Dumbarton Oaks: the View from Winter

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.

Whether down a flight of stairs,

Whether down a flight of stairs,

through an archway,

through an archway,

or around a curve, there is always a tempting view to lead the visitor on.

or around a curve, there is always a tempting view to lead the visitor on.

This is a place full of details and every year I discover another that I’ve missed in all my visits over the years.

Maybe it really is turtles all the way down.

Maybe it really is turtles all the way down.

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.

This was the only one I caught on camera, but isn't he a beauty?

This was the only one I caught on camera, but isn’t he a beauty?

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:

If visually it was a bit odd, aurally it was fascinating.

If visually it was a bit odd, aurally it was fascinating.

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.

Bok choi and assorted other cold hardy plants were visible.

Bok choi and assorted other cold hardy plants were visible.

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.

Sweet to see these in January!

Sweet to see these in January!

This entry was posted in Local Pleasures, Other People's Gardens and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Dumbarton Oaks: the View from Winter

  1. What an astonishing place – I should have loved to see the crystal cloud – that looks unbelievably beautiful – but I’ve missed it by two years!! I’ve never seen a real cardinal either, what a glorious colour.

    Like

  2. arlingwoman says:

    And I’ve never seen an English robin–or any number of birds you see every day! Somehow I imagine the birds of NZ and Australia to be very exotic. The female cardinals are kind of a dark buff with a little red trim around the crest and wings. Thanks for visiting!

    Like

  3. KerryCan says:

    Your photos are excellent for illustrating your point about the “architecture” of the garden! I haven’t been to Dumbarton Oaks but we’re thinking about a trip to DC next autumn–hmmm . . .

    Like

  4. Pingback: Canal, River, Falls and a Walk | arlingwords

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s