One block off the main drag of Wisconsin Avenue in upper Georgetown delivers you far from the madding crowds, to the peaceful refuge of Dumbarton Oaks. The estate includes a museum devoted to Byzantine and pre-Columbian art, a research center and library, and 10 acres of formal and informal gardens. Frankly, many people skip the museum altogether to wander along the garden’s hedge-lined walkways, into the orangery, past the weeping cherry trees, and all around the garden plots, admiring what’s in bloom as they go. If it’s February, you may see English daisies. April? Bluebells. August? Dahlias. (Just to name a few.) The gardens are romantic, have several pretty places to perch, and also are adorned here and there with garden ornaments and artwork. The gardens can get crowded in spring and early summer, when they are at their loveliest.
Do try to make time for the museum, whose galleries display 1,200 Byzantine artifacts, including jewelry, lamps, icons, and illuminated manuscripts from the 4th to the 15th centuries; and pre-Columbian objects such as Aztec stone carvings, Inca gold ornaments, and Olmec heads. Other highlights include the Flemish tapestries and an El Greco painting, The Visitation, on display in the Renaissance-style Music Room, which you’ll have to admire from the roped-off entryway. The museum’s mansion setting adds to its charm.
The country house and gardens, which are situated at the highest point of Georgetown, belonged to a couple named Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, who initiated these collections and gardens in the first half of the 20th century. The couple gave Dumbarton Oaks to Harvard University in 1940. Harvard University students, staff, and faculty can visit the gardens for free.
- Elise Hartman Ford