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American Society of Landscape Architects


December 2005 Issue

Residential Refuge
At Orchard Farm, landscape architect Sandy Clinton and client Gay Barclay demonstrate that living well is the best revenge.

By Susan Hines

Residential Refuge
Roger Foley

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 light.”

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 by.

“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 her view.

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