The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Dumbarton Oaks in April

Bridge in Dumbarton Oaks Park

Stairway to Main Garden and Forsythia Dell in Dumbarton Oaks Park

Main Entrance to House at Dumbarton Oaks

Ancient Katsura Tree, Cercidiphyllum japonicum, on the East Lawn

Magnificent American Beech Tree, Fagus grandifolia, on the Beech Terrace

Fountain Terrace in Bloom

The Plum Walk: Prunus x blireana, underplanted with epimediums

Tulips in the Double Herbaceous Borders

Steps Exiting the Herbaceous Borders to the Orchard

My wife, Betsy (a third grade teacher), and I visited Washington, DC this past weekend during the spring break. It was wonderful to experience the warm weather a few weeks early. I was surprised to see some of the daffodils and all the tulips in bloom. NH must be ahead and DC behind schedule this year.

We walked up Massachusetts Avenue to visit Dumbarton Oaks, Beatrix Farrand's (1872- 1959) masterpiece in Georgetown. We got lost for a moment and found ourselves going down a wooded pathway near the British Embassy. As it turned out, we were in Dumbarton Oaks Park, a 27 acre parcel that the owners, Robert and Mildred Bliss, donated to the US government to be managed by the National Park Service in 1940.

Farrand worked closely with Mrs. Bliss from 1921 to 1947 to create a garden of great beauty that, like a fine wine, only improved with age. It has informal sections that are naturalized landscapes of streams, woodlands and meadows. It also has very formal terraced rooms, each with an individual character. She designed the rooms to be connected by a series of paths, many with focal points and axes.

One of the most remarkable components of Dumbarton Oaks are the trees. Many of the trees are nearly a century old and are truly majestic. It makes me have a much greater appreciation for heritage trees thoughtfully planted and placed so they can be displayed to their best advantage when they come into maturity dozens of years in the future.


  1. Those trees are truly remarkable - thanks for the pictures. There aren't many things that can match the beauty of a mature tree in the right setting.

  2. Thanks very much for your comment. I agree. Not sure why it doesn't happen more often.

  3. Many thanks for this excellent coverage of Dumbarton Oaks. Never been - its quite a long way!- but I have always admired her sense of line especially.
    Like you I marvel at the planting done a long time ago - the confidence to plant trees at what must have seemed ludicrous distances apart initially in the sure and certain knowledge that time would tell and they would look just fine. The avenues in Westonbirt Arboretum in this country come to mind.
    Thanks again foir taking me round Dumbarton oaks - I may never get to go after all!

  4. Robert,
    Glad you liked the post. I think her confidence in the design of the garden: the size of the garden rooms, location of the paths and their relationship to the house also stand the test of time.



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