The Cathedral Grounds
The 59 acres surrounding the Washington National Cathedral are a rich landscape tapestry. The grounds consist of cultivated gardens, 5 acres of oak and beech forest (the Olmsted Woods), athletic fields and the landscaped grounds of the institutions and schools.
The Design Plan
The original plan of the Cathedral Close was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. In 1907-1927 at the time of the building of the Cathedral apse and the excavation of the nave of the Cathedral. He, in conjunction with the Cathedral architects, designed the roads, sited the buildings, designed the Bishop's Garden, and solved most of the design problems of the site. Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.'s design has endured because its main design features continue to meet the aspirations and needs of the Cathedral. Major design elements of the Close are a park-like setting, open spaces, native woodland, and gardens to provide a setting for the Gothic cathedral with plants of historic interest, plants of the Bible and Christian heritage, and native American plants. Later landscape designers (such as Florence Brown Bratenahl) made important contributions to the landscape of the Close in the form of additions and refinements to the Olmsted plan. These include the Pilgrim Steps, entrances to the Bishop's Garden, the George Washington statue and plaza at the foot of the Pilgrim Steps, the North Cloister Garth, and the West Front court and oak grove.
The plan of the Close and its main landscape features remain as planned by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. The design concepts that shaped his plans are:
- Cluster Cathedral institutions and cluster school buildings.
- Preserve the original native Woodland and large un-built spaces.
- Enclose and screen the Close.
- Build walled medieval gardens, cloisters, and other enclosed garden spaces within the Close.
- Approach the Cathedral by a winding Pilgrim Road up through the woodlands.
- Plant and maintain evergreen and long-lived trees and flowering shrubs, herbs and flowers.
To learn more about the early development of the Close, from a drawing done by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (June 1924), click here.
Extensive writings have been done by All Hallows Guild and other authors. To view our archived documents, click here.
For a self-guided tour brochure of the gardens on the Close including Memorial Gardens - their descriptions and locations, click here.