Tuesday, December 16, 2003

dc gardens

I have not lived in DC since the end of 1999.

But I love the city. For a gardener, it is beautiful paradise. If you can survive the heavy mugginess of the air (bad for roses), you will find that among its acidic clays, there are thriving azaleas and rhododendrons, an array of blooming trees, and enough temperate climate to grow plants that cannot survive in colder climates. Spring in DC, in a good year, is the most amazing roll-out of color over two and three months.

DC is a city of gardens. The two best are:

The Bishop's Garden -- located in the close of the National Cathedral, it was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, Jr., son of the great American designer. It has wonderful features.

It frames well the 20th century Gothic cathedral perched on the highest spot in the district. Stand in this modest garden and casually look up to see the south wall of the Cathedral, with its flying buttresses and elongated windows and tall square towers. It feels so natural to see this non-American building sitting there, above the garden.

Before you walk down into the garden, you will smell the cat-pee odor of the English boxwood, puffy and bulbous, that lines the rough stone walks. There is a lovely rustic herb garden forming a large circular bed. Then, just past that are two more wonderful features, a most delicate rose garden, raised slightly, one plant deep, that forms a lined outline of a small rectangular plot of grass.

Across from the roses, is a large retaining wall with a perennial border that is filled with a lollipop rainbow of colors in spring, when the blooming bulbs appear.

If you need a place to go sit and be quiet, this is the place to go.

The other great garden is Dumbarton Oaks, located on a hill at the top of Georgetown. It was an 18th century estate that was transformed in the early 20th Century by Beatrice Farrand, one of America's greatest garden designers/architects. It is now owned by Harvard University, but in these 16 or so acres you will find an incredibly tasteful slightly-post Gilded Age classic garden, filled with numerous little outdoor rooms, a fantasia that is reached through design and planting. My favorite spot is the Forsythia Hill in springtime, when this misunderstood flowering shrub is given its full, messy, arching glory.

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