About the Plum Walk

Historic Photographs

The Plum Walk, sometimes called the Prunus Walk, was originally part of a turf pathway leading north through the Herbaceous Border and Kitchen Gardens to Cherry Hill. Beatrix Farrand referred to the path as the Bird Walk, named for the distinctive gates she designed. The wooden gates were constructed in a herringbone-pattern, topped with lead bird finials. A robin, quail, cardinal, and mockingbird finial topped the two gates at the southern end. The northernmost gate, opening onto Cherry Hill, featured a wooden owl. Farrand lined the path with yew hedges, a continuation of the yew hedges begun in the Herbaceous Border. From the Bird Walk, staff could enter the Cutting Garden to the west and Vegetable Garden to the east. It was a very utilitarian walkway.

The bird-topped gates rotted significantly by the 1940s. At this time, Farrand drew up a series of plans for transitioning the many yew and box hedges in the gardens to hardscape, which would require little maintenance. She included the Bird Walk in her redesign, and she removed the rotted gates and recommended the hedges be eliminated as well. In 1954, the hedges were finally uprooted. A double-row of plum trees took its place, mimicking the double-hornbeam hedge recently planted in the Ellipse. The new plantation of plums completely changed the scale and feel of the walkway, by raising the visual screen to eye level. The plums were tightly spaced and pruned for a canopy effect, which created an intimate tunnel of bloom and foliage. Around this time, the turf path was paved with brick-bordered concrete. Planting lists record that verbena, narcissus, delphinium, and other spring bulbs grew beneath the plums.

Plum Walk, people in walk and trees in bloom Color photograph of the Plum Walk, people on walk and trees in bloom in the Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, Washington, D.C.