Hornbeam Ellipse is a center of serenity at Dumbarton Oaks

Sunday, October 3, 2010; R11

You find the Hornbeam Ellipse toward the lower fringes of the garden at Dumbarton Oaks after a descent along steep paths and stairs. The landscape's various structures and gardens are steeped in classical and Renaissance iconography, and the ellipse is a key part of this narrative and drama. For all of Dumbarton Oaks' antiquarian Mediterranean references, the 16-acre garden is a singularly American expression of fine landscape design.

The ellipse is known to garden lovers around the world, and its renown elevates the experience of being in it. Peaceful and serene, it is a space that speaks to the heart and the soul.

The double ring of hornbeams form what's called an aerial hedge, an elevated oval of artfully clipped vegetation that is leafy green in summer and twiggy in winter. In a place where art intersects nature, the ellipse is no less attractive in the golden, slanted light of a December afternoon than in the spring.

-- Adrian Higgins, gardening columnist

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