Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dumbarton Oaks, the sublime

A weekend trip down to Washington afforded the happy opportunity to visit my very most favorite garden, Dumbarton Oaks.

These ten acres, designed by Beatrix Farrand, are magically inventive. Around every corner and over every wall, views are alternately concealed and revealed.

Deep inside a bamboo grove, a faun plays his pipes.

Inset zodiac signs pin down the corners of the almost hidden Star Garden.

And boxwood-lined paths lead up and down the terraced hillside.

I have many fond non-gardening memories of Saturday afternoons spent exploring the grounds with my brothers and of school day afternoons playing hooky down in Lovers' Lane. Quite revelatory however to see this garden through older, less distracted, eyes. None of the plants are marked, so the visitor retains the impression of a private garden rather than an arboretum.

The rose garden is frothing with leggy canes, many topped with fresh foliage and full blooms.

The center of this "garden room" is stuffed with hybrid teas, almost 1,000 according to the official record. Along the edge, a sunny border of Rosa multiflora ramblers turns the corner into a line of shade-loving anemones so well matched in color and size that at first glance they look like a single variety. What a clever sleight of hand!

None of that tidy style of gardening with each isolated plant adrift in a sea of mulch here. At DO, the garden beds are solid masses of form and color. The herbaceous border is a crashing wave of tall asters and mums.

This radiant yellow border reminds me of J.M.W. Turner's later luminous paintings, seen the previous day at the National Gallery of Art. Even the ripe pears hanging from the enclosing trees visually connect.

Towards the bottom of the hill are the very stylish tool sheds and lines of potted plants in the holding bed. Inspiration to this beleaguered field hand.


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