One of my greatest local pleasures is the garden of Dumbarton Oaks on R street in Georgetown.
In all four seasons, it is so beautiful that it reminds me of a line in a letter Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to Margaret Fuller in October 1840: “Heaven walks among us ordinarily muffled in such triple or tenfold disguises that the wisest are deceived and no one suspects the days to be gods.” At Dumbarton Oaks, the disguises are thrown off.
Like some of the Italian gardens I saw last summer, Dumbarton Oaks provides a combination of beautiful vistas and smaller, more private spaces or “rooms” to enjoy.
The garden was a collaboration between Mildred Bliss and Beatrix Farrand in the 1920s and 1930s, though it continued to evolve into the 1960s.
There was work going on when I was there, from leaf raking to picking up landscape cloth in the growing garden.
Apparently, there was once a large kitchen garden where now mostly flowers are grown. The vegetable garden, though much reduced, is still bigger than mine, and there is some discussion of expanding the vegetables according to the gardener I buttonholed on my way through the prunus walk. They have a nice set-up for compost, which I noticed because one of the leaf rakers emptied a big tarp into it while I was having garden envy by the remnants of the vegetables.
Most people think about visiting great gardens in the spring and summer, but Dumbarton Oaks is one of my favorite places to stroll in the fall and winter.
It sheds its glory spectacularly in the fall to reveal the outlines of its beauty—the bones, as a gardener would say. And there is nothing so cheering as the sight of snowdrops along the R street path by the east lawn in the depths of February. There is something here for everyone to enjoy, whether it be a view,
a specimen plant,
or pure whimsy.
So don’t discount a visit now that we’re approaching winter. You’ll be surprised and, I hope, delighted.