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A Virtual Walk through the Gardens

The digital exhibitions of each garden room, released on a monthly schedule, include design timelines, object and archival highlights, as well as new narratives of the place so many of us know so well. The exhibitions follow a progression through the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, suggesting a walking tour of the garden rooms.

The South Lawn

In Farrand’s first known letter to Mildred Bliss written in June 1922, she describes the importance of the South Lawn as a front facing element that would frame a visitor’s experience of the rest of the estate. “The whole feeling of the entrance front of the house should be one to be gained through easy flowing lines, dark masses of foliage, considered quite as much from the point of view of winter effect as summer space and quietness.”

The North Vista

Providing a lofty vantage point at the top of the gardens, the North Vista solidifies the stately presence of the house itself and then looks out to the woodland landscape, a quintessential American view. Farrand designed the garden room drawing on the human experience of perspective, with walls that narrow and terrace downward (ever so slightly) in three parts giving the illusion of a much longer expanse of land shooting out into the distant greenery.

The Orangery

The Orangery serves as a portal into the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens. The oldest building on the grounds of the estate, the room welcomes visitors into the world of Farrand’s designs lying just beyond its doors. Its significant placement was not lost on Beatrix Farrand, who in her “Plant Book for Dumbarton Oaks” described the view from the Orangery looking south to be “one of the real horticultural events of the Dumbarton season.”

The Green Garden

Stepping through the doors of the Orangery, one is delighted by the sight of a majestic southern red oak tree. Fittingly placed as a testament to the namesake for Dumbarton Oaks, the tree canopies the Green Garden: the highest overlook on the property. The directional pull of the room is toward an outlook where a sloping view of the garden terraces as they descend the slope, as well as the Adams Morgan neighborhood beyond. The dichotomy between urban neighborhood and designed wilderness provides a sense of the “country house in the city” aesthetic so desired by the Blisses.

The Rose Garden

With the sloping topographical landscape of the Dumbarton Oaks estate and the terracing of the gardens, one is hard-pressed to find a center to the gardens’ design. If there is any garden room that could serve as such, it is the Rose Garden. Beatrix Farrand designed the Rose Garden, the flattest and largest formally designed garden room, to be a commanding presence. The room was of particular significance to Robert and Mildred Bliss, and it is where their ashes were interred—behind the Finalities Plaque.