Two grand estate gardens worth visiting and open to the public in Washington, DC, are Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens and Dumbarton Oaks. Both charge admission fees and are tricky to reach by public transportation, but with DC’s Car 2 Go program, it’s simple.

The farthest away from The National Mall is the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens. Once owned by Marjorie Merriweather Post (the General Foods Cereal heiress) Hillwood’s gardens reflect its mid-century heyday, Post’s eclectic taste, and her interest in Catherine the Great. There are grand Russian artifacts throughout the property and a small formal-walled garden is its centerpiece. Divided into distinct areas, there is also a small dacha, an Adirondack-style garden building, a Japanese-style garden, as well as a formal rose garden. Additionally, the former Georgian style home has been converted into a museum that houses Post’s antiques and collections of Russian objects and art. There is also a café for lunch.

Formal parterre garden.

Dumbarton Oaks, located in Georgetown, is arguably one of the most famous gardens in the U.S. It is owned by Harvard University and it is open from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m., except on Mondays and holidays. Lines are longest at 2 p.m. on weekends. Designed by Beatrix Farrand in 1921, the terraced garden includes formal and informal areas filled with incredible details. Many of those, including the large enclosed Pebble Garden and the swimming pool, are beautiful examples of artisanal stonework. In winter and early spring, the garden’s evergreen structure and its architecture make it worth the visit. Arranged in a series of meandering outdoor “rooms,” there are cutting gardens, a kitchen garden, a large rose garden, an ellipse of pleached hornbeams, and others. It is possible to spend an entire day exploring Dumbarton Oaks and then wandering through Georgetown’s lovely residential neighborhoods.

Turf steps leading up to Dumbarton Oaks.

Custom stonework.


Russian fountain with 60s furniture.

Front garden in Georgetown.

This article is part of the Garden Destination: Washington, DC article.

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