A waterfall on a (former) pig farm: Winkler Botanical Preserve.

Last week I drove over to check out Winkler Botanical Preserve after my interest in the space had been piqued by a few different DC-based blogs.  Winkler was a former pig farm that was converted into a nature preserve in the 1980’s by the philanthropic Winkler family.  The matriarch, Catherine, used to walk the family dog Lilly on the abandoned property.  When her husband passed away in the 1970s, she decided to create the preserve in his memory.  Her children dedicated a new building, the Catherine Lodge, in memory of their mother.  It features a painting of Catherine and Lilly.

Nearly 30 years later, the preserve was at risk of being torn down and paved over to help accommodate the influx of federal workers due to the Base Realignment and Closure Process. In 2010, the Alexandria City Council, local elementary school kids, and the community at large, spoke out loudly against the possible destruction of Winkler.  Fortunately, the campaign to protect the space were successful.  [Word on the street is that their summer camps are as hard to get into as the White House Easter Egg Roll.]

Catherine’s daughter, Tori Winkler Thomas, is a landscape architect who’s 60-acre estate in Millwood, Virginia was featured in the October 1984 issue of Home and Garden (a back issue I’ve since placed an order for).  Her gardens were photographed by the renowned French photographer Jacques Dirand and the Boxwood Society lauded her for her creative vision in painting clusters of dead boxwoods in shades of “tattered lilac” and “basket blue”.  Over three decades later, the image of her garden reappeared in a Departures Magazine article (March 2017).  But the only reference to Tori is in the way the JPEG is saved online: as “brothers-dirand_Tori-Winkler-Thomas-home_2000x1333.jpg”.

Photo via Departures Magazine (March 22, 2017)

I imagine that Tori had/has some influence on the creativity that abounds at Winkler.  There are benches, a hobbit house with a functioning door and glass windows buried half beneath the ground, stone staircases, trails on trails on trails, lily ponds, flower fields, deer families, stone and wooden bridges, tall towers that is a climbing structure for the camps, and on, and on. One particularly memorable corner of the Preserve seemed to be a land art installation of a large scale deer bedding area.  A woven stream/fence of sticks invites you to the open clearing, buttressed with neat piles of sticks.

It reminded me of the beautiful nest like creations of Patrick Dougherty that I first encountered on my alma mater’s campus back in 2007.  I ran back into another variation at Dumbarton Oaks during the summer of 2012, after gazing at the Cloud Terrace that consisted of 10,000 Swarovski crystals dangling overhead.  Most recently, I walked through Shindig, his contribution to the brilliant Wonder exhibit at the Renwick in 2015.

I recommend you go, with a coffee in hand, to walk the property and invite associations and connections to your own past experiences.  Enjoy.


Filed under Alexandria

a curious person still searching for the poem that Nezami Ganjavi wrote about the prince who toured his kingdom only to find crumbling structures, causing him to reflect on the transience of life.


  1. Bianca Beary

    Was there a waterfall that you could see? Great summary of a very interesting place. How far from D.C. I would love to visit.

    • Pineapple Suitcase

      Yes, the waterfall is about two stories high and manmade (but looks natural). It is a 20 minute drive from Old Town. Definitely worth a visit!

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