, Kerns Road, Sleepy Hollow Road, Kennedy Lane, and Holloman Road. It contains the two-story brick house built by John and Margaret White in 1939 and a barn that is thought to date from about 1876.

John White had a strong interest in horticulture and planted many azaleas and rhododendrons, as well as a large vegetable garden. There was a greenhouse where they kept camellias in the winter, but only the foundation remains.

FCPA’s master plan for the property, approved in July 2006, calls for the creation of John C. and Margaret White Horticultural Park. The plan envisions trails, interpretive features, educational programs, maintenance of the existing plants, and the removal of non-native, invasive species.

Both the house and barn have been locked up, and FCPA staff check on the property periodically. The copper gutters have been removed from the house, as the increasing value of copper makes them a target for thieves.

Mary Olein, the manager of Green Spring Gardens says improving the White Park for public use would require an adequate entrance road, probably on Princess Anne Lane, and parking for 10 to 20 cars. Adequate parking would be needed “to bring people to the gardens and have programs that would generate some revenue,” she says.

The FCPS plan proposes educational programs taking place on the lower level of the White’s old house, with a caretaker possibly living upstairs. Major revisions would be needed to make the house usable and to bring it into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

But there’s never been enough money in the FCPA budget to do all that, and the park “won’t be developed until there’s a funding solution,” says Julie Cline, manager of land acquisition in the FCPS Department of Planning and Development.

A proposed $50 million capital improvement bond that could go to voters in November if approved by the Board of Supervisors includes $38 million for parks. But the White Park is not among the list of projects that would be funded.

“It’s not unusual for it to take 10 years for a park like this to be developed,” Olein says. “The more interest generated among the public for the project, the more it will be seen as a priority.”

To generate more support from the public, Olein has organized a couple of upcoming events highlighting the White Park:
  • On Sunday May 6, at 2 p.m., Olein will lead a walking tour of the azaleas and rhododendrons at the White Gardens.
  • On May 17, at Green Spring Gardens, Don Hyatt, a member of Friends of the White Gardens, will present a lecture on the garden’s azaleas and rhododendrons. Contact Green Spring Gardens for more information, 703/642-5173.
The Friends group was established in 2005 by Margaret White’s friends, neighbors, and horticultural enthusiasts to preserve the naturalized gardens that had been planted by the Whites.

John White died in the 1970s, but Margaret continued to live on the property until she died in January 2010 just a few weeks short of her 104th birthday. “Even at 100, she still was very alert and had a wonderful sense of humor,” Olein recalls.

According to an article in the April 2006 issue of the Friends of White Horticultural Park newsletter, “Margaret couldn’t bear to see the plants torn up or trees cut down and turned into more housing. She wants the park to be a place where people can enjoy and study beautiful plants.”

“We will need the energy, hearts, and minds of community members to bring this garden to its full potential,”  says Reinsdorf. “As a horticultural garden, there are many possitilities for how it can be enjoyed.”

7 comments:

  1. Great article. I had no idea this Park was there. More publicty for it is needed. I do not understand why the Park Bond will not include even a little money for this park. If time passes without any attention being paid to it, the invasive plants will take over and kill everything and it won't be recognizable. In addition the barn and house will deteriorate. We need more historical property and structures saved in Fairfax County!

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  2. This place is awesome. Surveyed the place when they had an estate sale. The barn and meadow near the barn makes the park. Will be great someday but hold your horses credit hogs - all in due time. We need to pay as we go.

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  3. I think the county is not advertising the park because it isnt open yet. Two years ago they had a work day and invited garden club members to help. While Mrs. White was still alive, they invited garden club members in to tour the gardens. It's really tucked away and is accessible through very narrow streets which is causing concern for the neighbors.

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  4. There is actually a wide road with sidewalk (Goldsboro) that could be used for access to the White property. Unfortunately, the neighbors successfully lobbied the Fairfax Board of Supervisors to prevent this from becoming an access point, even for pedestrians. People who live a five-minute walking distance from the park will have to get in their cars and drive in order to enjoy its tremendous beauty :(

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  5. As a neighbor of this park, I also attended the meetings. The last anonymous poster is partially incorrect. While the Goldsboro side was able to keep their dead-end from being the main visitor entrance, that blockaded right-of-way road will become a pedestrian entrance, and the emergency vehicle entrance. Here is the map of the property showing these entrances. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/GMP/WHITE_GMP_072606.pdf

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  6. In the mean time, the gardens need care to prevent destruction by invasive overgrowth. There is a small group of Friends of White Gardens working to save do just that. To join the Gardening Parties, see FOWG & contacts at http://wikimapia.org/#lat=38.8577742&lon=-77.1746767&z=18&l=0&m=b&show=/8042067/White-Horticultural-Park

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  7. We still need a winter photo-survey to support the funding & maintenance volunteer recruitment effort. For particulars, contact Mary.Olien@FairfaxCounty.gov or 703-642-5173, Greenspring coordinator, or John Birch 703.829.5572. We also need help with tree identification in the 6 ac.of magnificent woods surrounding the gardens. JRB

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