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Dumbarton Oaks

Listed under Gardens in Washington D.C., United States.

  • Photo of Dumbarton Oaks
  • Photo of Dumbarton Oaks
Photo of Dumbarton Oaks
Photo by flickr user john w
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Dumbarton Oaks is a garden with Italian-style formality, and that design element is a perfect foil for billowing perennials, climbing roses and abundant plantings.

Beatrix Farrand, the only female founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects, designed Dumbarton Oaks for Robert and Mildred Bliss beginning in 1920. Farrand changed the hillside farmland into gardens on different levels and planted abundantly. From the rose garden you can look down into the fountain terrace. In the Ellipse, a neatly clipped circle of American hornbeams (Carpinus americana) perfectly frame an antique fountain.

Along the walls within the gardens are large carved stone benches that invite you to linger. The design elements of stone and straight lines become softer as you travel away from the house and buildings — drifts of spring bulbs bloom along woodland walks, a mass of forsythia lightens up late winter.

Farrand was highly influenced by well-known British designer Gertrude Jekyll, and it was from Jekyll that Farrand learned to use color and plants to such affect. Farrand admired Jekyll so much that she called herself, as Jekyll did, a “landscape gardener.” Upon Jekyll’s death in 1932, Farrand acquired her papers, and upon her own death, those along with her own papers were donated to the University of California Berkeley.

Dumbarton Oaks is a garden of all seasons, for even in the dead of winter the strong hand of Farrand can be seen.

Written by  Marty Wingate.

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