Hidden Gem

A new audio tour app is your personal guide to Blandy Experimental Farm and the State Arboretum.

A grove of 300 gingko trees, which are native to China.

Photo courtesy of Blandy Experimental Farm

Blandy Experimental Farm in Boyce may be one of Northern Virginia’s best-kept secrets. 

“It’s a resource that’s used by a lot of people,” says Steve Carroll, director of public programs for the 700-acre University of Virginia research field station—a 172-acre kernel of which comprises the State Arboretum of Virginia—“but there are even people in this general area who haven’t been here to visit.” 

A free audio tour of Blandy, which debuted last fall and is offered via the UniGuide Audio Tour Player (available for Android and Apple), is helping Carroll change that.

Carroll wrote the text for the audio tour along with others at the facility, including David Carr, director and research professor, and Tim Farmer, public relations coordinator. “We are trying to cater to a lot of different audiences,” explains Farmer, “including now those who are comfortable downloading an app and listening to a tour.”

The tour comprises 11 stops beginning with a welcome and orientation to Blandy, which is named for Graham F. Blandy, a New York stockbroker and railroad magnate who bought the 900-acre antebellum estate, then called the Tuleyries, in 1905. It was originally built around 1833 by Col. Joseph Tuley Jr. and named after the Tuileries Palace in Paris in a play on words with his surname. When Blandy died in 1926, he left 700 of his 900 acres to UVA (keeping 200 acres with the house, which is a private residence). Development of the farm began the next year.

The Quarters

Photo courtesy of Blandy Experimental Farm

The Quarters, stop two on the tour, is a U-shaped complex of offices, meeting rooms and  dormitory space, as well as a courtyard garden. The east wing dates to the late 1820s and was the temporary residence of the Tuleys while their mansion was being built. The rest of the building was added in the early 1940s as laboratory space and quarters for UVA students and faculty doing research at Blandy. 

The Native Plant Trail Woodland stop introduces visitors to a sampling of the plants that were growing in Virginia when Europeans first arrived and explains how different animals use different layers of the habitat. The palette here changes with the seasons. Among the gems likely to be spotted this time of year are oxeyes, square-stemmed monkeyflowers, cup plants and black-eyed Susans.

The State Arboretum houses 5,500 tree and shrub specimens, according to the tour, both flowering trees (“angiosperms” to botanists) and cone-bearing trees (or “gymnosperms”) and includes specimens from across the U.S. and around the world, especially Asia. The trees are planted in related groups. For example, visitors will find a number of flowering trees in the rose family—plum, cherry, pear, quince and others—growing across the lawn at one stop on the tour. Oaks and beeches are also planted near each other, because they are closely related. 

The Dogwood Lane segment of the tour is a portion of an old road that led from the Tuleys’ estate to the nearby village of Millwood. This is a hit in spring, when Virginia’s state tree and state flower take center stage. 

The Blandy’s Conifers stop points out native species such as eastern hemlock and bald cypress and nonnatives such as true cedars, China fir, dawn redwoods and many others. Among Blandy’s notable collection is a 300-tree gingko grove featuring specimens of the ancient tree that is native to China and especially familiar in autumn, when its bilobed leaves turn bright yellow, and seem to all fall in just one day.

“You can explore Blandy on foot, by car, by bicycle and even on horseback, but don’t even try to see everything in one day,” cautions the audio tour guide. Open daily from dawn to dusk, admission is free except for special events. Take advantage of the interpretive materials and of course the new audio tour, but, as the tour itself counsels, “feel free to wander.” 

This article originally appeared in our August 2018 issue. 

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