- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 11, 2003

Dumbarton Oaks Gardens, a 16-acre oasis right smack in the middle of Georgetown, is a nice alternative for those who long for walks outdoors but can’t go to area parks in the wake of Isabel’s destruction.

The gardens are open year-round and have lots of natural beauty and varying architectural and hardscape features, including nine fountains, a pebble garden, mosaics and a swimming pool.

“Kids seem to especially enjoy the water features, the pool and the fountains,” says Gail Griffin, superintendent for gardens and grounds.

Children also enjoy running and playing in the open space, although technically, visitors should try to stay on the paths, Mrs. Griffin says.

The gardens are built on a slope — stairs and winding paths bring the visitor to the various terraces and “garden rooms” of this green haven. Although the slope can be a bit strenuous, at every turn of the path there is a wooden, marble or stone bench, perfectly and privately located in one of the garden rooms.

Hedges and architectural features such as walls and fountains, often with stone cherubs as their centerpieces, help create these enclosed sanctuaries.

“I love the contrast of the closeness of these rooms — very private — and the openness of the sky,” Mrs. Griffin says.

The garden is designed and planted to offer something visually interesting in each season. Even the winter is a pretty time at Dumbarton Oaks, whose name alludes to the property’s many oak trees, she says.

“But now is one of my favorite times of year,” Mrs. Griffin says. “The borders are so massive, full of asters and chrysanthemums.”

The chrysanthemums come in red, orange and yellow in some areas, and in pink and purple in others.

The “borders” are flower beds that line the brick and stone paths that snake through the estate. Also blooming in October are mums and salvia.

In the spring, tulips replace the fall flowers in the borders. Also in the spring, cherry trees and dogwoods bloom, and in the summer, the rose garden — with at least 1,000 roses — explodes with color and fragrance.

These lavish gardens surround a 19th century mansion, once owned by super wealthy Robert and Mildred Bliss. Mrs. Bliss, together with landscape gardener Beatrix Farrand, designed the vast garden.

The Blisses were also avid art, antique and artifact collectors. So, once visitors have had enough of the garden (if that’s possible) they can head into the museum portion of the estate, which includes a collection of Byzantine artifacts and Renaissance art. A collection of pre-Columbian art is currently not open to the public.

The museum is housed in additions made to the 19th century Federal-style mansion that the Blisses bought in 1920.

While the gardens may be more appropriate for younger children, teenagers might enjoy the museum collections, which provide a great lesson in European history.

The Byzantine collection consists primarily of objects from the East Roman or Byzantine Empire, whose capital from 330 to 1453 was Constantinople.

Among artifacts are a gold medallion of Constantine I (from 325 or 326 A.D.) and a painted icon of St. Peter (late 13th century). The glass cases also hold dozens of glittery gold necklaces, earrings and bracelets.

The Renaissance collection includes oversized 15th, 16th century tapestries and Italian furniture, such as a gargantuan inlaid walnut cabinet with a Latin inscription, reading: “The soul finds rest in books,” as well as world-class art such as El Greco’s “The Visitation.”

A visit to Dumbarton Oaks combines offerings of natural beauty and lessons in art and history — indeed a rewarding way to spend a fall afternoon.

WHEN YOU GO:

Location: Dumbarton Oaks Gardens is located at 3101 R St. NW in Georgetown. The museum is located around the corner at 1703 32nd St. NW.

Directions: From Georgetown’s M Street, take 29th Street north until R Street, then make a left.

Hours: Gardens are open from 2 to 6 p.m. daily (March 15 through Oct. 31), and 2 to 5 p.m. daily the rest of the year. The museum is open from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. Closed on federal holidays and during inclement weather.

Admission: $5 for adults and children ages 12 and older, $3 for seniors, free admission for children younger than 12. Gardens charge no admission from November through March 14. Museum is also free.

Parking: Street parking only.

Note: Bring good walking shoes. The garden is hilly and includes many stairs and winding paths. If you plan to take a stroller, use a jogging stroller with all-terrain tires.

Phone: 202/339-6401.

Web site: www.doaks.org

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