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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.

ABF: We are Anna Bonnell-Freidin and Clem Wood, and we are here at Dumbarton Oaks in the Guest House on August 7, 2008, and we’re here with Holly Shimizu, who was involved in the Rose Garden restoration. So, Holly, how did it come about that you became involved in the Rose Garden restoration in 1996?

HS: Well, I had been responsible for a rose garden when I worked at the National Arboretum, and then also when I went to the U.S. Botanic Garden, which I did in 1988, we created a rose garden. So, I had learned a lot about roses. And Brian, who was the landscape architect who worked on the Rose Garden, knew me, and so he asked if I would be willing to work on it, and particularly the horticultural aspects of it. And so I was actually in the middle of changing jobs – I was going to be moving to Richmond – and so I had some time off, and I thought, “Well, that will be a fun project to work on.” So, I said yes, I’d like to work on it. But it took a lot longer than I thought, much longer, and it was a lot more involved, which was fine. It was a lot of fun, but it was really, really time-consuming.

ABF: So, how much time did you end up spending on it?

HS: Well, I had to work full-time for two solid weeks on it, to try to get rose replacements that would be similar to the roses that were in the original plan, and then also to learn about Beatrix Farrand’s dreams for the Garden: What was her taste? What was the look that she wanted? And then to try to find either that plant or a counterpart so it would have the right look that she would have wanted. And it was like a puzzle, really, quite honestly. And the other part of it, which was really interesting, was coming up with the right soil mix. There was a gardener here then named Peggy who helped us with the soil: finding the exact mix, finding the ingredients, blending it. And the scariest part of it was that in order for the Rose Garden to really do well, we knew we had to improve the drainage, and so we actually had to drill a hole in one of the walls. And that’s so scary, because, as you know, with the historic walls, you’ve got to preserve, and drilling through it was scary. So, we did that, and it did all work out, but it turned into a – you know, it was just bigger. I think that’s very often the case when you embark on something.

CW: How did you do the research to figure out what Beatrix Farrand’s original plan was, and did she have a plan for the varieties of roses that you would use and you had to choose new varieties that would – ?

HS: Well, I had to do a couple of things. I did have her original plan, a copy of it, and I used that, and she was very much interested in the colors, and I remember she said that she thought mauve was a “vulgar” color, and so I stayed away from any of the mauve-colored roses. And I also tried to track down her favorite roses. I was involved a bit in the rose world, so I did a lot of calling – we didn’t use e-mail as much then; it would be easier to do it today, but you know then I had to call and look in catalogues and, you know, track down – and that was one thing that was so much fun about it was actually finding a few people around the country that might have had that old rose or antique rose, that antique variety. I was very happy when I found those and then found a source for them so that Dumbarton Oaks could purchase the plants and they would be of size to put in the Garden. And then the other thing that was kind of hard too was, okay, to find out what did the original rose look like that she had on the list, and if it was no longer available, and then I would have to figure out a new rose that would have that same look, and that definitely required some research. I mean, I know roses, but there’re so many hundreds of thousands of them that you can’t possibly know them all, and also how are they going to do here? We wanted to get varieties that would do well, not get too much disease or insect problems, not get too tall, you know, have all the right qualities that she would have liked.

CW: Right.

HS: We very much wanted it to reflect her wishes. And so that’s why I read her text. Everything I could get my hands on, I read, and just to understand what her goals were. And that’s what we wanted to achieve.

ABF: So, would you say that that was the guiding mission?

HS: Yes, the guiding mission was to have a rose garden she would have been happy with. And she wouldn’t have minded the new roses, because at her time she was trying to use the best roses for their performance. But I didn’t want to have a rose that smacked of newness. I remember trying to find a rose, and there was just a very modern-looking rose, and I really didn’t want that modern look, because she would not have had that. So I wanted it to be fairly true in that sense, to feel right.

CW: How did you and Brian divide the work?

