BAR HARBOR — Dumbarton Oaks, a large estate in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., was one of landscape designer Beatrix Farrand’s masterpieces. Her design transformed the estate’s 53 acres of rather neglected farm fields into an intricate outdoor landscape including formal gardens, walkways, orchards and a naturalistic park.
Dumbarton Oaks is the focus of the Beatrix Farrand Society’s seventh annual Herbarium Exhibition this summer in the barn at Garland Farm, which opens for the season June 25. The farm, on Bay View Drive near Hadley Point, is the society’s headquarters.
Farrand grew up in a New York and spent summers in Bar Harbor at Reef Point, her family’s estate. She and her husband, Max Farrand, established Reef Point Gardens as a teaching center and library. She developed the Reef Point Herbarium to document the plants at her Bar Harbor home and to educate landscape and gardening students about plant identification and use.
After Max Farrand’s death in 1945 and the fire of 1947, she donated the library and related collections to the University of California and moved to Garland Farm, the family home of her property manager from Reef Point. The remaining 938 of her herbarium vouchers — mounted specimens of plant species accompanied by extensive notes — are now part of the University of California’s herbaria.
Each year, the Society chooses a few examples of herbarium vouchers to feature in an exhibition at Garland Farm, displaying high-resolution images of the original vouchers from the University of California.
The 2020 Herbarium Exhibition celebrates the plants of Dumbarton Oaks. Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss bought the property in 1920 and engaged Beatrix Farrand to design the landscape.
Mildred Bliss wanted to feature aspects of French, Italian and English gardens, but she also wanted to create a landscape that would be original and unique. She collaborated closely with Farrand from 1921 to 1947 to transform the property into one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country.
“The Dumbarton Oaks landscape is large and intricately composed,” a statement from the society says. “Formal gardens near the house serve as outdoor rooms. A series of descending walled terraces present less formal gardens, leading to walkways through tree plantings and orchards, and finally to a naturalistic park that is now the separate Dumbarton Oaks Park, owned by the National Park Service and under restoration by the Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy.
“Farrand skillfully incorporated the existing elevations into her asymmetric design, using plants to connect the various components of the landscape. Her tree and shrub lists for the large landscape are lengthy, but she used surprisingly few types of groundcovers and vines, repeating them from one part of the landscape to the next.”
By the time she started her work at Dumbarton Oaks, Farrand had developed a deep knowledge of many plants from her childhood explorations at Reef Point, her early study at the Arnold Arboretum and extensive travel in the U.S. and Europe, her experimental plantings at Reef Point, and her many large-scale projects as a landscape and garden designer. “This exhibition reveals her love of both native and exotic plants,” the society said, “her appreciation of color, form and texture; and her restraint in selecting plants that fulfill landscape function and provide beauty throughout the year.”
The exhibition is free and open to the public. Open days at Garland Farm are Thursdays from 1-4 p.m. through Sept. 24.
More information about the exhibition and the society’s summer events can be found at beatrixfarrandsociety.org. Check the website before arriving at Garland Farm for up-to-date information about social distancing protocols.