Investigating a “Wild Washington”

It’s been a month since I arrived at Dumbarton Oaks. Despite being a native of the DC area and attending high school just up the street, Dumbarton Oaks has introduced me to a new perspective of DC, one based on high quality research, unparalleled resources, and a knowledgeable and talented staff. To top it off, it’s all located in a stunning setting designed by one of the most famous American landscape architects of the 20th century, Beatrix Farrand.

I bring up Beatrix Farrand because she is the reason why I am here. With a Master of Landscape Architecture from University of Virginia (as of May!), I am the landscape architecture intern at Dumbarton Oaks this summer. Having worked at landscape architecture firms the past two summers, this summer provides me with a unique educational opportunity: hands-on experience in Dumbarton Oaks’ historic gardens and the chance to pursue a self-driven research project. In return for this amazing experience, I hope to explain how Dumbarton Oaks is an integral part of a wild network in DC, also known as “Wild Washington.”

My summer research project, “Wild Washington,” builds upon my year-long graduate design thesis which investigated the “Wild Anacostia,” a neglected river that flows through Southeast DC. Through the design of a trail, walk, and path network that encompasses and fosters everyday activities, I used the Anacostia as a prototype for cultivating a thick edge typology for urban rivers. More generally, through this trail design, I challenged backward-looking and nostalgic views of the wilderness, and instead, tried to encourage a more productive relationship and understanding of the urban wild in our cities.

In my work this summer, I hope to expand on the research behind my design ideas for the Anacostia, and envision an alternative perspective of our nation’s capital, articulated through the recognition and expression of the urban wild. It’s a wild that can be discovered across scales and modes: from a fox crossing Rock Creek Parkway to the Great Falls on the Potomac to a dandelion growing from a crack in the pavement. It is a wild that is not only found in plants and animals, but in stormwater, pollution, topography, and social behavior.

The urban wild can be discovered in Dumbarton Oaks Park.

The urban wild can be discovered in Dumbarton Oaks Park.


In addition to working through the history and definition of “wilderness” and its relationship to garden design, I hope to construct a spectrum of the wild, or a “wild” index, that marks the DC landscape. It is a strategy for gauging and recognizing the wild, and an alternative approach of seeing what may initially appear ordinary. Coming from the perspective of a landscape architect, I view research and design as a tool to help the public better understand the ever-changing dynamics in their own cities. It is an effort to raise awareness, and ultimately, affect behavior.

And just when I think I am going to freeze from the library’s arctic temperatures, I am

A quick sketch of one of the Katsura trees on the East Lawn.

A quick sketch of one of the Katsura trees on the East Lawn.

given the chance to thaw out, outside. I spend my Mondays and Fridays in Farrand’s gardens with an experienced, talented, and jovial team of gardeners.  Between pruning, weeding, watering, joking, and climbing ladders to tend the hard-to-reach areas of the garden, I’ve immersed myself in Farrand’s design and have been working on learning the names, forms, and functions of various plant species. It’s been a wonderful first month, and I look forward to the rest of the summer!


I found this baby morning dove hidden in a plume of wisteria on the roof of the addition to the main house.

I found this baby morning dove hidden in a plume of wisteria on the roof of the addition to the main house.

If you are curious to discover more about “Wild Washington” and would like to follow my summer research, please visit my (Kate Hayes’s) blog: I appreciate any comments or feedback you may have to offer! And if you ever need to find me, just stop by the Dumbarton Oaks pool. I will most likely be there.


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