HS: The way that Brian and I divided the work was that he was the landscape architect on the project and I was the horticulturalist on the project. And so he specifically asked me to come in to help formulate the soil and study the roses – what was there and what should be put back in – and those were the major two jobs that I worked on, and I also worked with the gardener, to involve her. So, those were my major areas of responsibility. But I also had a dialogue with him on what the Garden would look like or how it should look. We would go back and forth on that quite a bit, because that was good for both of us, to kind of achieve that understanding. So, we had to take all the soil out, and bring in all new soil, because we had found that after the Rose Garden had been emptied of all the plants and everything, that the soil was dead. And the soil had no life in it at all, and I think that’s from – you know, roses are heavy feeders; they do take a lot of nutrients out of the soil, but also there’re a lot of residual pesticides. Pesticides used to be used on a regular basis in rose gardens, and they would be in the soil and just stay there, and that would prevent a lot of the growth that should be going on in the soil but was not going on. And so there was just no nutrition. So, that’s why we really wanted to start over. The soil just didn’t have good tilth to it. So, that was a shock; that was really a shock to us. So, now I’m sure that it’s a much healthier rose garden.

CW: Probably largely because it was all redone.

HS: Well, that too, yeah, but also because I’m sure Gail’s taking good care of it. She understands, and no one uses the same amount or degree of chemicals that were once used.

CW: Right.

HS: So, I thought a lot about fragrance too, when I was finding the roses. It was not just the way they looked, but it was also the way they smelled. That was very important.

ABF: Were there any things that you decided to change about the Garden, major things?

HS: No, we didn’t want to make any major changes. We kept the walkways the same, and we kept the look that she had envisioned, and so the major changes were the soil improvement and then the plant varieties and then the drainage, with the overall goal of making it beautiful and making it reflective. And I think it worked. Do you think it did?

ABF: I love it. Clearly the Blisses did too; they wanted to be interred there.

HS: Oh, they did?

ABF: It was their favorite spot, I think, in the Garden.

HS: Okay, yeah. So, that’s where fragrance is very powerful too. And the walls are so beautiful. So, we very carefully picked out climbers, you know, that would match the descriptions of what she liked, and some repetition, but not too much, and getting the roses placed so that they were close enough together to give the look we wanted, but at the same time far enough apart to get good air circulation, because that’s very important to keeping them healthy and keeping them moving. And one of the things that I argued with Brian about was to try to get him to introduce some other plants in the Rose Garden, like catmint and a few other things that really look good with roses, but he would not budge, because he really insisted that we stick with the original concept.

ABF: The gardeners seem to have switched from planting boxwood there originally, and then there was candytuft –

HS: That’s right.

ABF: And then the candytuft was taken away.

HS: Yes. Yes, and Brian did not want those in there. There are the boxwoods, which are kind of the architectural anchors of planting in the winter, when the roses aren’t in bloom, but he did not want to introduce things on the borders or in between or under the roses. So, I caved; that was fine, because that was more of the area he had been asked to lead.

CW: And what would the purpose of these – would you call those companion plantings? – have been?
HS: Yes, companion plantings – primarily for added interest in the Garden and season extension and just another layer. It’s more of a personal taste thing, and he didn’t care for that concept, and that was just something that I had always done when I was growing roses, and still do. And I don’t think that Beatrix Farrand would have done it, so in that sense it was better not to.

ABF: Is that a more old-fashioned way to go about planting a rose garden, to have it sort of pure?

HS: It is. It is more old-fashioned. Rose gardens in her day were all roses; it was all about roses. And today I think our approach to roses is to try not to grow them all together, because then there’s more opportunity for diseases to spread, like powdery mildew and black spot, which are the most serious diseases that roses get, and so by not planting them all together, you have less quick spreading of those things. So, you like to mix them up with other things, and you get added benefits. So, that’s kind of the newer concept. And, you know, now that we know we want to use less chemical pesticides, that’s one of the reasons as well: it’s just healthier.

CW: And did you choose standard roses?

HS: Oh, I did! That was a challenge. It was a challenge to find them, very much, and a challenge to get them to be just right for the architecture and the size. I didn’t want to get grafted ones, and so I would say that one of the hardest things was tracking these things down. I can remember I was on the phone all the time trying to find things, so it was hard.

CW: And did you choose those because they fit the Farrand plan the best?

HS: Yes, I did. That was usually the guiding light. You know, I was kind of nervous about, “Gosh, what’s it going to look like?” And so it was great when Gail said, you know, “It looks great,” and I came, and it did look nice. So, I was relieved that no one felt that it wasn’t in sync with the vision. I didn’t want to have any clashing colors. The colors that Farrand liked tended to be kind of – she liked gold, yellows, soft yellows, and soft apricots, and whites, and pale pinks. She didn’t seem to like really strong colors. That was not her style. And I mean in a few places we used some strong colors, but they were not dominant. And a lot of people really go for that, like really intense bright orange and intense red. Those were not her styles. So, I think generally it’s more a gentle color.

