A morning in the weeds

Preparing for a Weeding Day at Dumbarton Oaks Park, Washington, D.C./enclos*ureIs this not a picture of fun? Two buckets full of loppers, pruners, saws, and even a couple of machetes.

Our recent visit to Washington, D.C., coincided with a September Saturday “Weeding Day” at Dumbarton Oaks Park, sponsored by the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy.  I have wanted to volunteer for one of these days for a couple of years — ever since learning about the group’s efforts to restore this Beatrix Farrand masterpiece, which is located behind the more famous Dumbarton Oaks Gardens.

The stream and a dam at Dumbarton Oaks Park, Washington, DC -- a Beatrix Farrand masterpiece now undergoing restoration/enclos*ure
Owned by the National Park Service since 1940, the park has suffered from invasive exotic plants and water runoff.

The morning started with  Ann Aldrich, the Conservancy’s Program Director, making sure we knew how to recognize poison ivy.  Then we all doused our exposed skin in Tecnu, a soap that mitigates the effects of exposure.

We learned that poison ivy was not one of the weeds we would be pulling — it is native to the area and an important source of (protein) food for birds.

Poison Ivy plus invasive weeds at Dumbarton Oaks Park/enclos*ure
(Good) poison ivy surrounded by (bad) porcelain berry, English ivy, Japanese stilt grass, and liriope.

Our enemies were Japanese stilt grass, pokeweed, English ivy, tree of heaven, wild grape, porcelain berry vine,* and multi-flora rose.

We were clearing a meadow area just above the stone pump house (no. 2), on the right in the drawing below.

Plan of Dumbarton Oaks Park, Washington, D.C./enclos*ure

Below is a picture of the area before we started. . .

A meadow in Dumbarton Oaks Park before pulling invasive weeds/enclos*ure

And below is what it looked like after we finished (about 3 1/2 hours later).  We probably would have cleared out more above the old log, but there was a bees’ nest on the other side.

A meadow at Dumbarton Oaks Park after pulling invasive weeds/enclos*ure

Ann has spent many a weekend this summer leading garden enthusiasts, college students, and D.C. schoolchildren in “weed warrior-ing.”  There is so much to do, and I am so impressed with the group’s ambitious commitment to this lovely place.

The stream at Dumbarton Oaks Park, now under restoration/enclos*ure

As I was leaving, I stopped to admire the Arts and Crafts-style stonework of the dams that Farrand installed all along the little stream that runs through the park.

Stone work slated for repair by the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy/enclos*ure

The Conservancy was just about to have a contractor make repairs to this area when the government shutdown put a halt to even volunteer efforts. (The Conservancy supports and is supervised by the National Park Service.)  I  hope the work is underway now.  Earlier this year, the group was able to place compost filter socks (below) near the Lovers’ Lane entrance to the park.

Compost filter socks in Dumbarton Oaks Park, Washington, DC. The park is undergoing restoration/enclos*ure

They are preventing further damage from the water runoff that comes shooting down the small asphalt road that runs along Dumbarton Oaks Gardens.

The entrance to Dumbarton Oaks Park, Washington, DC/enclos*ure

I had a great time and I will definitely do it again when we move back to Washington (the park is an easy walk from our house).  If you live in the D.C. area and would like to help, click here and ask to be put on the Conservancy’s mailing list.

Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy is also holding a fundraiser on November 7, 6:30 p.m., at The Josephine Butler Parks Center.  Author Richard Guy Wilson will speak on “Edith Wharton at Home:  Life on the Mount.”  (Wharton was Farrand’s aunt.)  Tickets are $35; click here for more information.


* Farrand actually specified porcelain berry vine to be grown over her arbors, which just makes me shudder.

Help save a masterpiece

The Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy is in the midst of a campaign to win $75,000 from the “Partners in Preservation” $1 million giveaway in the Washington, D.C., metro area.  The giveaway is sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express.

You can vote for the DO Park HERE* every day through midnight on May 10.

(And voting enters you in a contest to win a three-night stay at a Marriott hotel.)

Dumbarton Oaks Park (not to be confused with the adjacent Dumbarton Oaks Gardens) is one of the masterworks of landscape architect Beatrix Farrand.

In 1928, she composed the park as a series of paths and meadows along a small tributary of Rock Creek and had them planted out with drifts of native and exotic wildflowers, bulbs, and woodland shrubs.  Eighteen waterfall dams, two arbors, and several benches and footbridges were built in the rustic Arts and Crafts style.

