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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.

Farrand began working on the design of the Rose Garden in close consultation with Mildred Bliss in 1925. Informed by classical Italian and eighteenth-century British themes, the beds are arranged axially from a center boxwood that stands over fifteen feet tall. Farrand originally decided against pink and red roses, reserving them for the cutting gardens, and instead opted for a unique palette of yellow, orange, salmon, and cream. The planting scheme of the beds, lined with low boxwood borders, creates a color wash that undulates across the Rose Garden in waves. Dotting the beds are small bushes that create points of green in the colorful tapestry. The boxwood borders were replaced by bluestone curbs in 1960. In 1997, the garden staff renovated the Rose Garden, removing all the old and struggling plants, installing new irrigation and soil, and replanting nearly nine hundred rosebushes in close accordance with Farrand’s original design.   

The Rose Garden was one of the Blisses’ favorite spots at Dumbarton Oaks. In 1932, the Blisses placed a Doria bench on the eastern side of the space, looking down on the Arbor Terrace. Inscribed on the back is their family motto “Quod Severis Metes,” which translates to, “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” a fitting sentiment for the center of their gardens. Another Doria bench was placed on the opposite wall under a lead baldacchino. Robert Bliss died in 1962, and when Mildred passed away in 1969, their ashes were placed in a crypt behind the Finalities Plaque above the bench on the western wall. This final resting place in the Rose Garden gives the Blisses an eternal presence in their favorite garden room.

Garden Superintendent Matthew Kearney in the Rose Garden, ca. early 1950s


Exhibit Items

Oral History Interview with Holly Shimizu

Oral History Interview with Holly Shimizu, undertaken by Anna Bonnell-Freidin, Clem Wood, and Joe Mills in the Dumbarton Oaks Guest House (Fellows Building) on August 7, 2008. At Dumbarton Oaks, Holly Shimizu was involved with the restoration of the Rose Garden in the 1990s.