Last January, I was in DC and decided, after a decade of visiting DC regularly(not to mention living there for two years), to visit the United States Botanic Garden. Unfortunately, being winter, the outdoor areas were closed, but the warmth of the outstanding gardens, in a smaller space, was quite nice.
Located right at the bottom of Capitol Hill, at the head of The Mall, the United States Botanic Garden is an often overlooked stop amidst the monuments and museums. In fact, although I used to play softball on the mall right outside its front doors, I had never gone inside. It is a relatively small space, given its urban setting, but if you can tear your party away from the grand buildings and tourist destinations, I strongly recommend it. My leisurely tour took about an hour- I might have lingered longer but for the main hazard of DC: screeching schoolchildren.
There are a number of different rooms in the botanic garden, my favorites were the main room with the fountains, as pictured above, the Hawaii room- which didn’t lend itself to photographs (given that it was crowded with teenage boys running around) and the orchid room.
The main room’s lovely fountains were decked out for the inauguration:
The tropical room, just off the main room had a really great selection of tropical plants and a skywalk to walk amongst the trees.
By far the prettiest (and quietest) room was the orchid room. It seemed like 100 different kinds of extremely well grown orchids with nary a faded bloom among them.
More great flowers
In this photo, you can see my pinkie and ring finger- This flower truly was the same size as my gorilla-sized hand. I’ve never seen such a large orchid. Every single orchid in the garden was larger than its cousins at my house.
It was visually stunning and absolutely the perfect antidote to the chaos that reined in Washington then (and now).
If you have a chance, I recommend that you take a stroll through the Capitol lawn, which has a magnificent display of Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Magnolias and other impressive trees. I am not sure if you are allowed anymore- in the olden days when I worked in the Capitol you could stroll the “business side” of the capitol grounds, which contained an impressive Tulip Poplar that was the inspiration years later for me to plant a tulip poplar in my own garden. Some day I might enjoy the beauty of the tallest tree in Eastern North America.
If you are not allowed to walk through the grounds, I recommend a stroll through the Capitol Hill neighborhood- ideally a 5 or 6 block walk up East Capitol street- north a few blocks to Constitution Ave and back: there are some really great gardens in the neighborhood. As a young person from Zone 4, the plants in Washington boggled my mind; I didn’t know that you could grow rosemary outside and had never seen a saucer magnolia. Easy to please, I’ve never forgotten these gardens.
Washington has many delightful gardens- both inside and out. The next time you are there with a tour group or for business, please take a moment to stroll through some of my favorite public gardens.