“Gardens are living witnesses of those who made them, tended them, discovered new plants to go in them, and knew why each plant had to be there ‘for meate and medicine, for use and delight’.”
— Ann Leighton
As much as the house itself, the grounds at Dumbarton House tell the story of early life in the nation’s capital and in the burgeoning American Republic. In the early nineteenth century when Joseph Nourse and his family called Dumbarton House home, the house was surrounded by eight acres of property. Nourse owned the land south of his home, running downhill from present-day Q Street to just south of P Street. A large portion of this land was most likely a lawn, sparsely planted with groups of trees and shrubs, as was the fashion at the time. Joseph Nourse is also known to have purchased thorn plants from a local nursery to plant a hedge, a common practice to keep out curious wildlife and roaming farm animals.
Joseph Nourse’s land would also have been populated by a number of outbuildings. His writings indicate the existence of a number of these, including an ice house that he moved to his new property from his previous Georgetown residence. A large barn with a stable and shelter for the cattle the Nourse family kept was constructed into the slope of the hill to the north of the house. The barn also served as a carriage house, and storage for hay and other material. Nourse also noted the efficiency of combining the dairy and smokehouse into a single structure, with an attached washhouse, stating that doing so “saves one roof and a foundation.” Finally, the grounds also included quarters for the servants– enslaved, indentured, and free– who worked in the house and around the grounds.
In 1915, as plans to bridge the Rock Creek and join the Washington and Georgetown sections of Q Street took shape, it was determined that Dumbarton House would either have to be moved or demolished. Today, in its new location, Dumbarton House sits on 1.2 acres of gardens and terraces. The landscaping has evolved over the years, with some additions dating to when the house was moved and others made more recently. Dumbarton House is always looking for volunteers with green thumbs to help out around our grounds and gardens. If you are interested, please visit our Volunteer page.
The East Park
The East Park is a small, beautifully landscaped area just to the east of Dumbarton House itself. The park was created from an adjacent vacant lot with generous support from the Georgetown Garden Club.
The Herb Garden
The Dumbarton House herb garden was planted with herbs, flowers, and other plants that would have been present in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gardens. With over 40 different varieties of plants present, the herb garden helps to tell the story of life at Dumbarton House in the early American Republic.