March 20, 2024

Intreegue Garden of the Month: Explore the Beauty of Dumbarton Oaks

A Tribute to Beatrix Farrand for Women’s History Month

As we continue to “March” through our gardens of the month highlights, we are excited to share with you Dumbarton Oaks! In celebration of Women’s History Month, Dumbarton Oaks is a perfect visit— a stunning garden designed by a remarkable woman, Beatrix Farrand. I first came across this garden while studying landscape architecture at the University of Maryland. (So quite some time ago!)

This garden became renowned as one of the premier gardens and residences in Washington after the Blisses purchased the property in 1920 and set out to create a stunning connection between home and garden. They renamed it Dumbarton Oaks and hired Beatrix Farrand, who directed the redesign. She was one of the first female landscape architects to practice in the United States, although she preferred the term landscape gardener!

For the redesign, she seamlessly blended formal elements with more naturalistic features to create a harmonious and inviting landscape. The mansion was a Georgian revival, and the surroundings were farmland. Beatrix skillfully transformed this into terraced gardens, combining very European formal elements with newer-age  American garden elements for the time. Dumbarton Oaks is considered one of her finest works. She worked with Mildred Bliss for decades to cultivate the landscape, creating her signature style.

The use of color and texture is what always draws me in. I love visiting in different seasons to see what is popping in terms of color, but for every visit, I adore how the texture provides structure for the garden; it ensures that each area of the garden delights the senses and offers a sense of tranquility and beauty. One aside, I never liked mums until visiting Dumbarton Oaks one fall years ago, where they were featured in a long corridor looking to me like watercolor brush strokes of fall colors. Well done!

Here are a few favorite spaces:

The Orangerie – one of the oldest buildings on the estate (1810). It provides a portal into the terrace gardens. The fig vine blankets the ceiling of the orangerie and is 155 years old, breathtaking.

The Pebble Garden – this is what I think of when I think of exquisite texture! Best when seen from above, originally it was a tennis court, but was expertly turned into a pebble mosaic with fountains in the middle and sitting pergolas to the sides.

The Beech Terrace – It originally featured a gorgeous European copper beech that was replaced in 1948 with an American beech, providing a living sculpture. This gives us a view down to the Urn Terrace, with curved brick lines and pebble bases around the French Urns.

Let us know if you take a trip to visit Dumbarton Oaks and experience firsthand the genius of Beatrix Farrand. It is a fitting tribute to her enduring influence and creativity in the world of garden design and this month’s Women’s History Month.

Intreegue Design is a licensed landscape architecture firm operating in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Napa Valley, California. We offer the added value of having expert horticulturists, forest conservation planners, Chesapeake Bay Landscape Design professionals and ISA-certified arborists in house.

Learn more about working with Intreegue and our Design Process.