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Planting history: Hamilton’s Wegmeyer Farms and Oatlands partner to harvest strawberries in Leesburg

Tyler Wegmeyer tends the crops at Oatlands in period garb. The farm partnered with Oatlands to bring the fruit to the historic plantation. Photo Courtesy/Wegmeyer Farms
Strawberry season brings so many wonderful things to mind: strawberry shortcake, strawberry pie and even strawberry cocktails.

However, a new partnership between one of Loudoun’s strawberry farms and a historic property in Leesburg is bringing a new angle to the world of strawberries – a chance to learn history, farming and experience the beautiful pastoral views of Loudoun’s countryside.

Combining their love of history and strawberries, Wegmeyer Farms of Hamilton and Oatlands Hist

“We have not had agricultural fields for a long time,” said Oatlands' Executive Director Andrea McGimsey.

Last year, Oatlands purchased 54 acres, much of it agricultural fields, located next door to their property. McGimsey said this was part of the historic core of Oatlands, and an important addition.

Located just a few miles away in Hamilton, Wegmeyer Farms has been expanding their farm and were looking for opportunities to grow more strawberries. Harriet Wegmeyer has a fascination with history, and began to consider the idea of bringing history and agriculture together at Oatlands by planting strawberries there.

The Wegmeyer’s approached McGimsey about using some of the fields to farm strawberries, and McGimsey was thrilled with the concept.

They have since planted 35,000 strawberry plants, and are expecting the first berries in a couple of weeks.

Strawberries, historically, have been part of the farming culture at Oatlands. Both the Carter and Eustis families have a history of hosting strawberry festivals to raise money for different charitable causes.

Elizabeth Grayson Carter’s diary mentions enjoying strawberries at the property in May 1861 and also in 1862.

In a diary dated May 30, 1872, it mentions Kate Carter had a strawberry festival and made $100 for the church.

Another reference in the Loudoun Mirror June 4, 1908, said there was a strawberry festival and supper at Oatlands June 6, 1908.

This May, Oatlands has planned several events to highlight their new favorite crop.

A Strawberry High Tea and Champagne event will be held May 17 and 31 from noon to 3 p.m. Designed to showcase the philanthropic history of the Eustis family, the proceeds will support the purchase and operations of Oatlands Hamlet.

McGimsey said the teas will be held at the “charming” Emmet House country estate. Guests will start their afternoon experience with a private tour in the 1804 Greek Revival Oatlands Mansion, and will hear about over 200 years of Virginia and Loudoun County history.

After the mansion tour guests will move down the historic lane to the Emmet House Country Estate.

Within the estate is a special room with a hand-painted mural done by the artist, Olin Dows (1904-1981). Dows was an American painter and belonged to a prominent family in upstate New York. He first developed his interest in scenic landscapes during his early years on his family’s two idyllic estates, Glen Burn and Fox Hollow.

McGimsey said Dows must have taken particular pleasure in designing this one-of-a-kind mural for Mrs. Emmet, a personal friend. Mrs. Emmet loved all kinds of wildlife, and the artist skillfully worked all manner of charming animals into the landscape of Oatlands. Dows even included some of his signature “fluffy white owls” in the mural.

Oatlands is also participating in the Loudoun Spring Farm Tour May 16-17 for the first time. There will be u-pick strawberries on two acres of fields. Families can enjoy a scavenger hunt to learn more about Oatlands. Mansion tours and hay rides will also be available that weekend.

Bringing history and plant science to life, Oatlands and Wegmeyer Farms are partnering to offer strawberry field trips in May and early June to area schools, scout troops, home school groups and any other groups interested in this type of experience.

The field trips are STEM based, and meet several Virginia SOL requirements, and are “great for all ages,” according to Harriet Wegmeyer.

Students will be able to take a hayride through the historic front of the property, past the mansion and greenhouse, while enjoying views of the mountains. Janis Golden, who works on programs at Oatlands, said the greenhouse is the second oldest continuously propagating greenhouse in the United States.

The students will ride to the strawberries fields, where they will meet Tyler Wegmeyer, who will show them how strawberries are grown. Students will have a chance to pick some strawberries and then take the hayride back.

The strawberry season at Oatlands will culminate with a Strawberry Festival May 30 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Festival goers enjoy a variety of family friendly activities including children’s games, music, dancing and a hay ride that takes riders on a tour through the historic grounds of Oatlands. Southern Winds band is providing the music and bringing along a special dance instructor to keep the festival jumping and jiving. Special food vendors include Hill High BBQ and Pop-Pop’s Kettle Corn. There will be beer and wine available for purchase as well.

Reservations for the various events can be made by calling 703-777-3174, and more information can be found on the Oatlands special strawberry page oatlands/strawberries.


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