Virginia welcomes the new National Botanic Garden
by Priscilla Knight, Contributing Writer
Lovers walk hand-in-hand along garden paths. Children scamper on Hobbit Town’s stone steps and imagine Rapunzel’s hair falling from a fairytale castle. Workers paid to solve the world’s problems meditate by a cascading waterfall while watching bald eagles, blue herons, wild turkeys and small feathered friends. Fish families, ducks and geese swim in a placid lake that flows around 68 islands. Trees rustle in breezes above spectacular rock gardens decorated with seasonal blooms and modern sculptures.
Welcome to Virginia’s new 100-acre National Botanic Garden, powered by Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative.
The garden, just southwest of Dulles Airport in Loudoun County, Va., is part of a 1,000-acre family farm operated by Peter Knop and his wife, Beata. They have opened their garden and their adjoining Amazing Farm Fun to visitors on specified days for nature walks and talks, hiking, meditation, art shows, weddings, company picnics and other private events. Visitors often say “Wow!” when they see this hidden treasure.
OASIS OF CALM
“My grandmother and parents purchased the property in 1950 after we emigrated from Germany,” Peter explains. “My mother established a medical practice. My father became an explorer, author and political commentator. They used the farm as an oasis of calm during their busy city lives. They grew plants for beauty, but they also experimented with specimens they collected from around the world.”
Peter says he is following in his parents’ footsteps by researching plants and experimenting with them. “We’re at the forefront of innovative agriculture. For example, we’re growing a fuzzy kiwi that does beautifully in Virginia. Our ornamental bananas grow on stunning plants. We’re also growing new varieties of hardy figs, pomegranates and Ziziphus — a red date that’s enormously popular in the Middle East and Asia.
We use an 8-to-10-year trial period before we certify a plant as suitable.”
Peter notes that the garden features the largest xeric garden east of the Mississippi River. “Xeric plants provide beautiful shapes, texture and color while requiring little water,” he says.
GROWING THE BOTANIC GARDEN FROM SEED
Peter’s idea for a national botanic garden germinated in the 1980s when he was developing the largest herb farm on the East Coast north of Florida. The Smithsonian Institution sent staff members and volunteers to his farm to collect and study plants. Knop became friends with the late Marc Cathey, former director of the 451-acre U.S. National Arboretum and later president of the American Horticultural Society.
“Marc and I realized that Washington, D.C., with all its great institutions, lacked a large national botanic garden,” Peter says. “The United States Botanic Garden on Capitol Hill has an impressive conservatory, but it doesn’t have enough land for a true park along the lines of England’s Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, Berlin’s Botanischer Garten und Botanisches Museum, or Montréal’s Jardin Botanique. Marc believed the National Arboretum needed its other half — a national botanic garden. I decided my parents’ garden could be that other half.”
Visitors can travel on a safari through the garden’s dense bamboo groves. Beata says she and Peter fell in love over their mutual love of the tree-like plant. They share their love with the giant panda bears and many other animals at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute. The bears each eat 26 to 84 pounds of the woody plant a day. (Because the Knops sell bamboo to the zoo, dogs are not allowed in their park.)
ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH
From builders’ discarded rock, dirt and other reclaimed materials, the Knops created what they say is the tallest mountain from the Atlantic Ocean to the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountaintop provides a spectacular panoramic view of Loudoun and Prince William counties, Maryland and — on a clear day — Pennsylvania.
“When we finish the rock walls and guardrails, we’ll allow visitors to climb our mountain,” Peter explains. Beata exuberantly says, “You can see all the area’s fireworks displays on the Fourth of July from up here. We plan to build a patio terrace and let people watch fireworks while picnicking and sipping wine.”
A PUBLIC AND PARTY SPACE FOR ESCAPE
Peter says, “My family and I want our garden to be a place for continued research, but we also want it to provide a public space for escape from the pressures of city life by providing an oasis for wildlife, fresh air and clean water.”
The garden’s Japanese and meditation sanctum provides visitors with a tranquil refuge for serenity.
The family enhances the park’s aura with art. “My parents established an art community on the farm,” Peter recalls. “Artists from all over the world stayed here for weeks or months. Beata grew up in Poland in a family of talented artists. She became an accomplished sculptor. When we married, she brought the spark of creativity to my vision.”
Beata designed the garden’s rock gardens, medieval castle, Hobbit Town and cascading waterfalls. She used discarded or dumped stones, bricks and other materials. She has also created and placed 20 sculptures and several large outdoor paintings in the park.
Many other artists display and sell their art in the garden’s pavilions over Memorial Day weekend.
In addition to holding public Easter egg hunts, company picnics and other events on their adjoining Amazing Farm Fun, the Knops open their garden for lakeside weddings, nature walks, tours and other special events.
“Some corporations have brought their entire staff to events,” Beata says. “We want our farm and garden to restore and renew workers and everyone who visits.”
PRESERVING FAMILY FARMS
The Knops hope to preserve family farms in areas where developers are turning agricultural land into homes and businesses.
“Urban development is threatening some of the best farmland across the United States,” Peter declares. “Historically, people built cities near waterways, where the choice farmland and fishing existed. Seaports shipped cargo — mainly agricultural produce. Today, Washington, D.C., is the capital of the strongest and richest nation on earth. It’s clearly destined to grow. So preserving good agricultural land here is something not only close to my heart, but on my doorstep.”
Peter contends that innovative agriculture often begins on family farms. “It was the family farmer who experimented with crops and proved that growing organically could be done successfully. Family farms provide the freshest food. They reduce carbon dioxide emissions by avoiding long-distance transportation and packaging. They allow people to enjoy the countryside and green spaces. In addition, numerous studies have shown that people heal faster and have a lower death rate when they can see trees and plants outside their hospital or healthcare facility windows.
“We believe people can do well, while doing good.” — Peter Knop
Peter believes in the good earth. “I want to pass on and preserve in perpetuity the farm for my children, grandchildren and society, which has given my family an opportunity to prosper. We believe people can do well, while doing good.”