Caring for a Public Garden

Susan gardeningWhile most everything else halted, closed or paused in mid-March, the coronavirus pandemic could not stop spring from arriving. Leaves sprouted and flowers budded as they do every year, unperturbed by the situation unfolding around them. Stay-at-home orders and widespread closures coincided with nature’s busiest time of the year. Nature waking from winter dormancy to spring regrowth was both a comfort and challenge at Green Spring Gardens.

Grounds and trails remained open, and visitors found solace and calm in a beautiful oasis. Almost every day, something new was in bloom, and pleasant weather lingered for weeks. Individuals and families suddenly had free time on their hands, and some visited the gardens for the first time. “I had seen the signs to the gardens but never had a chance to come in and check it out,” said a young woman taking pictures of the peonies. “I finally had some free time to come. It is so beautiful.”

IMG_6969Because Green Spring public facilities such as the Horticulture Center and Historic House were closed and staffing was limited due to safety concerns, garden care and maintenance became a herculean task. Those who have a garden at home know how much goes into preparing for spring and keeping entropy at bay—weeding, mulching, weeding, trimming, weeding, planting, and more weeding. Imagine the work involved in caring for 32 acres of garden! Behind the scenes, it was busy.

Horticulturists Brenda Skarphol and Nancy Olney joined gardeners Alda Krinsman and Cole Gandee to work tirelessly at weeding, planting and mulching. Maintenance Chief Frank Jankauskas cared for the grounds and ponds and built a new Garden Gate door. Visitor Services Manager Susan Eggerton and historian Debbie Waugh also lent helping hands.

“With only a skeleton staff here in March and most of April, and no volunteers, the weeds quickly took over,” Waugh said. “None of us could fail to appreciate all the work that it takes to maintain the gardens. My aching back reminded me that it’s incredibly hard work that just won’t stand for any interruption.” The payoff came in seeing the before-and-after impact of the work and in hearing the words of thanks and encouragement from passing visitors.

IMG_6980When part-time staffers began to return to Green Spring, including front desk staff Lisa Jackson and Karen Aftergut, they offered to help in the gardens. Amanda Mason of the children’s education staff saw it as a learning opportunity. “I didn’t know anything about gardening, so the thought of working in the garden was somewhat daunting at first, but I was excited to try something new,” she said. “When I first started, it was pretty hard on my knees and back, but it was surprisingly fun, and I actually learned a lot. Nancy gave me tips for my own vegetable garden. It was almost therapeutic to pull weeds and work out in the garden.”

Colleague Elizabeth Waugh agreed. “I learned new facts about specific plants and gardening methods that we’ll be able to translate into our children’s education programs,” she said. “I have immense respect for all the hard work the gardeners do to make the park so beautiful.”

IMG_6973As restrictions slowly lifted, we were happy to see the return of volunteers, many of whom no doubt had found it hard to ignore patches of weeds sprouting throughout the gardens and were itching to pitch in. More help came from two Fairfax County employees who were assigned to Green Spring through a county pandemic job match program.

The gardens continue to look beautiful, and Green Spring remains a place of joy, color, education, and respite for our community.

Author Laura Strecker is an Adult Education Program Assistant at Green Spring Gardens.


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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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