You might feel as though you’ve stepped into a Merchant-Ivory set in any of the gardens that make up this estate at the north end of Georgetown, one of Washington’s poshest neighborhoods. Vines tumble down stone walls enclosing the Fountain Terrace. Lovers’ Lane meanders past a Roman-style amphitheater built around a small deep-blue pool. And what used to be a simple cow path leading away from the pool is now called Melisande’s Allée, perhaps as a nod to the haunting opera Pelleas et Melisande.
In 1920, after a long and careful search, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss found their ideal country house and garden within Washington, DC. They purchased a fifty-three-acre property, described as
an old-fashioned house standing in rather neglected grounds, at the highest point of Georgetown. Within a year the Blisses hired landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand to design the gardens. Working in happy and close collaboration for almost thirty years, Mildred Bliss and Beatrix Farrand planned every garden detail, each terrace, bench, urn, and border.
Since that time, other architects working with Mildred Bliss, most notably Ruth Havey and Alden Hopkins, changed certain elements of the Farrand design. The gardens have also changed in function. In 1940, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss gave the upper sixteen acres to Harvard University to establish a research institute for Byzantine studies, Pre-Columbian studies, and studies in the history of gardens and landscape architecture. They gave the lower, more naturalistic twenty-seven acres to the United States government to be made into a public park. An additional ten acres was sold to build the Danish Embassy.
In 1941, anticipating the inevitable changes that would accompany the gardens’ different function, Farrand began to write a Plant Book, to define her design intentions and suggest appropriate maintenance practices. Her suggestions for stewardship still prove useful today, more than sixty years later.
A brief introductory tour of the gardens takes place at 2:10 pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Please meet the docent across from the guardhouse, just inside the entrance at R and 31st Streets.
Docent-led tours are offered to groups of 10 to 45 people in the mornings and after 2 pm on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday by advance reservation and for a fee of $8 per person.
A $35 non-refundable deposit is requested to confirm the reservation and is applicable to the total payment. Call 202-339-6409 for information or contact the Docent Coordinator, Christine Blazina.
Docent-led tours are offered in the morning to groups of 10 to 45 people on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday by advance reservation and for a fee of $8 per person.
A $35 non-refundable deposit is requested to confirm the reservation and is applicable to the total payment.
The tour lasts approximately ninety minutes and it can be adjusted to fit the group’s interests or needs. For further information or to book a tour, call the Docent Office at 202-339-6409 or email the Docent Coordinator, Christine Blazina.
A guided 30 minute special tour of the first floor non-public historic rooms of Dumbarton Oaks—including the hall, Founders’ Room, Study and Oval Room—is offered on most Saturdays at 3:00 pmfor up to 15 people. To join the tour, please sign in at the front desk and meet your docent in the Bliss Gallery (adjacent to the lobby).
Hours and Admission
The gardens are closed during inclement weather and federal holidays. Gates are locked at closing time.
From March 15th to October 31st, the gardens are open daily, except Mondays, from 2–6 p.m.
$8.00 general admission;
$5.00 seniors (ages 60 +), students, and children (ages 2–12);
Free admission for Harvard students, faculty, & staff.
From November 1st to March 14th, the gardens are open daily, except Mondays, from 2–5 p.m.
Admission is free.