Margaret Thomas is planning for the future and she doesn’t want her quarter century of work to go to waste. "After all, some day I will get old," the 81-year-old said.
Every spring for the past 25 years, Thomas has opened the backyard of her Herndon home to friends and strangers alike to enjoy the beauty sprouting up in her homestead along Lawyers Road. A group trying to save the land said this could, given Thomas’ age and increasing property taxes, be the last season Thomas is able to open up her backyard.
What started as a small backyard garden has blossomed into a nearly 3-acre oasis on the border of Reston and Herndon. Each year when Thomas’ array of irises, peonies, lilies and poppies bloom, she invites the public to come and enjoy the quiet serenity and to purchase excess rhizomes for their own gardens at home. Each year, thousands visit, some from as far away as Canada, to stroll through the neatly manicured isles of pinks, purples and periwinkles. "That is why I do this," Thomas said, looking out over her carefully crafted floral landscape. "I do this so people can come through on a day like today and enjoy the sights or just relax."
While hardly a day goes by without Thomas tending to her garden, the white-haired octogenarian with the green thumb also gains a certain amount of relaxation and rejuvenation from her lilies and irises. "I like to be outside," she said, adding that she feels closer to God whenever she is in nature. "It’s a labor of love."
Thomas’ son, Steve, knows how much time and effort his mother has put into her garden. "I think that the garden has given her, as well as a lot of people, a lot of happiness and if the county could continue that, it would be a great thing," Steve Thomas said. "Preserving [the garden] would be a nice thing for all the people in the community that have enjoyed visiting each year."
Betty Mills of Herndon is one of those people. For 12 or 13 years, Mills has been coming to the Lawyers Road gardens. "I admire this every day when I drive past it on my way to church," Mills said. "I certainly hope the county can do something. People would sure be missing a lot of awe-inspiring beauty."
Now, Thomas wants to make sure future generations of Fairfax County flower lovers will be able to enjoy the fruits of her labor. "I’d hate to see this land go to a developer, but I know I could always sell it to one of them if I have to," Thomas said, in her North Carolina accent. "I know this land would be better served as a park than yet another condominium. "
WITH THE HELP of a newly formed group, the Friends of Margaret’s Garden, Thomas is trying to convince the county to purchase the land to save the gardens for the public and the residents of Fairfax County.
"Essentially, Margaret’s gardens have served as a park for many, many years, now," said Win Meiselman, a member of the friends’ group. "Unfortunately, Fairfax County has shown very little interest in saving this local treasure."
To help spur interest, the friends group hosted an Open House on May 24 and 25 to let the public see the rows upon rows of colorful irises. "This is the only place in Fairfax County these days where you can stop and find peace," Meiselman said.
Would-be gardeners are not the only ones who trek out to Thomas’ gardens each spring. The many different hues have inspired many local artists, like Jackie Saunders of Burke. "Last year I was out here nearly every day," Saunders said, while painting a watercolor of a purple lily on Sunday afternoon. "The beauty out here is just amazing. I can’t put it into words."
Lassie Corbett, a local Herndon-based artist, always brings her adult students to the gardens to practice their crafts. "Just look at it," she said. "This should be saved."
Sharon Swab, one of the leaders of the group trying to save the gardens, is trying to do just that. "We don’t have anything like this anywhere else in the county, maybe the state," said Swab, a Herndon resident, who also volunteers at the garden. "Just look around. There are people who just come out here and sit and read the paper or walk the grounds."
With little to no avail, Thomas has pleaded with Fairfax County Park Authority to consider purchasing her land. "They don’t have much money," she said. "And the land they are buying is going to build more soccer fields. We need something besides soccer fields."
Dale McGrath, one of the original founding members of the friends group, agrees with Thomas. People of all ages enjoy strolling through the gardens, McGrath said. "Keeping this a garden rather than turning it into another field would service a greater spectrum of people. The county needs to stop dragging its feet."