CW: Were you very aware of the reputation and history of Dumbarton Oaks’ Garden when you came to work on this?

HS: Yes, oh yes. Oh, very much. I was really honored to be asked to work on this, because I consider this one of the best landscaped gardens in North America, and I just was really honored to work on it, because I treasure the design and the quality and the opportunity to work on it. I mean, it’s just an amazing garden. It really is. So I felt lucky.

ABF: What was it like to kind of go through and try to figure out exactly what Farrand would have wanted?

HS: What was it like?

ABF: Yeah, yeah.

HS: Well, that was, you know – digging. It was a lot of kind of digging, and Brian helped with that. He gave me all the research that he had done, and so that was very helpful to me. So, I spent a lot of time reading and studying her plans, reading her notes, understanding her. I had known a lot about Dumbarton Oaks and the history and the Blisses and all of that, but I had never been so absolutely focused on the Rose Garden, so that gave me a real area of specialty to just really delve as deep as I could possibly delve into everything about the Rose Garden that I could find, and so that took time, because I had to come into the library and check more things and really, really dig into it. And it was a lot of fun. I loved being able to read her original notes. I mean, it was just a lot of fun, because she’s so famous and she was just so talented. And even if I didn’t agree with her, that didn’t matter, because I tried to reflect her. So, that was fun.

ABF: So, did you end up looking at any correspondence between her and Mrs. Bliss?

HS: Yes, oh yes. I did look at a lot of the correspondence between Mrs. Bliss and Mrs. Farrand, and you know, that’s a very important point, that it wasn’t just Beatrix Farrand’s dream, it was Mrs. Bliss’ dream too, and that it was the merging of the two, and that that was what really did need to be reflected, right? And I did read a lot of correspondence and I got a flair – I got a sense of their combined vision by reading a lot of that – and notes. Like there were things on the plan with little notes and a lot of things crossed out and changed, and so I loved reading those.

ABF: So, how would you describe their relationship as you came to understand it through reading these letters?

HS: They seemed to really thrive on each other. That was my sense: that they were a really good team, because they seemed to have mutual respect, and I think Beatrix Farrand understood what Mrs. Bliss wanted. And Mrs. Bliss, I think, trusted Beatrix Farrand enough that she almost let her have free rein. Do you think that’s true?

CW: You would know better than we.

HS: Ah! That’s one of my recollections. It seemed like a very good relationship and a very, you know, productive and successful one. I didn’t sense anything negative. It was more like this was a fun partnership in making this garden.

ABF: I think also at certain times Mrs. Bliss may have entertained the possibility of working with other landscape architects but that she always went back to Beatrix Farrand – that they were kind of meant for each other.

HS: Okay, yeah. Because I didn’t look at it over the whole course of their relationship. As I said, I was only focused on the particular rose part of it, just to accomplish the task.

ABF: So, were you looking at the plans of any other rose gardens in the process, gardens that might have influenced Farrand when she was designing this garden?

HS: Yes, I did research other rose gardens and other gardens that she had designed. She designed the rose garden at the New York Botanical Garden, and they put in her garden again, and I was surprised that they – I know that they used her original plans, and it was all roses. And I looked at the time period and what were the styles and what were the interests at the time and what other rose gardens would have looked like and what the trends were, even the fashions. Because they were affecting all the kinds of styles that gardeners wanted. So, I did look at that around the country. I also tried to visit some of the other gardens that she had designed. So, whenever I could – I went to Maine and saw some of the gardens she designed up there, and so it all kind of helped to enlighten me a little bit more about her.

ABF: Would you say that she was a fashionable designer?

