Washington Treasure

 Dumbarton Oaks Park ConservancyIt was a damp but warm day a week ago when Mrs. Olana and I had the fascinating treat of a private tour to see the work of the fledgling Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy. Lindsey Milstein, President, with two other DOPC board members, warmly welcomed us at the Lover’s Lane entrance for an enlightening tour.

 1941 Farrand telegramDumbarton Oaks was the Washington DC residence of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss. http://www.dopark.org. Their distinguished house and its’ formal gardens were sited along the ridge of a bucolic ravine of oak woodland and meadow following a bubbling valley stream, from nearby Rock Creek. Landscape Architect Beatrix Farrand was engaged by the couple to create a haven in the midst of the busy city. In the 1940’s, the home and formal gardens were given to Harvard University. Visitors can see the Bliss’ collectIons of Byzantine and Pre-Columbian art and visit the formal gardens designed by Mrs.Farrand.

Beech woods and streamThe woodland gardens were passed to The National Park Service. Fast forward through almost 75 years of neglect, you can imagine the state of this once lovely landscape. In 2010, a group of passionate Georgetown neighbors created a private partnership to help restore Mrs. Farrand’s vision for the park. The major physical problems were acres of invasive plants (and the damage they wreak) and extensive run-off of storm water drainage. The major obstacle (always) was finding funding to realize their vision.

Dumbarton StreamThe Park is a favorite of its Georgetown neighbors.  They, and a broad demographic of involved partners from the greater community, have been tremendously supportive of this initiative. There are eighteen waterfalls along the descending stream.

 Newly opened meadow pathsMrs. Farrand’s original vision incorporated a series of meadows, with woodland interludes. These began to be reclaimed in 2014. The DPOC restored Clifton Hill Walk walk in time for Rock Creek Park’s 125th birthday this year. This walk climbs the valley opposite to that of the Mansion with views over the newly planted meadows towards the stream.

Lover's Lane Wall of colors Photogenic Tree & Ivy blog DC Osage OrangeIn the rain, some details just gleamed, like the precisely cut stone in the walls lining Lover’s Lane, the part entrance on R Street in Georgetown. Mama Nature does it best with dry and wet bark in the middle photo. Much missed, the electric green of Osage oranges – there is nothing this bright in New England now.

 View towards Dumbarton HouseThe last time I was in the formal gardens, the view into the landscape was impenetrable. Now the vistas work both ways. What’s missing in this waning season are the thousands of bluebells that have been planted.

Dumbarton Oaks Park Pump house and streamSlowly restoration goes ahead on restoring the stone work that not only lines parts of the stream but also some of the original structures like this old pump house.

Dumbarton Oaks Park SeatThe Gray Arbor Memorial is waiting for a benefactor or benefactress to restore its’ glory in the landscape.

 Wet leaves and stoneDOPC has a delightfully named environmental education program called “No Child Left Inside”! Weekly programs in the school year for elementary and middle school children as well as a full day camp programs teach about the environment as well as offer hands on learning.

Rainy DAy leaves and mossPrivate/public partnerships, formed by dynamic leaders with great determination and vision, lead the way to preserve our cities and our landscapes. Mrs. Olana and I hope to go back in each season to see the fruition of the efforts and contributions of so many. Thanks Lindsay, Jane & MK!!


About Susan

Susan Detjens is a former landscape painter, she lectures, demonstrates and runs workshops on floral design for museums, horticultural organizations and garden clubs across the US.
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