One of Beatrix Ferrand’s most famous projects is the garden at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington DC, which is known for its lavish garden rooms and magnificent attention to detail. As you can see in the map below, each garden “room” has its own name — Rose Garden, Urn Terrace, Pebble Garden, etc. — and each room is masterfully designed and delightful to experience.
What I have highlighted in yellow on the map, though, are actually my favorite parts of Dumbarton Oaks. You will notice they are not the individual gardens at all, but rather the spaces between the gardens, the transitions. To me, these spaces have always been the most compelling aspect of Dumbarton Oaks, and they are evidence that Beatrix Farrand was a freakin’ genius.
At the top of the steps you find yourself in the Arbor Terrace, a shady and restful spot with a grotto-like fountain:
Farrand was completely masterful in her use of sound and smell in these transition areas. As you travel the paths between gardens, you can often hear the sound of water trickling or gurgling from an area that you can’t yet see. For example, as you walk up this path, you can hear the sound of a fountain in the distance….
Turn left at the end of the wall and you enter the famous Ellipse Garden and ah-ha! there’s the fountain:
Farrand also lined these transitional paths with fragrant shrubs like lilac and honeysuckle, and she paid just as much attention to the walls, paving, and plantings in these “in-between” areas as she did to the major garden areas. For example, here is the stairway leading to the pool — a feature more interesting than the pool itself:
Below is a picture of the path on the way to Lover’s Lane (a shallow pool hidden in the woods). At the end of the path, a statue of Pan points the way to…
the pool, where undoubtedly you will be getting up to no good with your sweetheart:
You have to love a garden that encourages mischievous behavior (although in early April when I visited this area doesn’t have a very secluded feel — gotta wait for the leaves to fill in.)
Turn left at the end of the path and you get a nice view of the cutting garden (just getting going) with the Prunus Walk in the distance:
And scattered throughout the entire garden are curving brick paths lined with boxwood, or rustic stairways that lead to hidden terraces, or peek-a-boos of secret spaces glimpsed between evergreens:
Please check out other perspectives on “Transitions” from my fellow Roundtablers: