What would winter be without a visit to Dumbarton Oaks? As I’ve written before, this is an astonishing place, and when I come in winter, I see the bones of the garden, not its horticultural plenty. The fact that it’s Italianate and a series of “rooms” is much more apparent in the clear anatomy of winter.
This is a place full of details and every year I discover another that I’ve missed in all my visits over the years.
And it’s not just sculpture or carving. Dumbarton Oaks is adjacent to Rock Creek Park, so it isn’t unusual to hear a pileated woodpecker or see a migrating bird I might not expect. This visit, Cherry Hill had a startling number of feeding cardinals. Almost a flock, if they traveled that way.
The other surprise was an art installation called “Bamboo Counterpoint.” Located in the Lover’s Lane pool, which is in a small amphitheater, it is distinctly odd to look at, but the visual isn’t the point. I had started hearing church bells, voices, and snatches of out of season birdsong as well as percussion while I was up in the rose garden. I remember trying for a moment to make sense of it and decided it was probably something going on in the neighborhood, perhaps Montrose Park. Then I came down the path to the pool and saw this:
The sound, some of which was recorded in Dumbarton Oaks and some of which was composed, melds together with the sounds of the garden and bounces off the water in unexpected ways. It’s the fourth such installation in the past few years, ranging from willow sculptures to Swarovski crystal clouds.
And what would a visit to Dumbarton Oaks be without cruising the vegetable gardens? Like mine, they were largely fallow, but a few hardy leeks and bok choi plants were thriving.
And of course, proving what Larkin called “earth’s immeasurable surprise,” were the snowdrops, on the south lawn below the Orangery, by the prunus walk, and probably a few other places.