The Dumbarton Oaks Gardens were designed by the noted landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand after it was purchased in 1920. The estate at that time consisted of an old-fashioned house standing in rather neglected grounds, with varied grades and steep slopes and numerous farm buildings. It required great vision to see that an enchanting landscape could be created in place of old barnyards and cow paths.

Mildred Bliss wanted to create a garden in America that would incorporate elements of the traditional French, English, and Italian gardens she admired and that would still be distinctively original. Three principles governed the overall plan. First, there is a progressive informality in the design, materials, and plantings as the gardens recede down the slopes to the north and east. Second, plants were chosen for their beauty and interest in winter, as well as during the spring and summer. Third, it was felt that a garden should provide spaces for living. Enclosed areas, or garden rooms, were therefore created that would be suitable for family use or for entertaining. In addition to a swimming pool and tennis court (which was replaced in the early 1960s by the Pebble Garden), there is an open air theater, a feature of many great seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European gardens.

The original property covered 53 acres. In 1940, the Blisses conveyed 16 acres of the property and buildings to Harvard University to establish the Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. At the same time, 27 acres were given to the National Park Service, most of which form Dumbarton Oaks Park (bordering the gardens on the north), and 10 acres were sold to the Danish government for their embassy complex.

The formal gardens occupy 10 acres. The major work was completed between 1921 and 1941, although changes, notably the addition of the Pebble Garden and redesign of the Ellipse, continued to be made by Mrs. Bliss, working with Ruth Havey. Endowments were established expressly for the purpose of maintaining the gardens and for supporting a program of research in landscape architecture. A full-time crew of a dozen gardeners maintain the grounds.

Dumbarton Oaks
1703 32nd Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20007
 202-339-6401

It has been a long time since our visit to this garden back in the day of slide film. The pictures have been misplaced but the memories say that this is a garden well worth visiting along with the National Arboretum in Washington D.C.

Copyright 2000 -