HS: Hm. I’m not sure if “fashionable” is the right word, but perhaps it is, yeah. For wealthy people in America at that time period, she was, I think. But I don’t think that she would be guided by fashion. She was a popular designer, but I think she really loved plants and she loved garden design and she really understood it in a way that is really recognized today. And in her time period, you know, she was probably one of many, but I think her legacy lasts because her work is so good. And this is its living proof. Most gardens fade away, and that’s part of what makes this garden such a treasure, is that it is reflective of her work, and it’s loved and cared for with her in mind. I don’t think it’s called a period garden; that’s not the goal, really, but it’s respectful of her: not to make huge changes, and think about, “Well, what would she have wanted?” I think that’s the right way to do it. The other part of it that I think is so interesting is this garden is very, very beautiful in winter, and there are very few gardens in this climate, in this zone, that are very attractive in winter. And so I think she had the involvement in a lot of the details that make it a year-round garden: the urns and the walls and the architectural features. And basically – you know, the architecture and the layout of the different rooms. And also how she dealt with the terraces, the land, the sloping land. It’s masterful. So, yeah, there are just not many of her works left, are there?

CW: The New York Botanical Garden is the only one I’m familiar with. That’s a very different type, obviously.

HS: Yeah, yeah, and it’s huge. And I believe it is all roses. And I don’t know how it’s doing. I think this one’s much more beautiful. I think it’s more intimate: it’s just a romantic garden, which I think rose gardens should be. You can, you know, look at it from any angle, and it’s beautiful. And it’s, I don’t know – it’s just sort of the essence of a rose garden, I think: every little detail of it is attractive, I think. You know, that’s what I like about it. I love the fact that it’s walled. I think that makes it really more intimate. And I like the grass walkways too. You know, there’s grass and there’s stone; it’s just a good combination.

ABF: How do you conceptualize it as fitting in with all the other rooms?

HS: Aha. Hm. The Rose Garden is almost the heart of the Garden, almost the nucleus of the Garden. Maybe I only think that because I worked on it. But I think it is one of the favored spots, and I think that could be because it’s kind of an inward garden, because it’s walled, and it’s a secret garden a little bit, because it’s walled. But it does, you know – see, when you walk in, you just kind of get, “Mmm-ah!” You get that wonderful sense of arrival and fragrance and sort of this overwhelming beauty of roses. I think it hits you. And I’m sure that’s kind of what they wanted, with the effect of the roses. And I think it works. And I’m certain that – you know, they cut roses from the Garden as well, and I know that was also a factor: how beautiful is the bud, how well does it hold up and how well does it cut. But it wasn’t just that: it was about having them in the Garden and their beauty in the Garden as well. I think it links really well to the other gardens around it. And it links well to the stairway that leads down into it. I mean, it’s perfectly placed, I would say.

CW: Where would those cut roses go? Were they gifts for people?

HS: I think they would be for the house.

CW: For the house.

HS: Yeah, yeah. As I say, it wasn’t a cutting garden, which were also popular then, but I know that they would cut them back. Because roses really – you just have to cut all the flowers off, whether they’re new or old, in order to keep the plants blooming. And she was careful to use plenty of re-blooming roses. There are lots of European roses that only bloom in the spring, and it was very important for me to find roses that would bloom spring, summer, and fall. And we tried to put a lot of emphasis on that as well.

CW: Were you living here during this time?

HS: No, no. I live near here, so it was very convenient to come and go. I met a lot with Brian and Peggy and the head gardener – they didn’t have a head gardener at the time, if I recall. I know Don wasn’t here; I don’t think – Gail came toward the end, I believe. Do you remember?

CW: She started, I think, that year. 1996 was when she started as superintendent.

HS: That’s right. So, I think she came and was involved in the replanting of it. So, at that time one of the assistants was filling in, and roses were not really his thing. And I can’t remember his name, but – so it unnerved me a little, because I had free reign, pretty much, with Brian, but it made me have a greater sense of responsibility. And Peggy was the gardener and she knew a little bit about roses, so she could be helpful.

JM: Can I ask you a question?

HS: Yes.

JM: Do you know much about the circumstances under which the Rose Garden had to be replaced?

HS: Well, I don’t know what really happened; I was told about a rumor – I heard a rumor that someone had sprayed the Garden with Roundup, either by accident or on purpose – no one knew. And Roundup, being an herbicide, it killed all the roses. I have no way of knowing if that’s true or not.

JM: It’s true. It was by accident.

HS: Oh, okay. I see.

JM: Can you tell me, though – that was a well-established rose garden prior to that, and did you research its former state and then deal with all you had to do in replacing it?

