Introduction and Background


Herbaceous Gardens- Dumbarton Oaks
Herbaceous Gardens- Dumbarton Oaks

When an average visitor spends the day at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., they may enjoy the gardens there simply for their beauty in that setting. However, a garden is much more than a collection of beautiful plants in a pleasant setting.

In Charles Moores' Poetics of Gardens, a kind of criteria for a garden is set forth, " Nature's places, no matter how beautiful and moving we may find them to be, are not yet gardens; they become gardens only when shaped by our actions and engaged with our dreams."

A garden is meant to be "read". It is a space shaped by the prevailing ideas and values of the people who created it. The "reading" of it is an act of interpretation of the values expressed in that space. And a garden is a place that can still be learned about. In the case of Dumbarton Oaks, these gardens have been transformed into a public space.

Dumbarton Oaks is an important piece of culture mainly for two reasons. First, it is significant and unusual place because it is the last example of the elite private gardens and estates that started in the Gilded Age. Secondly, Dumbarton Oaks is an iconic representation for how women entered the professional fields. Landscape architecture was one way to enter these fields; gardening was an appropriate "hobby turned profession for women. Beatrix Jones Farrand was the professional woman who designed Dumbarton Oaks. More than just designing this work, Beatrix's historical importance in America has something to do with her as a professional woman landscape architect and how this paved the way for other women in professional roles.