A Vienna developer has set its sights on the Oak Hill “Margaret’s Gardens” property that for nearly six decades was owned by Margaret Wilson Thomas, known best as “The Iris Lady.”
Vienna-based Sekas Homes is planning to build a nine-home subdivision there called “Iris Hills” and has filed a rezoning application with the county to rezone the property from R1 to R2, a residential classification which permits two dwelling units per acre. The Fairfax County Planning Commission will consider the application during its June 12 public hearing.
According to the developers, the newlyconstructed nine two-story homes will be accessed by a new public street that will connect to Lawyers Road.
“The homes will be similar to other new construction in the area,” said Kelly Atkinson of Land Design Consultants, who has been contracted to represent Sekas Homes during the application process. “They will be typical two-story homes, some with walk-out basements. The homes will not be anything ‘modern’ or out of the box.”
Margaret Wilson Thomas, owner of Margaret’s Gardens, 12410 Lawyers Road, died on May 25, 2011. She was 89.
Thomas, known to many as the “Iris Lady,” moved to the Oak Hill location with her husband, George, in 1963 and bought 33 acres there, including the 1880s farmhouse--still standing today-- that Thomas lived in until her death.
“This was really the country then,” she said in a 2008 interview. “Lawyers Road was not even paved yet.”
In 1973, the couple decided to sell all but 5.4 acres and use those exclusively for gardening.
After her husband died the following year, Thomas decided to dedicate the rest of her life to cultivating irises, a fondness she had acquired earlier in her life. She often could be found sitting in her colorful flower garden, talking with random visitors whom she encouraged to utilize the property.
Many painted portraits, had picnics, or just walked around the flowers, taking in their natural beauty.
In her lifetime, Thomas cultivated and developed more than 2,000 varieties, or “cultivars,” of irises, as well as hundreds of peonies and day lilies. She sold them to many local residents who planted them in their own gardens. In 2006, Thomas’ iris garden was listed by the Cultural Landscape Foundation as one of 18 noteworthy endangered American gardens. The foundation said the garden was endangered because of Thomas’ age and the uncertainty of the garden’s future.
Today, Lawyers Road is a bustling throughway and the “Margaret’s Gardens” property will soon be located between two Metro stations, each only about three miles away.
Thomas said in an interview that she had been offered $4.5 million for her 5-acre property in 2003 by developers, but she had turned them down because she wanted to preserve her garden.
The property is currently listed as a “pending sale” with Century 21 Realtors for $2.75 million.
In 2008, Thomas said she took out a reverse mortgage on the property to pay property taxes that were in excess of $7,000 per year. That same year, the Friends of Margaret’s Gardens, a nonprofit group formed in 2002, attempted to preserve the area as a park but failed when the county declined to add it to a Park Authority bond.
The property is currently part of the Margaret W. Thomas Revocable Living Trust. Thomas’ son, Steven B. Thomas, of Fairfax, is listed as the Trustee of the property.
Messages left for Steven Thomas were not immediately returned, but in an effort to preserve Margaret Thomas’ irises the Town of Herndon said it is working with him to have the flowers transplanted to public areas where they can still be cared for.
“They will be placed along the Herndon Centennial Golf Course and within the Chestnut Grove Cemetery,” said Cindy Roeder, Director of Herndon’s Parks and Recreation Department. “Both of those properties have groundskeepers, so the flowers will continue to be in caring hands.”
Atkinson said that if the proposed zoning is approved, construction will begin in the spring of 2015.