HS: Well, frankly, the Rose Garden, before that happened with the Roundup, didn’t look good. It wasn’t healthy. And that became obvious when we studied the soil. We had soil tests done, very extensive soil tests, and truly the soil did not have any life in it. So, that’s –

JM: It didn’t look healthy, but that was still the design of the Garden in some sense and the type of rose that was chosen in its replacement, and I was wondering, what was the need to choose differently than what was there already before? One would already know the types of roses that were there, even though they weren’t growing well.

HS: Well, actually, there’re many reasons for that. One is that the roses had been changed a lot from what had been in the original plan. Okay, so we wanted to try to take it back to the original. And the second thing is that a lot of those are no longer available. You know, a lot of these roses that were popular faded out; you can’t track them down. And that was very challenging for me, to try to find them, in commerce, where we could buy them.

JM: You never did go into any personal gardens where you found somebody who had – ?

HS: Well, I would have liked to have done that, but that would not have met with the time frame, because we would have had to put them into production, and to get a plant that’s of size to put in the Rose Garden takes at least three years. And we tried to get roses on their own roots, because they tend to be better on their own roots as opposed to being grafted. And that was also an important part of it. And I really enjoyed most of all trying to track down these older varieties, because that’s one of the parts of roses I’m most interested in, is some of these antique varieties. The ones that are still good – I didn’t want to track it down just to track it down if it wasn’t a good plant, and so I had to call people and say, “How good is this? Is it going to be a performer?” You know, get feedback on them to make sure they were good choices.

JM: I was here to photograph the Roundup bottle next to the insecticide bottle.

HS: Oh, really?

JM: They were identical bottles.

HS: Oh, I didn’t know that.

JM: Right next to each other.

HS: Oh, okay. All right.

JM: Identical, with just some slight markings differentiating the insecticide and the Roundup.

HS: Oh, that’s a shame. But in a way it was good, because it forced a tough thing to happen, which – by the way, rose gardens need to be redone after a period of years, because, as I said, they’re really heavy feeders. They just take nutrients and take nutrients, so it’s known that you can’t just keep planting roses forever without building the soil. You’ve got to build the soil; the soil is so key for roses. They like a lot of micronutrients, and they must have a good rich soil. They don’t like to have a lot of root competition, they don’t like any shade, and we had to get the maximum growth and the maximum quality just to reflect the quality of Dumbarton Oaks. So, we really, really were very, very careful and thorough and thoughtful. Do you remember Brian? Brian Kate –

ABF: Brian Katen.

HS: Brian Katen, yeah. He’s down at, I think, Virginia Tech now. Are you interviewing him?

ABF: No. But we could.

JM: Brian was the former head of the Garden?

HS: Oh, he was a landscape architect. He was a consultant.

JM: Oh, he was a consultant.

HS: Yeah, yeah.

ABF: You were also working with a man named John Pond, were you not, who was doing the stonework, who was doing the masonry.

HS: I don’t remember him. I remember that when Don was here, there was a landscape architect that the Garden worked with – Meade. Does that name – ?

ABF: Yeah, I’ve seen that name.

HS: And I think he’s probably passed on. But he was at that time involved with a lot of gardens. I don’t know how Don felt about Beatrix Farrand and her plantings, do you? Did he try to follow them?

JM: We will know.

HS: When you talk to him. Okay, good, good.

JM: You thought about the Rose Garden as the heart of the Garden. When you think of where the Blisses decided to rest their bodies, it was in the Rose Garden, so I would think there’s some truth to that.

ABF: Well, it’s also the only flower garden that is focused on only one plant specifically, so in a way it’s the most pure garden in its composition.

HS: Do you think it was their favorite part of the Garden?

ABF: That’s what I – I think I read that today in that history I was looking at.

HS: Mhm.

CW: It’s what you imagine now from seeing the arches with their intertwined initials on the entrances to the Garden and then the crypt.

HS: Yeah. I remember Don Smith, when we did the “Victory Garden” television show, talking about working with Mrs. Bliss. Also he mentioned that she had Schipperkes – cute little dogs – which I also have, and he’ll have a lot of good stories to tell. So, I would suspect he wanted to carry on Mrs. Bliss’ dream in the way he cared for the Garden.

ABF: He seemed to feel very strongly for her from that oral history that we were telling you about, that we read.

HS: I don’t know. He didn’t work with Mrs. Farrand, though, did he?

ABF: I’m not sure; I’m not sure. But my guess is he was here for so long that he must have known her.

HS: Mhm.

ABF: Since he was in the Garden.

