At Orchard Farm, landscape architect Sandy Clinton and client Gay Barclay demonstrate that living well is the best revenge.
By Susan Hines
When Gay Barclay and her husband moved to Potomac, Maryland, more than 20 years
ago, they were looking for a rural retreat—a place reminiscent of the open
spaces she enjoyed as a child in the Midwest. They found the spot, just 16.4
miles as the C & O Canal flows, west of Washington, D.C. Built in the
1830s, the house on the five-acre property they purchased in 1982 once served
the blacksmith who shod mules that towed barges past nearby Swain’s lock.
At first, they enjoyed lovely unobstructed views from the knoll where the house
sits across the fields and woodlands that taper down to the Potomac River.
“When we looked around us at night,” Barclay remembers, “we didn’t see another
All too soon, their bucolic isolation ended. Farmland kept going on the market,
and it became apparent that these vast holdings, so close to the nation’s
capital, were destined for luxury developments and for single-family mansions
like the one owned by Barclay’s neighbor, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
He purchased an existing 11,444-square-foot estate in Potomac as a $10 million
teardown and built an even bigger place.
Along River Road and in between the remaining horse farms are estate houses
galore. Designed in a variety of styles such as pseudo Norman to ersatz English
Tudor, many of these massive structures are set so close to the road that
you can practically measure the hems on the window treatments as you drive
“I could hear the thundering development, and it wasn’t what I wanted,” Barclay
says. A serious gardener who completed the coursework for a certificate in
landscape design at George Washington University, she got to work early on
planting trees to screen her pasture from the increasingly busy road. “We
prepared by improving the back of the property,” she says about an area where
the grade was raised 15 feet and a hornbeam hedge was planted to create a
green garden room that hides the hundreds of new houses that began to pepper
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