The Return of the Garden Fairs

A Fabulous Trio

363
The antique carousel built in 1890 is a favorite activity for young and old at the Flower Mart garden fair at the National Cathedral. Photo: All Hallows Guild

For the past two years, the annual garden fairs hosted by three prestigious horticulture institutions – the US National Arboretum, the Franciscan Monastery, and the National Cathedral –were canceled due to Covid pandemic restrictions. Fortunately, all three are back this year! 

Thousands of plants have been ordered or grown over the winter months in local greenhouses to sell to the public. The fairs are full of fun, with food and drink, games for children, and garden experts to answer all your questions. New to gardening? Garden fairs are the perfect place to start buying the best plant material and to get guidance from some of the best gardening experts in the DC area.

While at the FONA garden fair you have a chance to see meadows of flowers, azaleas in bloom, and the Capitol Columns, part of the 446 acres of the US National Arboretum. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

Friends of the National Arboretum

Saturday, April 30, 2022, from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on the grounds of the US National Arboretum, Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) will host its annual garden fair. The first two hours are for members only. Membership begins at $35 for individuals and not only lets you beat the crowds on the day of the fair, its reciprocal discounts help get you into 330 gardens and arboretums across the country. There is an outdoor enthusiast membership level for $125 that also gives you a gift of an Arboretum Introduction plant. Memberships can be purchased online.

Buying plants at local garden fairs, like the FONA one, is about buying quality. FONA’s board appoints a garden committee that spend hundreds of hours selecting plants that will grow well in our horticultural zone, 7A. The garden committee selects only vendors who have good credentials. This year, some of the plants that will be available include: Flowering Gentians (Gentiana acaulis hybrids) with true blue flowers making them beautiful plants for a rock garden and Cestrum “Orange Peel,” a shrub whose orange flowers bloom continuously from June until the first frost, undeterred by heat. The Orange Peel are hardy and 100% deer resistant.

You will also find Begonia “Paul Hernandez,” a non-hardy shrub begonia with large 12 inch palmate leaves. They are fast growing, getting up to 4 feet high in a single season. In addition, the fair will offer Peacock Spikemoss (Selaginella uncinata). They are a beautiful, low growing relative of ferns with blue-green leaves. The list goes on including hardy orchids and surprise donations from Plant Delights, JC Raulston Botanic Garden and Far Reaches Farm.

In addition to thousands of plants, woody shrubs and trees, and herbs, FONA has assembled a great group of garden vendors offering garden-related items. This year Three Stone Steps, Olive Wood Crafts, and Down 2 Earth Pottery will be bringing beautiful items to adorn your garden space. Vegetable vendors Radical Roots Farm, Cultivating the City, and Peasant’s Parcel will bring mushrooms, many tomato plants and other vegetable plants to get your summer gardens started. All said and done, there will be something for everyone, green thumb or not. 

Volunteers spend all winter propagating plants from the award-winning plants at the Franciscan Monastery like these lemon grass plants. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

Craven Rand, Executive Director of FONA, is excited that the fair will be returning this year. “The FONA plant sale is one of our favorite activities of the year, and it is a great way to introduce the beauty of the Arboretum to garden enthusiasts who may not have had a chance to explore it.” 

Shoppers need to enter at the New York Avenue entrance. The R street entrance will be closed to cars. There is plenty of parking at the adjacent lot and shuttle buses will run to the sale space near the administration building. Food vendors will be serving coffee and goodies throughout the day. This year it is a one day only fair and will only accept credit or debit cards. The US National Arboretum is located at 3501 New York Avenue, NE. For more information check FONA’s website, www.fona.org.

Franciscan Monastery Garden
Guild Plant & Herb Sale

The same weekend as the Arboretum sale, just a couple of miles away, the Garden Guild of the Franciscan Monastery will host a two-day garden fair, April 30, 9 – 3 and Sunday, May 1, from 9 – 3. The gardens at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America are some of the loveliest gardens in DC with formal rose and flower beds interspersed with replicas of Holy Land shrines. The gardens are located at 1400 Quincy St., NE. 

The All Hallows Guild cares for the grounds of the National Cathedral and proceeds from Flower Mart held May 6 and 7th help keep their efforts going. Photo: All Hallows Guild

All profits from the plant and herb sale go for the operation of the gardens and restoration of its 103-year-old greenhouse. In addition to the formal gardens surrounding the building, you’ll find a greenhouse and many beds of vegetables and bees in partnership of urban beekeepers that harvest the honey from 20 beehives. There is also an orchard of 70 fruit trees that were donated by Casey Trees. Basically you could say that the garden guild operates a two-acre urban farm, and formal gardens in the heart of Brookland.

The fair is unique in that many of the plants and herbs sold are propagated by volunteers in the greenhouse over the winter months. The quality of the plants is outstanding, and according to Lou Maroulis, President and CEO of the FMGG, the plants you buy come from award-winning fruits, herbs and vegetables shown at recent local county fairs that won 66 ribbons. As Lou says “We are back!” 

Lou Maroulis is the President of the Franciscan Monastery Garden Guild. Here he is showing a tray of basil that has been propagated in the green house to sell in late April. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

Basil, lavenders, lemon grass, and many more herbs will be available, ready to go from pot to your garden. In addition to herbs there will be roses, perennials, and annuals for sale. Be aware that the guild has been warned by plant vendors to expect a fuel charge increase due to the current gas situation. The fair takes cash or credit cards. 

In addition to the garden sale there will be tours of the gardens running on the hour starting at 11 a.m., through 2 p.m. on Saturday and two tours on Sunday at 11a.m. and noon. The tours will begin at the Visitors Center at the front of the Monastery. Food trucks will be at the gate. There is a parking lot across the street from the monastery. For more information go to www.FMGG.org.

The antique carousel built in 1890 is a favorite activity for young and old at the Flower Mart garden fair at the National Cathedral. Photo: All Hallows Guild

Flower Mart at the National Cathedral

The third garden sale is Saturday, May 6 and Sunday, May 7 on the National Cathedral grounds. The fair runs from 10 – 6 on Friday and 10 – 5 on Saturday. Like the two other fairs, the profits go to support good work and help sustain the operations of the All Hallows Guild that was founded in 1916 to provide for the care of the Washington National Cathedral grounds. The fair’s theme this year is A Haven of Peace. This garden fair is over 80 years old and is considered a springtime tradition for many DC families. The National Cathedral is located at 3101 Wisconsin Ave, NW.

Carrie Tydings, a member of the guild, says that many of the favorite activities will be returning this year, including the White Elephant Tent, which is filled with nearly new household items like dishes, glasses, china, jewelry, and fashion accessories. The Children’s Book Tent will be full of gently used children’s books. Of course, there will be annual plants, perennials, and some shrubs like azaleas to choose from. One of the favorite activities is riding the Cathedral’s antique carousel that dates to 1890. It is one of two carousels left that were made by the US Merry-go-Round corporation. There is a nominal charge for the ride.

There are many ways to get to the Flower Mart. Parking in the Cathedral’s underground parking lot is one option, but minimal spots are available. There is a shuttle from the Tenley Town metro, a good alternative to driving. Carrie says ride sharing to the fair is encouraged. Cash and credit cards are welcome. To learn more, go to allhallowsguild.org/programs/flower-mart. 

Gardeners, get ready to spend all that pent up energy from missing these wonderful fairs the last two seasons. One final tip: All three garden fairs suggest arriving early to get the best selection of plants.

Rindy O’Brien says holding off to buy your plants at the fairs is well worth the wait. Contact her at rindyobrien@gmail.com