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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 Orangery was originally built by Robert Beverly between 1810 and 1812 as a detached structure from the main house. It is likely that Beverly modeled his design after the Orangery at Wye House in Maryland, which was owned by his brother-in-law Edward Lloyd, a wealthy plantation and slave owner.

The building wasn’t connected to the house until the 1860s, when Edward Linthicum incorporated the Orangery via a long hallway. In addition to connecting the two structures, Linthicum planted a trailing fig or Ficus pumila in the Orangery, which is still growing today. The fig’s vines cast the room in a green canopy, and its leaves cascade down the windows, open in the summer, gently enclosing the space in foliage. 

When the Blisses purchased Dumbarton Oaks, they first worked with architect Frederick Brookes, who submitted his plans for the neo-Georgian house (including a total renovation of the Orangery), before being dismissed in 1924 when the Blisses hired McKim, Meade & White to take over the project. Beatrix Farrand worked closely with architects at the firm to renovate the Orangery to its Palladian ideal, which was ultimately finished two years later, in 1926. 

The Orangery offered a shady retreat perfect for entertaining visitors of the Blisses. With the transition to Harvard in 1940, the Orangery was slated for similar use, but pivoted to become a storage space and an orchid house during the Second World War. John Patterson, a consulting landscape architect for Dumbarton Oaks after Farrand’s departure, saw in the Orangery an opportunity to house a new Garden Center, but his idea would never fully come to fruition. In the early 1960s, the Orangery was rewired for electricity and heat, and it was used to house plants during the colder months. 

In 2009, landscape artist Charles Simonds installed his piece Mental Earth, suspended from beams in the Orangery as part of his work Landscape Body Dwelling at Dumbarton Oaks. Today, the Orangery is used as a second greenhouse in the winter for plants, like gardenia, that need its warmth retention. The room receives visitors in much the same way as during the Bliss era, in addition to being used for Dumbarton Oaks staff events as well as scholarly symposia and dinners for visiting speakers. Tables and chairs offer a comfortable rest, and the back doors open onto the Green Garden and the sloping terraces of Beatrix Farrand’s design.

 

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