In 1920, after a long and careful search, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss found their ideal country house and garden within Washington, DC. They purchased a fifty-three-acre property, described as
an old-fashioned house standing in rather neglected grounds, at the highest point of Georgetown. Within a year the Blisses hired landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand to design the gardens. Working in happy and close collaboration for almost thirty years, Mildred Bliss and Beatrix Farrand planned every garden detail, each terrace, bench, urn, and border.
Since that time, other architects working with Mildred Bliss, most notably Ruth Havey and Alden Hopkins, changed certain elements of the Farrand design. The gardens have also changed in function. In 1940, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss gave the upper sixteen acres to Harvard University to establish a research institute for Byzantine studies, Pre-Columbian studies, and studies in the history of gardens and landscape architecture. They gave the lower, more naturalistic twenty-seven acres to the United States government to be made into a public park. An additional ten acres was sold to build the Danish Embassy.
In 1941, anticipating the inevitable changes that would accompany the gardens' different function, Farrand began to write a Plant Book, to define her design intentions and suggest appropriate maintenance practices. Her suggestions for stewardship still prove useful today, more than sixty years later.