The vast beauty of both Brazil and Switzerland stunned me during extended stays this year in both countries. But what I could not find in either land was a garden equivalent to the Dunn. To be sure there were horticultural experiences to be had. My husband and I spent a full day wandering the Botanical Garden in Rio de Janiero and wanted yet more time. The Swiss Alpine Garden to be viewed after a ride on the cog-wheel train from Wilderswil boasts over 500 types of flora. But both gardens were a long way from where I was living at the time.
These experiences led me to the realization that we are extraordinarily lucky to have so many gardens close to our lives in the Pacific Northwest. And we are even more blessed when the garden is a gracious art form. In the case of the Dunn it exudes the magic of the Olmsted Brothers who designed it one hundred years ago. It was planned to last and it has done so with inimitable grace and beauty.
Like any art form built with affection and intent, and tended in the same fashion, the Dunn impacts those who come in contact with it. It provides an indefinable something, meets a need and satisfies an unidentified yearning when experienced. We know this to be true because visitors tell us with shining faces how peaceful and grand they feel after being on its paths and lawns. Like any art form the Dunn Gardens gives much more than it takes.
In the summer the Gardens opened up its arms for an organization with deep Washington roots called Behind the Badge. The mission of the group is to provide support for families of police officers felled in the line of duty. Attending the picnic were children who will never see their fathers grow proud of them and women who never expected to raise those children alone. In the warm summer night the children giggled, ran up to the trees, rolled on the lawn and raced the cars they had constructed from zucchini, with unabashed abandon. It was childhood at its best. The mothers sat on blankets and gossiped, drawing support from being together. It was a moving scene made more so because the families had arrived cautious and quiet, an edge of wariness about them. The dramatic transformation was made possible, largely by the art and magic of the Gardens.
In 2015 the Dunn will be celebrating a centennial year. Much will be required of those of us who work at the Gardens to live up to its history, but we will get paid in full. As we know already the Gardens give much more than they take.