HS: He must have. But maybe he didn’t interact with her, because he was probably just a gardener at that point, not the head of the Garden. Yeah, yeah.

ABF: So, can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with Don Smith and the experience of working with him?

HS: Oh yes, yes. Well I moved to Washington, D.C., in 1979, and Don Smith was a big figure in the Washington horticultural scene. You know, there was a network of people who were in the scene of working at gardens, public gardens, and I went to a meeting and he was there. He’s very loveable, a big teddy bear, and very friendly and nice, and I came to visit him. And he didn’t have any openings; I was looking for a job, but I just really enjoyed meeting him and knowing him.

ABF: Looking for a job here?

HS: I was looking for a job. Well, I was just in the D.C. area looking for a job. But he was just really nice and friendly and very loveable, and in a sense I think he was like an old-fashioned head gardener, in the sense of, you know, he called the shots and he determined how things would happen and it was how it happened; it was the way it was done when he was young and probably stayed that way until he retired. I got that sense. And that’s not surprising; it’s not unusual. But I think he was very generous and very dedicated and when I did the story with him on “Victory Garden” on television, you know, he was a good communicator; he was very good telling stories and being just kind of warm and loving and fun.

ABF: So, how did you end up doing this, though?

HS: Oh, the TV show or the Rose Garden?

ABF: The TV show.

HS: Oh, the TV show? Well, because the “Victory Garden” was a production of WGBH, which is public television in Boston, and they asked me if I could recommend some gardens in Washington, and I said, “Well, the best garden in Washington is Dumbarton Oaks.” And so then they have a researcher who comes and looks at it and writes a report and sends it to the executive producer. And so they said, “Well, we want to do it.” And so they schedule it with Dumbarton Oaks, and then we show up and we do the show, and I never know what they’re going to say or what I’m going to have to do, so I do some preliminary research so I have some information in my head and then generally I ask the questions, and then Don would be the person answering. And he told stories and took us – you know, I remember loving the mosaic tiles by the swimming pool and then looking down on the Pebble Garden, and the meaning of things he talked about, and the wisteria arbor, and the secret places. That’s something, you know, that I love about this garden, and we wanted to kind of show that, that there’re always surprises, and that it’s this amazing journey. So, that’s how we came to do the show. And he had me ask him some gardening questions: when do you do this, how do you do that, and tell us a little bit about the background; he was so easy to work with: he was a lot better than I was, because I was having a hard time, but that was just because I’m supposed to be able to, you know, generate the right talk and walk and everything. So, that’s how we did that show.

ABF: So, is that when you really got to know him?

HS: Yeah, that’s right. I had seen him here and there, but I really felt like I got to know him when we did that show together. We really had fun; we had fun. He’s a very fun person, very fun-loving – and just that kind of a person.

CW: Who was it, then, at Dumbarton Oaks, who brought you in to do the restoration? Because he had gone by that time.

HS: Yes, he had gone, and so I believe that it was Brian Katen who had recommended that I be brought on board, and he called me and said, would I be interested and would I have time? And since I was in between jobs – it was going to be a vacation, but instead – it was actually three months, now I remember, in between jobs, and it turned into, you know, actually being this project. It was very rewarding, so that’s why I decided to do it. It wasn’t like any rose garden. It was much more interesting than that. And, you know, he was really good to work with, and, you know, we helped each other a lot with it.

ABF: And it seems like you would make a lot of sense as a choice because of your previous involvement with this show.

HS: Yes, I knew the Garden and horticulturally I had a real sense of what it takes to grow roses. I’d been through so much with my own rose gardens, you know, with plants getting diseased and dying, and insects. I had been in charge of what was called an antique rose garden, so I knew a lot of the old varieties, and at that time there weren’t really that many people who knew a lot of old varieties; it was actually more interesting to people to grow new, new, new, and I think that that was the other reason that he wanted me to do that, and also, you know, I’d had a lot of soil issues. I had already dealt with that, and I realize that every year with roses is different. No two years are alike. You just don’t know, with the heat, the cool, the rain, the this, the that; the complexities of it can be, you know, pretty high. So, they’re not easy; roses aren’t easy. And I had helped advise on the White House rose gardens, and, you know, they have a lot of challenges there as well. And they had an old rose garden that almost had no roses in it, because the roses wouldn’t do well there, because they had crabapple trees, and so I had helped at least a little bit with that one also. And I don’t remember if he knew that or not. It brought me really in contact with rose people all over the country, though, and it was a crash course in finding the answers. Thank goodness Gail came, because, you know, just in the nick of time, to get it off to a good start. And I have a rose garden now, where I work, and it continues to be challenging for us. We’re just getting the soil right, getting all the compounds and ingredients, getting all the varieties that will perform, that are fragrant, that look good. It’s never-ending.

