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Gardening, At Dumbarton Oaks

This morning, I walked to Dumbarton Oaks a sprawling estate, high above Georgetown. Gail Griffin, the director of gardens and grounds there, kindly introduced me to Rigoberto "Rigo" Castellon, a crew leader.

For an hour, he graciously gave me a tour of the impressive grounds. Afterward, I watched him and his co-workers pot plants and arrange the arbor terrace, overlooking a small grove of Kiefer pear trees. A dozen people oversee the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks, which were designed by landscape architect Beatrix Jones Farrand.

About those Kiefer pears: As you'll see in these photographs, the gardening crew has put clear glass bottles around several of them. (Castellon uses twine to hold them in place.) When the pears are ripe — and larger, the gardeners will fill the bottle with brandy. (This tradition is time-honored, I was told.) — David Gura

  • Dumbarton Oaks, an estate in Georgetown, owned by Harvard University, has a world-renowned garden.
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    Dumbarton Oaks, an estate in Georgetown, owned by Harvard University, has a world-renowned garden.
  • Crew leader Rigoberto Castellon, an émigré from El Salvador, has been a gardener at Dumbarton Oaks for more than 20 years.
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    Crew leader Rigoberto Castellon, an émigré from El Salvador, has been a gardener at Dumbarton Oaks for more than 20 years.
  • The estate features a large "cutting garden," with an array of flowers suitable for bouquets.
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    The estate features a large "cutting garden," with an array of flowers suitable for bouquets.
  • Many of the plants at Dumbarton Oaks are grown on site, in a greenhouse that has been recently renovated.
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    Many of the plants at Dumbarton Oaks are grown on site, in a greenhouse that has been recently renovated.
  • When this Kieffer pear is ripe — and larger, the gardening crew will fill the glass bottle with brandy.
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    When this Kieffer pear is ripe — and larger, the gardening crew will fill the glass bottle with brandy.
  • Castellon oversees the potting and placement of hundreds of plants.
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    Castellon oversees the potting and placement of hundreds of plants.
  • Members of the gardening crew makes last-minute alterations before 2:00 p.m., when Dumbarton Oaks is opened to the public.
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    Members of the gardening crew makes last-minute alterations before 2:00 p.m., when Dumbarton Oaks is opened to the public.
  • These large pots frame the arbor terrace at Dumbarton Oaks.
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    These large pots frame the arbor terrace at Dumbarton Oaks.
  • Gardeners fill large pots with begonias, fuschia, and other flowers.
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    Gardeners fill large pots with begonias, fuschia, and other flowers.
  • In some quadrants of the estate there isn't much room for improvisation — the gardening crew adheres to original designs by Beatrix Jones Farrand, the original landscape architect at Dumbarton Oaks.  On the arbor terrace, however, today's gardeners are afforded more flexibility.
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    In some quadrants of the estate there isn't much room for improvisation — the gardening crew adheres to original designs by Beatrix Jones Farrand, the original landscape architect at Dumbarton Oaks. On the arbor terrace, however, today's gardeners are afforded more flexibility.
  • Gardener Donald Mehlman prepares a terra cotta pot for planting.
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    Gardener Donald Mehlman prepares a terra cotta pot for planting.
  • Gardeners follow this brick path, past the estate's rose garden, to the arbor terrace.
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    Gardeners follow this brick path, past the estate's rose garden, to the arbor terrace.

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