Saturday, October 09, 2021

GardenDC Podcast Episode 78: Dumbarton Oaks

In this episode, we talk with Jonathan Kavalier, Director of Gardens and Grounds at Dumbarton Oaks, about the garden's past, present, and future as it hits its centennial mark. The plant profile is on Prickly Pear and I share what's going on locally and in my garden.

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EPISODE LENGTH: 56:51 00:41 Meet Jonathan and hear about his “cathartic” experience working at an orchard in Israel 03:50 “I was not exposed to public gardens as a possibility in career development when I was in college … Coming to the Smithsonian really opened up a whole new world for me” — Jonathan 05:06 “The historic nature of this garden and our preservation mission doesn’t always fit well with lots of visitors” — Jonathan, on the elaborate and selective entryway to Dumbarton Oaks 06:52 “It’s been a very quiet year and a half for us in the gardens” — Jonathan, on closing down due to COVID 08:02 Dumbarton Oaks has welcomed back nearly 50 residential fellows to the grounds 09:55 Jonathan and Kathy walk you through what happens after check-in at the front gate 10:39 Did you know Dumbarton Oaks’ orangery is the 2nd oldest in the country? 14:07 Learn about the history of Dumbarton Oaks! 15:52 Documentation of letters between owner Mildred Bliss and their hired garden designer Beatrix Farrand in the 1920s give “a lot of insight into the concepts” for the garden 17:11 Jonathan explains the “genius” behind Farrand’s design for the garden 19:28 Dumbarton Oaks Park faces issues with stormwater issues and invasive plants 22:19 11 of the 13 fountains on the grounds have been changed to recirculating systems to save water 23:18 - 46:29 Jonathan highlights iconic parts in the garden, explaining their history and how they’ve changed 30:03 “A lot of these spaces have changed a lot over the years, but then we always try and bring it back to Farrand’s design intent” — Jonathan 30:57 Jonathan talks about trying to preserve or reproduce Farrand’s “one-of-a-kind” furniture and architectural designs for the garden 34:57 “I have to admit, I kind of like the shabby chicness, the kind of ‘Grey Gardens’ look that it had before .. but it is obviously safer and nicer to have those restored” — Kathy 36:02 Farrand’s plant book, detailing instructions on caring for the gardens, will be republished and available in the spring of 2022 38:21 Ondine’s Walk is a “little gem” and “Instagramable moment” in the garden 40:35 The Pebble Garden was originally a tennis court and had become “a lay down area for the gardeners” 41:56 Farrand and the gardener that succeeded her, Ruth Havey, had very different styles 43:14 The cutting and kitchen gardens, while not the “most iconic” parts of the grounds, have important functions 45:27 Jonathan talks about one of his personal favorites in the garden: The Lover’s Lane 46:29 Looking ahead to the next centennial, Dumbarton Oaks is not only working to preserve Farrand’s designs, but also to be more attentive to the gardens’ ecological needs 49:39 “[For] those who have never been to Dumbarton Oaks, I would say put that on your life list” — Kathy 50:00 Learn about the only cactus native to the Mid-Atlantic, the prickly pear, in this week’s Plant Profile! 51:10 Garden updates: reseeding plants that never germinated, and the Tatarian aster is growing very well! 53:08 Community updates: American Horticultural Society staying at River Farm, Mid-Atlantic Urban Agricultural Summit, and the Annual Perennial Plant Conference

The episode is posted at:

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We welcome your questions and comments! You can leave a voice mail message for us at: Note that we may use these messages on a future episode.

Episode Credits:
Host and Producer: Kathy Jentz
Interview Edits: Charlotte Crook
Show Notes: Melena DiNenna

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