The Grounds at Dumbarton

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.

Open Dawn to Dusk Every Day

Dumbarton House grounds are occasionally closed for a public program or private rental events. 

The Grounds Three Centuries Ago

When Dumbarton House was built in the early nineteenth century, the house was surrounded by eight acres of property. Joseph Nourse owned the land south of his home, running downhill from present-day Q Street to just south of P Street. Much of this land was 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 cattle 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.

Bank Barn Drawing

New Surroundings for Dumbarton

In 1915, as plans to bridge Rock Creek and join the Washington and Georgetown sections of Q Street took shape, it was determined that Dumbarton House (then called Belle Vue) 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. Below is a list of plants that appear on the property. Click their names to learn more about each one! 

American Holly
American Hornbeam
Blackberry Lily
Butterfly Bushes
Chaste Tree
Common Lilac
Crape Myrtle
Deodar Cedar
Eastern Redbud
Foster's Holly
Japanese Cedar, Sawleaf, and Snowbell
Korean Boxwood and Spice Viburnum
Kousa Dogwood
Lady Banks Rose
Loblolly Pine
Loebner, Southern, Star, and Sweet Bay Magnolia
London Planetree
Maidenhair Tree
White Coneflower
Red Spider Lily
Rose of Sharon
Scholar Tree, Pagoda Tree
Serviceberry, Shadbush
Spanish Bluebell
Sweet Autumn Clematis
Tulip Poplar
Virginia Fringetree
Waxleaf or Japanese Privet
Witch Hazel
Wood Betony
The grounds as they appear today.

The East Park

The East Park is a landscaped area just to the east of the house itself which is open to the public. As part of the NSCDA Centennial efforts in the early 1990s, it was decided that the vacant lot adjacent to Dumbarton House, donated to the NSCDA in the 1960s by the Belin family, should be turned into a garden. The Georgetown Garden Club graciously funded the plant material, the planting itself, as well as the landscape design of the park.

The park was designed by noted landscape architect M. Meade Palmer. Palmer graduated from Cornell University with a degree in landscape architecture and achieved renown in the Washington, D.C. area for his minimalist designs, which often incorporated plant species native to the region. Palmer’s other notable landscape designs in the area include Bull Run Regional Park in Manassas and the Lyndon B. Johnson Memorial Grove in Lady Bird Johnson Park on the Potomac River.

Dumbarton House is grateful for the Georgetown Garden Club’s generous donation which made the beautiful East Park possible.

The Herb Garden

As part of Dumbarton House’s efforts to interpret the historic house and grounds, a landscaping plan was adopted in late 2009 which, among other things, called for the creation of a historically-appropriate herb garden. Dumbarton House Advisory Committee member Guy Williams of DCA Landscape Architects, Inc., designed the garden and researched which plants would be appropriate for the recreation of a 19th-century herb garden. DCA Landscape Architects is an award-winning Georgetown-based firm which plans and executes projects ranging from small gardens to large-scale master planning and estate planning.

Plants would fall under one or more of several general categories of use, ranging from culinary and medicinal to aromatic and economic. The result is a landscaped herb garden with over 40 different plants, herbs, and flowers which in the 18th and 19th centuries were used in everything from herbal teas to soaps and perfumes.

Below is a list of all the plants that can be found in our herb garden. Click a plant to see more information about its uses and characteristics. Much of the information about the plants in our gardens comes from Herbs & Herb Lore of Colonial America, published by the Colonial Dames of America.

Black Eyed Susan
Evening Primerose
Fairy Wings
Globe Amaranth
Iris, Crested
Lady’s Mantle
Lily of the Valley
Sweet Woodruff
Wood Betony

Get to know Dumbarton House

Dumbarton House is always looking for volunteers with green thumbs to help out around our grounds and gardens.

Dumbarton House Grounds Bingo

Explore the park and get to know the grounds with a Bingo activity card.