Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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If the sight of spring blossoms against lush greenery doesn’t soothe your soul, it’s time you reorder your miserable priorities.

The annual explosion of dogwoods, redbuds and lilacs around residential Arlington never fails to uplift me, though my wife chides me for meager knowledge of botanical vocabulary (I can’t tell an azalea from a Saturnalia).

During my regular drive-by’s to admire floral extravaganzas this month, I appreciated how achieving such beauty requires both effort and, occasionally, some public policy.

My personal favorites include vivid front-yard tulip gardens at the expansive homes on North Ohio St. between Little Falls Rd. and Williamsburg Blvd.; a meadow-like lane on N. 23rdSt. between Quantico and Powhatan; the pink-and-white-hued splotches on Arlington Ridge Rd., and lovely swaying trees on Washington Blvd. between Westover and N. Glebe Rd. Another spectacular haven is Edison St. between Yorktown Blvd. and Little Falls Rd., around the corner from Rock Spring Park.

That pastoral is maintained by Arlington’s dominant affinity group, the Rock Spring Garden Club. Founded in 1953, it has 80 members, I’m told by its president Connie Richards. It networks with fellow clubs in the national capital region, as well as various associations for lovers of dahlias or daffodils.

Richards recommended award-winning floral-splashed homes on 19th St. near Washington Blvd., and N. Fifth St. at Manchester near Bluemont Park. “But it’s gorgeous everywhere,” she said. “There’s a movement now to emphasize native plants, which attract pollinators.”

She also mentioned that many fellow enthusiasts shop for bulbs outside Arlington at the Merrifield Garden Center or Green Springs in Fairfax. But increasingly they’re going online for a steadier supply of specialty plants.

I recall back in the 1960s there was Johnson’s Greenhouse at 2737 Lexington St. (with its flower shop at 4516 Lee Highway) run by John Negrey. I looked up its ad in the old Yellow Pages: “Wedding decorations, cut flowers, potted plants, funeral design. We grow our own flowers, Kenmore 8-5258.”

Other vanished gardening outlets include Hill’s Nursery and Camellia Gardens on N. Glebe Rd. near Lee Highway; Arcadian Gardens at Ballston; Meenahan’s in Falls Church; Snyder’s Hardware at Fairfax Dr. and Lee Highway; Tait Lumber in Crystal City; and Williamsburg Hardware on Sycamore St.

Perhaps one of the great losses to “progress” for Arlington’s blossomland was the demolition of the old Webster place on eight acres behind Williamsburg Middle School in the early 1990s. I was given a photo of that white Sears home and long driveway lined with oaks and sprays of pink and white petals.

Owner Horace Webster was a renowned plant pathologist and a discoverer of Dutch Elm Disease who brought azaleas to Arlington from the National Arboretum. “When you walk onto this property, you are walking back in the 19th century,” wrote David Muchow, an attorney hired by floral enthusiasts in 1992 to petition the county board to buy the estate in order to shield it from developers after Webster’s death.

But that era’s pols were unable to override the real estate market, and today a half-dozen luxury homes occupy the Harrison St. lot.

One citizen conservationist – my former teacher Linda Christenson – rushed with others to transplant the Webster azaleas. “When the deadline came,” she recently recalled, “I was filled with a sadness that has stayed with me all these years. What a waste of beauty that could never be duplicated.”

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Some Arlington sports record-setters reassembled at O’Connell High School early this month.

On campus were 17 teammates of the famous Knights baseball squad that, from 1963-65, produced an astonishing 42-game winning streak and three Catholic Conference championships.

Along with relatives of teammates who couldn’t make it, they attended the Saturday, April 1, game and shook hands with players on this year’s varsity, who went on to beat St. Mary’s Ryken 10-0.