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SUB-SERIES — Folder: 15 Identifier: DDO-RB-GAR-001

Dumbarton Oak Garden, Ellipse

Scope and Contents

Twenty four black and white photographs and 4 color photographs of the Dumbarton Oaks Garden, Ellipse.

The plans for the Ellipse were the result of close collaboration between Beatrix Farrand and Mildred Bliss. The basic outline of the design first occurred to Mildred Bliss as a child, and she consulted on the original design and all subsequent changes. The Ellipse began as a loose oval hedge of tall, rumpled boxwoods about fifteen to twenty feet high. The hedge followed the slope of the ground rather than a perfectly geometric shape. At the center of the Ellipse, Farrand and Bliss placed a simple jet of water ringed by an island of ivy, which was surrounded by a moat. Farrand planted grass as groundcover, keeping the overall color palette simple and deeply green.

Both the Box Walk and Ellipse were planted in the mid-1920s, and remained unchanged until a short while after Dumbarton Oaks transitioned to Harvard University. In 1944, Beatrix Farrand and Mildred Bliss began discussing the need to replace the boxwood hedges, which were showing signs of age. In order to reduce the amount of garden maintenance required, Farrand suggested in the Plant Book for Dumbarton Oaks that the hedge be replaced with a high stone wall “of a somewhat cream-colored cast, designed with restraint and simplicity,” with columns at the east and west and a colonnade on the north overlooking the Clifton hillside. Ruth Havey even drew plans for the proposed wall and Mildred Bliss considered them, but the construction never took place.

The Ellipse finally underwent transformation in 1958 under the guidance of Alden Hopkins, consulting landscape architect from 1956 to 1959. Hopkins replaced the struggling boxwood with a double row of formal clipped hornbeams, which formed an aerial hedge 16 feet tall and 15 feet across. The trunks of the hornbeams were visible under the classically trimmed aerial hedge, in the French style. In the center of the Ellipse, Hopkins retained Farrand’s original fountain. He replaced the walkways with a paving of Pennsylvania bluestone and gravel panels.

More change with Hopkins’ successor, Ralph Griswold. In 1960, Griswold tore out the old fountain and replaced it with a fish-scale metal fountain in a very modern design, not quite in keeping with the atmosphere of the overall garden. That same year he supplemented Hopkins’ circle of hornbeams with two low interior perimeter walls. The walls were decorated with carved stone finials and lead fountain masks designed and cast by Don Turano. Dissatisfied with the walls, Mildred Bliss ordered them torn out in 1966. She turned the Ellipse over to Ruth Havey for revision. Havey submitted new plans for the Ellipse, turning it into a “Jardin Delectable.” The design called for the Provençal Fountain to replace Griswold’s modern fountain. Azaleas and magnolias dotted the interior of the Ellipse, transforming it from open grass to a lush and romantic enclosure. The planting suggestions never took place, but in 1967 the Provençal Fountain moved from the Bosque to the center of the Ellipse.


  • 1921-1979


Language of Materials

Materials chiefly in English with a few items in Greek, Latin, French, Italian, or Spanish.

Conditions Governing Access

An appointment is required to consult the collection. Please submit appointment requests here: For research queries, contact the staff of Rare Book Collection (


8 linear feet (23 boxes of textual material with approximately 2631 items; 2411 drawings; and 1235 photographs)

Repository Details

Part of the Dumbarton Oaks Repository

Dumbarton Oaks holds archival collections in its Rare Book Collection, Image Collections and Fieldwork Archives, and the Dumbarton Oaks Archives. The collections include: the papers of noteworthy scholars in the three fields that Dumbarton Oaks supports (Byzantine, Pre-Columbian, and Garden and Landscape); image collections depicting objects or sites of topical interest to scholars in the three fields; Beatrix Farrand’s personal archive of letters and original drawings that document the development of the Dumbarton Oaks Garden; and institutional records and architectural plans and drawings documenting the history of Dumbarton Oaks. For more information about hours and to make an appointment to consult any of the collections listed here, please fill out the request form:

1703 32nd Street, NW
Washington DC 20007 USA