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Hydrology and the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens

Posted On January 30, 2015 | 13:20 pm | by jamesc | Permalink
James N. Carder (February 2015)


Pebble Garden Fountain.

Hydrology is a critical component of the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens. Water needs to circulate through thirteen fountains and pools, as well as the swimming pool and changing room showers; water should cover the pebble mosaics in the Pebble Garden but does not because of cracks in the foundation; and water is needed to irrigate the gardens in periods of drought. Over time, the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens’ hydrology system, most of which dates to the 1920s, has become compromised and has required numerous repairs. Underground pipes were broken, pools leaked, and drainage tiles collapsed. Presently, minimal rainwater is able to be captured and reused, and only a small fraction of the fountains and pools can recirculate their continuous supply of domestic water.

To deal with these issues, Dumbarton Oaks has embarked on a project to document and assess the existing garden hydrology systems in order to design and propose improved systems. These improvements will allow for the recirculation of water in the fountains and pools, the capture—when possible—of rainwater for reuse, and the better management of storm water. The project will also address the broken underground water supply lines, irrigation water boxes, and storm water lines. Now in the documentation phase, the project draws on the large collection of surveys, plans, and drawings that are found in the Garden Archives of the library’s Rare Book Collection and in the Dumbarton Oaks Archives. Among these resources, for example, is a 2001 Wiles Mensch Corporation utility master plan that describes the history and conditions of the gardens' utilities. This master plan includes seventeen detailed drawings of the gardens’ existing utility systems as well as aerial photographs of the gardens. A comprehensive listing of all known Dumbarton Oaks Gardens surveys, plans, and drawings has also been compiled by those working on the Garden Archives digital publication project, an invaluable finding aid for quickly locating pertinent archived resources.

The complexity of upgrading and improving the hydrology systems is daunting. Vehicular access is difficult at best and, in many cases, impossible. The gardens’ hardscape elements and the lawns, flower beds, shrubs, and trees are fragile and easily susceptible to damage. Fortunately, the rich archival resources that detail underground gas lines, telecommunication conduits, and electrical power lines, as well as water supply and sewer lines, will make the endeavor of documenting the garden hydrology systems both easier and potentially less damaging to the garden infrastructure.

Wiles Mensch Corporation, Dumbarton Oaks Utility Master Plan, Drainage Study Overeall. Dumbarton Oaks Archives, AR.AP.GG.SP.36.017
Wiles Mensch Corporation, Dumbarton Oaks Utility Master Plan, Drainage Study Overall. Archives, AR.AP.GG.Sp.36.017, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.