Best time to go: 03/30 - 12/30
A 40 minute drive from DC will take you to a Revolutionary War era plantation in Virginia’s Hunt Country. Established in 1798 by a grandson of Robert “King” Carter, a major land baron of the Colonial Virginia lowlands, Oatlands Plantation originally consumed over 5 square miles of fertile Virginia farmland.
Oatlands’ operation depended on more than one hundred slaves and the Carter family was only able to hold onto the land for a little over three decades after the Civil War. It fell briefly into the hands of the founder of The Washington Post, who then sold it to DC socialites William and Edith Eustis.
Edith devoted most of her life to the preservation of the house and gardens. After her death, the family donated the plantation to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1964.
Julia and I toured the house and gardens recently after visiting a farm we were interested in buying in Northern Loudoun County. As we were traipsing through the steep gulley leading down to the river to find the property line, Julia made clear to me that she did not relish the work of a land agent.
She also presented me with a list of features that any farm must have before she would entertain another visit:
- A nice, big house
- A lot of “straight” [flat] land
- Not too many trees
Oatlands ticked all the boxes, so I took her there on the way home and she informed that, yes, this is what she had in mind. Although I am not currently in a position to purchase Oatlands (the upkeep alone is over $1 million per year), I was able to spring $10 for the self-guided tour of the gardens.
Situated in the near center of rural Loudoun County, Oatlands Plantation is the quintessential Hunt Country estate. It’s a popular place for weddings, as nearly the entire estate serves as an ideal backdrop for a photo.
Touring can also be an educational experience for children if you’re willing to put in the work to explain its history of slavery, a task aided by the many helpful placards throughout the estate. After touring the house, the bachelor’s cottage, carriage house, and the oldest greenhouse in America are among the outbuildings you can visit.
If you’d rather just wander among the gardens, though, you’ll be pleased with the narrow boxwood paths and the many obscure plantings along the lane, including Larix decidua, Buxus sempervirens, Suffruticosa and Quercus robur.