Even with the damage, the artistry of Farrand's arrangement of dams and bridges shine through.
Even with many years’ damage, the artistry of Farrand’s stonework shines through.

Sadly, the 27-acre park has suffered greatly from lack of sufficient resources since 1940, when it was turned over to the National Park Service.  However, in 2010, the Conservancy was formed to restore the park to its former glory by raising money and fielding teams of volunteer “weed warriors.”

Beatrix Farrand was America’s first female professional landscape architect and one of eleven founding members of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Participants at a recent conference on her work lauded her as a “scientific-minded experimenter, an early proponent of native plants, a leader in ‘pre-ecological design,’ an expert in stormwater management, and a flexible and innovative designer who mastered numerous styles,”reported The Dirt, the blog of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Please vote and spread the word! The $75,000 will repair the park’s stonework at the east falls dam and viewing platform.


*The first time you go to the site, don’t click ‘vote’ right away. Go to ‘log in’ and register. Then, you’ll receive an e-mail asking you to confirm your address. Then you can log in and vote. It takes a couple of minutes, but you’ll be able to vote in seconds for the next five days.  (You must be a legal resident of the U.S. to be eligible to win the free stay in  a Marriot hotel.)

(Not very) Wordless Wednesday: head shots


A resident of Gako Organic Farming Training Centre, Kigali, Rwanda.


His best side.


His other best side.


Snapshot with a friend.

Happy Fourth of July!

Today is also Liberation Day in Rwanda.

A year ago today, my husband and I took a different way home from Georgetown and discovered Dumbarton Oaks Park, one of the country’s garden design treasures.  I took a lot of photos and blogged about it a couple of days later, here.

The 27-acre, Washington, D.C., park  was designed by Beatrix Farrand and given to the National Park Service in 1940.  It has been in a poor condition for  decades, but since 2010, the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy has been working to restore it.

On Saturday, July 7, the Conservancy will hold a Storm Clean-Up to remove debris from the June 29 derecho storm.  They are asking for volunteers to join them from 9:00 a.m. to noon, starting at the Lover’s Lane Entrance on R Street.

For more information, see here and contact Ann Aldrich, aaldrich@dopark.org.

(Sorry, I guess I’m not very ‘wordless’ today.)

Dumbarton Oaks Park: how it’s done

A footbridge over a waterfall.

On July 4th, my husband and I walked home through Georgetown after lunch.  When we reached R Street, we decided  to cut through Montrose Park and then over behind Dumbarton Oaks.

This is how we came upon Dumbarton Oaks Park, a section of Rock Creek Park with an exceptional pedigree, but a difficult present existence.  It is an almost lost remnant of the Country Place Era of American garden design (1880 – 1940).

The Dumbarton Oaks garden, which was designed by Beatrix Farrand for Mildred and Robert Bliss, is famous, but the park behind it is far less known.  I had never heard of it — not from garden history classes nor during visits to the DO garden — until this April, when I received an e-mail about the launch of efforts of save it.

Laurel Pool damaged by runoff.

But the DO Park, also designed by Farrand, is on the National Register of Historic Places.  “To landscape historians,” writes Adrian Higgins of The Washington Post, “it is hallowed ground.”

In 1928, these 27 acres of former farmland became a naturalistic extension of the Bliss estate’s formal gardens.  A series of paths and meadows were composed along a small tributary of Rock Creek and planted out with drifts of native and exotic wildflowers, bulbs, and woodland shrubs.  Eighteen waterfall dams were built, as well as two arbors and several benches and footbridges — all in the rustic Arts and Crafts style.

In 1941, when Dumbarton Oaks was given to Harvard University, this part of the property went to the National Park Service.

Over time, however, it seems that the highly designed and delicately crafted landscape was just too much for the Park Service to handle.  Photos taken in the late 1980s show it in very bad condition.  Through the decades, there has been serious damage from runoff to the stream-edge areas, and invasive weeds and vines have smothered and pushed out Farrand’s trees and plants.

The formation of the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy offers some hope for its restoration.  Headed by Rebecca Trafton, a garden designer and documentary maker, it is currently raising money and hopes to present a  work plan in October.

The DO Park is a remarkable place even now, and the strength of Farrand’s vision and of her artful use of materials still shines through.  The refrain “this is how it’s done” ran through my mind as we walked along.  If you visit Dumbarton Oaks, please walk down Lover’s Lane on its east side and take a look.

Click on any thumbnail in the gallery below to scroll through the enlarged photos.  The order follows a walk from one end of the path along the stream to the other.