FORTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, when most of the real estate for sale in Northern Virginia was cattle farms, wooded hillsides and river frontages along the bluffs of the Potomac, many of the buyers were men and women attracted to government service by the New Deal. That was how economist Gardiner Means and his wife, historian Caroline Ware Means, found themselves touring the rolling open fields and meadows looking for a place to live.

One day in May of that year, an agent took Mrs. Means out Beulah Road, just north of the town of Vienna, to a 70-acre farm with an apple orchard in full bloom, spring wheat in the fields and a whippoorwill in song. "I went back to town," Mrs. Means recalls, "and called Gardiner and said, 'I found a farm. Shall I buy it tonight or do you want to come out and see it?'" After a brief back-and-forth, Mr. Means said, "By the tone of your voice, you had better buy it tonight." For $7,000, she did -- and there they had lived ever since , with "peace and quiet and elbow room and good neighbors."

But here this story does not end, for Gardiner (now 84) and Caroline Means (80) have just done something special with the land they enjoy, which never did get a name other than "The Farm." Though developers in this fast-growing suburban area have long coveted the Means property, now valued at more than $2 million, the two have given 50 acres to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority for public use. They also intend to donate the remaining 20 acres, including their white clapboard house, part of which is a one-room log cabin dating to 1760.

This gift of such a lovely site, precious as it is now, will take on an even greater importance for future generations in this swifly developing region. Northern Virginia has been singularly blessed in this regard over the years, with gifts that have turned country estates into well preserved and operated places for all to enjoy, including Wolf Trap, land on Mason Neck, shoreline near Leesburg and wooded acres near Centreville.

In making their decision, Mr. and Mrs. Means have noted their high regard for the way in which the Regional Park Authority has cared for its parkland, consistent with their desire that "The Farm" be preserved and enjoyed. Now it will be -- and their neighbors throughout Greater Washington should be grateful.