ALEXANDRIA, VA – As the outskirts of Washington have stretched to Baltimore, Chesapeake, Fredericksburg and West Virginia, development and redevelopment has engulfed almost every square foot of available land as far as the eye can see. It would certainly be amazing for anyone to discover that there is over 1,000 acres of secluded forest and a botanical oasis just a stone’s throw from Route 50 in Chantilly.
The National Botanic Garden was founded eight years ago by Beata and Peter Knop, who bought the 17 adjoining farms, expanding their existing property and together forming the Eden that exists today. The Knops were determined to create an ecological retreat as a contemplative garden that showcases not only horticultural wonders but also sculptures made from building materials and locally collected organic matter.
Peter’s Mountain, as it is affectionately known, was man-made and reached a height of 248 feet not only to keep Dulles Airport traffic from disrupting the reservation’s zen vibe, but also to provide a panoramic view of the the capital city stretches from the Blue Ridge to the monuments. The on-site bamboo grove is grown exclusively for the National Zoo’s beloved giant pandas.
Beata is a gifted sculptor/installation artist. Her dynamic and often kinetic works are entertaining surprises encountered on the 225 hectare publicly accessible site. All of Beata’s artworks on display are made from upcycled materials. She’s even transformed sections of road construction pipeline into giant planters with a colorful Mondrian mosaic theme.
While her favorite color is white (because it represents all the colors of the spectrum together), Beata uses color here and there exactly as it would likely be found in the natural habitat surrounding her sculpture. Yellow metal curves reflect the daffodils that sprout faster over the rocks and cracks in the treetops. Red hues reflect the vermilion feathers of a male cardinal or the scarlet breast of the first robin in spring.
The apple – or rather the acorn – doesn’t fall far from the tree at the National Botanic Garden. Beata’s daughter Alexandria (Ola) Rokita, the director of the garden, is a gifted illustrator. Ola organized the first annual Arts, Flowers and Flavors Festival, held in the garden this past Memorial Day weekend. It was the first time the site was open to the public.
Festival-goers were not only treated to a taste of beer from Solace Brewing, wine from award-winning 50 West and Sunset Hills wineries, and chocolate from Shenandoah Chocolate, but also artworks for sale amidst the aesthetic and sublime surroundings. Even a hobbit hill and ruined castle (which will be converted into an event space) evoke Jamie and Claire’s endless romantic fantasies stranger Misadventures in Scotland or Blue Ridge. Or maybe a place for an imaginary kinder, gentler take on a red wedding theme, a la the game of Thrones Forerunner coming soon. It would be an ideal setting for a farm to table wine or beer event. The Botanical Garden grounds are also available for weddings and private events.
In addition to Beata and Ola, exhibited artists included Nikki Colette, Martha Brettschneider, Mark Drefs, Michael Spilotro, Rebecca Freeman, Dena Radosevic and the Jazz Art Studio. And just as talented and beautiful as her mother, Ola bakes – when she’s not working at the World Bank, enjoying life with her family or cycling. Ola is an avid cyclist and art lover. Their baked goods were among the flavors available at the festival. She and Beata came here from Poland in the 1980s to escape communism.
You don’t have to crawl down New York Avenue to enjoy the nirvana of a botanical garden. Just a 40 minute drive from Alexandria, you will imagine yourself on a perfect day in an enchanted land far from the tourist crowds of the National Mall, any mall or Old Town. Come for curiosity. Stay for the rest. You will thank us!
The National Botanic Garden is located at 26320 Ticonderoga Road, Chantilly, VA. 20152-0000 • 703-327-8940 • email@example.com
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