Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dunn Gardens

Seattle is a city bedecked with horticultural jewels. This spring, I was delighted to visit one of them, the historic Dunn Garden. The garden is located in the Broadview neighborhood about 10 miles north of downtown Seattle. When the property was purchased by Arthur Dunn in 1914, the site offered sweeping vistas of Puget Sound and the Olympics, now veiled by mature trees. Arthur Dunn desired a summer country home for his family and he hired the Olmsted Brothers to design a landscape plan.

This renowned family firm is perhaps best known for designing Central Park in New York and the Capitol grounds in Washington DC. In a prodigious display of forward thinking, Seattle hired the Olmsteds to create a comprehensive plan for major parks throughout the city a little more than 50 years after the Denny party landed at Alki. Seattle's Olmsted park system has an extensive multi-site plan linked by boulevards and is recognized by subject matter experts as one of the best preserved and best designed in the U.S.

The Olmsteds' design philosophy was to retain and enhance the  natural beautyPhoto0253 and native vegetation of the site, working with the existing topography and integrating the planned landscape into its larger surroundings. It was characteristic of an Olmsted plan to include wide, curving boulevards and broad lawns, punctuated by stands of native trees and shrubs. The plan for the Dunn country place took advantage of the panoramic views and large stands of second-growth Douglas firs. Arthur Dunn, an avid and knowledgeable gardener, implemented the plan.

In 1947, Edward Dunn, the second child of Arthur and Jeanette Dunn, converted the garage on the property into his residence. He immediately began creating a woodland garden on the 2.5-acre site where the vegetable garden had been; he tended this garden until his death in 1991. The richness and diversity of the plantings include woodland plants such as erythroniums and trilliums, rhododendrons, and specimen flowering trees nestled beneath a canopy of fir and deciduous trees that remain from the original garden.

Ed Dunn left an endowment to preserve and maintain his portion of the estate. The E. B. Dunn Historic Garden Trust, established in 1993, now owns and manages the property. The resident curators, Charles Price and Glenn Withey, manage the garden’s daily operations. The Dunn Garden Trust's Board of Directors and the Garden Conservation Committee, direct the garden's rehabilitation and preservation.

The Olmsted characteristics to be preserved include certain iconic elements such as the curvilinear circulation system of drives and paths, the massing of plants, and the creation of various 'garden rooms', as well as the spatial relationships between the various landscape features. A spatial relationship is basically the adroit positioning of various elements in the landscape so that the result is greater than the sum of its parts. In an Olmsted design, open lawns are embellished with scattered trees and shrubs that choreograph a sequence of spatial relationships and views throughout the landscape. This defining feature is particularly evident in the design of the U.S. Capitol grounds. Photo0260

The Dunn Garden is listed on the  National Register of Historic Places. The National Register recognizes the garden's significance under two of its standard criteria. The property is noted both as an excellent example of Olmsted design, and for its association with Ed Dunn as someone who made important contributions to the field of horticulture. An enthusiastic gardener and prolific garden writer, Edward Dunn was respected as an authority on Pacific Northwest native plants. He was president of the Seattle Arboretum Foundation and guided the development of its Japanese Garden. He also served as president of the American Rhododendron Society. He was a founding member of the Species Rhododendron Society.

The best seasons to visit the Dunn Garden are in the early spring and in the fall. Early spring will feature snowdrops, magnolia, erythronium, hellebores and hepaticas. The show will continue through mid-May, when epimediums, trilliums, podophyllums, and ferns abound. Thanks to Arthur Dunn’s memories of his home in New York State, the garden includes many spectacular eastern hard­woods, some of which provide eye-popping fall color.

The gardens are open to the public on guided tours on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from April through July and September through October (closed in August). Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for senior citizens and students. Since private residences are still located on the grounds, admittance is by reservation only, and directions to the site are mailed only after reservations have been made. Children under 12 and pets are not admitted and parking is very limited. You can visit the website, for more information, photographs and reservations.

Visit the Dunn Garden to experience living horticultural history!

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