About the Herbaceous Border

Drawings Historic Photographs

The Herbaceous Border is a traditional horticultural display garden in the Arts and Crafts style with a North American twist to fit the climate and the preferences of both designer and client. Located between the Orchard and Kitchen Gardens, the garden room features a long turf walkway stretching east to west, lined with parallel 100-foot long seasonal flower beds and thick green hedges. Tall, solitary Irish yews mark the ends of the Herbaceous Border. In many ways, the plantings remains unchanged from Beatrix Farrand’s original design as it was created in 1928-29.

Farrand intended the Herbaceous Border to be a lush floral space, providing a color counterpoint to the rich beds of the Fountain Terrace. Where the Fountain Terrace was planted to warm reds and oranges, the Herbaceous Border featured blooms in cool shades of pink, lavender, and pale blue. Farrand chose the plantings not only for color, but also for peak bloom times that fell in spring and fall. This coincided with the Bliss’s occupancy of the house, and maximized the beauty of the gardens when they could appreciate it most.

The inclusion of the Irish yews at the east and west injected a bit of playfulness into the garden room. The yews were christened Mrs. Yew (west) and Mr. Yew (east), and they whimsically represented the Blisses. The tall green markers echoed the yew hedges and bookended the garden room with enclosed seating areas, including the four Elizabethan benches Farrand designed in 1934.

By the 1940s, the yew hedge proved a headache to Beatrix Farrand. It was overgrown and hard to maintain, and she began plans to replace it with stone walls. The proposed redesign coincided with the new stone walls being built on the North Vista in 1943-44. However, the yew hedge remained for some time, until it was finally replaced with new, low maintenance shrubs rather than hardscape.

After the 1950s and Beatrix Farrand’s departure, the greatest change to the Herbaceous Border was an expansion of the planting schedule to accommodate Dumbarton Oaks’ year-round visitors. The Herbaceous Border now features tulips and pansies in the spring, perennials in the summer, and mums and asters in the autumn.

Herbaceous Border, view looking east (2) Black and white photograph of the Herbaceous Border, view looking east with yew at end in the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, Washington, D.C.