ABF: So, were you involved with the Dumbarton Oaks Garden at all after?

HS: Not in an official capacity, no. When Gail came to town, we knew that she was the greatest person for this job and that she would be able to take good care of everything. And so just seeing her here and there, and she’s had us over here for lunches and some gatherings, and I did get involved with the Garden when Michel Conan called and asked if we wanted to have a partnership with the Garden, and I was working where I work now, at the U.S. Botanic Garden, and we said yes, and so we joined in with the Smithsonian Botany Department for a symposium, and we did that for several years. So that brought me back into the fold of the Garden, but it was more through Michel and less with Gail. So, now I’m kind of more connected with Gail and I know some of the current volunteers she has here. She’s starting a volunteer program. She’s been, you know, very communicative, and kind of keeping me in the loop. And she reminds me that I was even involved in it, which I forgot. I mean, it wasn’t in my mind. She’s like, “Oh, Holly did the Rose Garden,” and I had to say, “Oh, my gosh, that’s so kind of you to even acknowledge that.” I’m sure I have a very thick file on it somewhere at home, and I’m sure you must have one here, or Brian has one here. Do you think you do?

ABF: We looked at the Rose Garden restoration file. It’s not particularly thick.

CW: The video is in there, actually, the videotape.

ABF: Okay.

HS: Okay. I know I had a very thick file, but it wasn’t all – you know, it was just a lot of my working papers, as I would move through things. I was really happy when it was done; I was very happy. I mean, I was nervous if it was going to be successful, but it was a reward to move through it, because it was so involved. But I know people like it; I know people say, “Ah, it’s the prettiest rose garden.” And that really is based on the quality of her design. And Gail tells me, you know, in certain times of day, it’s just – especially evening.

ABF: Yeah.

HS: I mean, I think dusk is the prettiest time, don’t you?

CW: Yeah. Well, that’s when I’m in the Garden most often anyway, so I hope it’s the prettiest time.

HS: Yeah, I think it is, I think it is, and a lot of the fragrances come out best at that time. I mean, I really actually would stand it up, the renovation of the Dumbarton Oaks Rose Garden, as a wonderful model of how to do it right, because Brian and I did not want to cut corners. We did not want to take the easy road, and very few gardens would be able to do as good a job as was done on this one, I think. I don’t know how much it cost, but I know that we did not cut corners. And I was so scared that day we were drilling and putting in this irrigation pipe so the water would be carried away, because what we realized that another reason the roses hadn’t been doing well is because the Garden had not been well drained, believe it or not, even on that site. When we dug down, we found that water was just sitting, like a bathtub, and roses don’t like that. So, that’s why we decided we had to do that. And we consulted with an engineer to make sure that it was going to be solid enough to do that. I hope it’s still okay; is it?

ABF: We can go take a look afterwards, if you want to go see the Garden.

HS: Yeah, I think it is. It’s not tumbling down.

CW: No, definitely not.

ABF: No, it’s definitely not. It looks very sturdy to my untrained eye.

HS: Well, this is not a good time for roses right now. They generally are kind of ugh; they don’t like this heat. They tend to be at their best in late May, early June, and then again in September. You know, you get some blooms, but it’s definitely not at its peak right now, I wouldn’t think. I know it can’t be; spring is the peak.

ABF: Well, is there anything you’d like to add? Clem, do you have any more questions?

CW: That we should have asked you, that we didn’t?

HS: No, I think that’s most of it. If I can find my file, I can look at it; it will probably bring back memories. I should have thought to do that before I came.

ABF: Well, you’re always welcome to come back. This can be a work in progress.

HS: Well, okay, if I can find some more.

ABF: Would you like to go see the Garden?

HS: Yeah, sure, that’d be nice.

ABF: Okay, let’s go do that.

CW: Thank you so much.

HS: Thank you.

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Oral History Interview with Holly Shimizu
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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.