About the Lilac Circle

Drawings Historic Photographs

The Lilac Circle sits at the furthest northeast corner of the gardens, between the Kitchen Gardens and the Trompe L’Oeil. The construction of the Lilac Circle came later than many of the other garden rooms—it wasn’t completed until the late 1930s, and it was redesigned and replanted several times over the years. The first plan called for lilacs to be planted in the circular bed, but the plants quickly failed due to the overwhelming shade in that corner of the garden.

In the 1944 Plant Book, Farrand called for mock orange in the circle with lily-of-the-valley and day lilies in the center bed.  The plants continued to struggle. Alden Hopkins drew up designs in 1958 that converted to camellias. The camellias grew well enough until severe winter weather in 1976 killed almost all of them. Gardeners replanted and reinvigorated the camellia circle until the 1990s, when a new hardy Korean lilac, “Miss Kim,” took a prominent position in the beds and returned the circle to its original state. With the “Miss Kim” lilac as the backbone of the garden, the rest of the plantings are now rotated seasonally.

While the plants in the Lilac Circle posed a challenge to Beatrix Farrand, the ornament and furniture proved an easier task. With close collaboration from Mildred Bliss, Farrand designed a bench of oak and stone that complimented the stone column and finial placed opposite. The column was topped with a carved urn, which resembled an Armand Albert Rateau design. Northeast of the Lilac Circle, Farrand placed a lead statue of the Unicorn and Lady. For years, the statue marked the end of the Dumbarton Oaks gardens and the beginning of Dumbarton Oaks Park. Mildred Bliss moved the Unicorn and Lady from the Lilac Circle to the Museum Courtyard in the late 1940s. It now resides in the Copse.

Camellia Garden, construction and planting plans (2) Reprographic print of a construction and planting plan for the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, Camellia Garden for Harvard University, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C.