About the Green Garden

The Green Garden terrace occupies the highest elevation on the property and commands views over the garden terraces to the north and east, across the Rock Creek ravine to the distant Connecticut Avenue Bridge. Located north of the Orangery, this space originally served as the stable yard between the house and the barn. When the Blisses hired Beatrix Farrand in 1921, the Green Garden was one of the first enclosed spaces she fully visualized. In June 1922, Farrand outlined her plans for Dumbarton Oaks, and she suggested the area northeast of the house become “a green garden which would in a sense be a part of the rooms looking out on it.” To accomplish this effect, Farrand designed a very formal, open space with a carpet and canopy of green.

Mildred Bliss approved of Farrand’s 1922 plan, and by the mid-1920s, the garden was in place. Two massive oaks dominated the terrace, and Farrand built the garden around them. A low brick wall, carefully accented with ivy and other creeping vines, enclosed the oaks and a wide swath of ground cover, primarily Vinca minor. Flagstones paved a sunny patio area immediately north of the Orangery. Along the brick-walled borders, low beds of winter jasmine and English ivy helped maintain the green aspect of the garden throughout fall and winter.

While Robert and Mildred Bliss occupied Dumbarton Oaks, the Green Garden received frequent use. As Farrand anticipated, it served as a natural extension of the house, and the Blisses often hosted large groups of guests there. The Green Garden’s centrality and importance to the Blisses made it the perfect site for a memorial to the friendship of Beatrix Farrand. Mildred Bliss began planning the dedicatory inscription in 1933. With the help of Ruth Havey, Mildred composed and commissioned a plaque inscribed in Latin, which was placed in the northern balustrade of the garden.

The Green Garden continued to function as part of the mansion living space even after Dumbarton Oaks transitioned to Harvard in 1940. As she trained Anne Sweeney to give garden tours to the public, Beatrix Farrand specifically left out the Green Garden, Star Garden, Swimming Pool, North Vista, and the Copse. These remained private gardens for staff and fellows in residence.  However, the Green Garden did see changes to the plantings during this time. In the 1940s, the Vinca minor ground cover and both of the existing oaks succumbed to blight, and were replaced by low-maintenance plants. Grass filled the space between the flagstones and balustrade, and two new oaks took the place of the original trees. By 1993, only one red oak remained. The current design of the Green Garden reflects these changes. The central open court remains grass, while the border beds follow Farrand’s instructions from the Plant Book.