January 10, 2012

Places: Dumbarton Oaks, Washington D.C.

Dumbarton Oaks is a sprawling, elegant, quiet, and peaceful garden, smack dab in the Middle of Washington, D.C.  Part of the historic Dumbarton Estate, the grounds were designed and built by Mildred Bliss and her friend and landscaper, Beatrix Ferrand. Now the House and grounds are owned and maintained by Harvard University, and anyone can visit (during their somewhat odd hours).

Curry, Boy Wonder, their son Teddy and I went over Thanksgiving weekend, and wandered for several hours through the estate, marveling at the variety of landscapes (meadow, stone gardens, courtyards, lawns, fountains, working kitchen gardens, etc. etc. etc.) and geography (it is built on the western, and somewhat steep side of Rock Creek).  We pretended to be the family of the house, quoting Emma ("People with extensive grounds are always pleased to meet other people with extensive grounds") and deciphering the Latin, French, and Italian inscriptions throughout the garden.

I typically would not recommend visiting a garden like this in the fall or winter. But Dumbarton, I think, really shines in the fall, when all the flowers have been trimmed back. Now you can see the careful planning of the architecture of the garden--how this lawn enjoys sunlight on even the shortest of days, and how that courtyard hides the kitchen garden from the view of the parlor. There is really so much to see, it's worth visiting several times a year, to discover which season really is best.

Let me know when you go. I'd love to visit once more, too.

Dumbarton Oaks
31st and R Sts. NW
Open 2-6pm Tues-Sun
Free from Nov. 1 to March 14, $8 from March 15 to Oct. 31
The Gardens at Dumbarton Oaks are not stroller or wheelchair accessible.

(Photos by Margaret Perry)

UPDATE: By the way, the nest sculptures (second to last photo, below), called "Easy Rider," were done by North Carolina artist Patrick Dougherty, and they will not be in place permanently, so stop by to see them before they are dismantled.


  1. Have you visited the Byzantine Collection at Dumbarton Oaks?

  2. not yet, but it's on my list.

  3. Karie8:28 PM

    This looks delightful-- let's go while it's still free!