Dumbarton Oaks - a Treat for Garden-Tourists

Dumbarton Oaks, R and 31st Streets, Georgetown, Washington D.C.
Gardens open March 15 through October 31, from 2:00 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. and
from November 1 through March 14, open 2:00 p.m. until 5:00 p.m. Closed Mon.
The gardens at Dumbarton Oaks were designed by American landscape architect, Beatrix Farrand (www.beatrixfarrandgarden.org) who worked 20-years on the design with the property owners, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss.
Though few of her gardens survive today, Farrand (1872-1959) received over 200-commissions during her 50-year career. Her clients included families on the east coast, the New York Botanical Garden, the White House, and universities.

Farrand was the fifth generation in her family to become gardeners and landscape professionals. After her marriage at age 20, Farrand studied landscape gardening, botany, engineering, elevation rendering and other courses at Columbia University since there were no landscape architecture majors at the time. Her aunt was Edith Wharton and Henry James was a lifelong friend.

Part of her education included traveling and sketching famous gardens around Europe. Her signature design of garden rooms, so common today, came from visiting English and Italian Renaissance gardens. The design of Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown/Washington D.C. is considered to be her masterworks and is one of the best for garden-tourists to visit.

Farrand also established a landscape study center in Maine where students learned from demonstration gardens, herbarium and research library. At the end of her life, U.C. Berkeley received her professional papers and collections.
Dumbarton Oaks (www.doaks.org) celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the garden in 2012 with restoration projects and history programs.

Farrand’s focus on native plants, influenced by her study and travel, is evident in all her works, including Dumbarton Oaks. Within each of the garden rooms, plants and garden ornaments define the rooms' character and use.

Trees are used as centerpieces, as frames for a view, or to enclose a space. For example, on Crabapple Hill a combination of Crabapple (Malus), Asiatic apple (spectabilis), Japanese flowering crabapple (floribunda) and Siberian crapapple (baccata) are used. Evergreen shrubs such as Privet (Ligustrum), Boxwood (Boxus) and Canadian hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis) are used as screening.

Benches have been placed into corners, under arbors, in fountain-viewing spaces and around shrub rows. Decorative items such as urns and large vases are placed where they serve as focal points.
Dumbarton Oaks has two herbaceous borders that run parallel for 200-feet. They are filled with annuals and perennials and are edged with columnar-shaped Hicks Yew (Taxus baccata Hicksii) hedges. Iris yew shrubs (Taxus baccata Fastigiata) create walls at both ends with a male Mr. Yew at one end and female Mrs. Yew at the other, forming a separate room with 4-benches that Farrand designed.
Farrand specified that the flowers inside this garden must be shades of pink, red, lavender and pale blue. As requested, the borders contain tulips and pansies in the spring and end with chrysanthemums and asters in the fall.

The Lover's Lane Pool is a garden theater that was modeled after an open-air theater located in Rome at the Accademia degli Arcadi Bosco Parrasio. It also resembles the reflecting pool in the middle of the Orangery at Versailles. There is a Versailles-like vista of manicured lawn visible from the house, though Farrand added trees and French Stairs to set her design apart.

Paths take visitors through many gardens including: children’s garden, fountain terrace, box terrace, rose garden, pebble garden, beech terrace, woodland, orangery, etc. (www.bloomingatdoaks.com).
Plan to visit the museum while you are there. The galleries contain a memorable collection of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art plus European masterpieces, as well as rotating special exhibits. The collections were started by Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss and have been continued by the current owner, Harvard University.
Every month there are free events such as architecture walks and art lectures. Check the website for details.

Dumbarton Oaks has no parking but there is public transportation (http://wmata.com/rider_tools/tripplanner/tripplanner_form_solo.cfm). We found street parking.
For other things to do while in D.C. check http://www.doingthedistrict.com/.


Unknown said…
Thank you so much for this post. I've explored the gardens of our capital a few times, but before today I've never heard of Dumbarton Oaks. Although reading your post made me feel as though I was walking through the garden myself, you've inspired me to check this place out on my next visit. Thanks again!
Molly Day said…
You won't be disappointed, Amanda.
Go to that site with the dates of blooms and find the time that your favorites are flowring.

Then, don't miss the museum. It's a remarkable treasure.

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