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Herbaceous Border

The Herbaceous Border is one of the most elegantly colorful rooms at Dumbarton Oaks. Planted in the style of an English border as described by Gertrude Jekyll in Garden Ornament, the beds are framed by a green yew hedge, providing a simple background against which the cool palette of lavenders, pinks, and light blues plays out. In recent years, the garden staff has focused on increasing the number of perennials while reducing the number of annuals so as to make the room a “three-season” garden, with different blooms throughout the year.

The plantings in the Herbaceous Border include two yews installed by Beatrix Farrand in 1929. Standing at the east and west end of the border, they were named Mr. and Mrs. Yew (Mr. Yew lies at the eastern end while Mrs. Yew is in the west). Between the yews on the slope, the Herbaceous Border provides an aisle of mown grass bounded by the vibrant colors of the planting beds. The four Elizabethan benches surrounding Mr. Yew, each hiding in its own corner of hedge, appear as though the space was designed around them, rather than the other way round—an excellent example of Farrand’s comprehensive design approach to the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens.

In winter, the parallel 100-foot-long beds lie largely dormant with over 3,500 tulip bulbs in the cool soil. With violas planted in an undulating pattern around existing plantings that have been cut back, the spring brings a multihued bloom with plantings of differing height and magnitude. The pathway bisecting the border forms an intersection providing access up to Fountain Terrace with a “hotter” palette of flower colors, and down Plum Walk between the Kitchen Gardens and Cutting Garden, as well to both focal points of the room, Mr. and Mrs. Yew.

 

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