There are gardens, and then there are splendid gardens, and the latter is exactly what you’ll expect and get at the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington DC.
The name Botanic Garden is somewhat misleading, as this collection is more than just a garden — it’s a museum of living plants. The site is located on the National Mall, at the foot of the Capitol Building, and is comprised of the Conservatory, National Garden, and Bartholdi Park.
The USBG dates back to 1816, with the concept of collecting, growing, and distributing plants from around the world that might contribute to the welfare of the American people. The idea started, and then sputtered, but eventually caught on after the Wilkes Expedition brought a collection of living plants from around the world back to Washington.
Walking through the gardens, you’ll likely find some of your old favorites, as well as plenty of things that you’ve never seen before. The collection is all labeled, so after scratching your head trying to guess what you’re looking at, just look down for the label and you’ll know. There are a variety of living exhibits, and seasonal displays, making it about 4,000 plants on display. It can seem overwhelming. But, if you want to know more, look around for one of the docents. They are quite knowledgeable, and can answer questions and provide further information. For me, that meant learning the sad news that many of the plants I love will not grow here in the rainy Pacific Northwest.
My favorite displays were the orchids. Large and small, and in a variety of shapes, from a simple white in color, to more vibrant tropical colors — they all were beautiful. Oh how I wish I had a green thumb.
While the USBG is great on a sunny summer day, it offers year round, all weather options. As the seasons change, so do the blooms, so don’t let the time of year or the weather put you off a visit.
Location: The main entrance to the Conservatory is at 100 Maryland Avenue SW. The National Garden is right next door, with entrances on Independence Avenue, Maryland Avenue and the Conservatory Terrace. Bartholdi Park is located across from the Conservatory on Independence Avenue.
Hours: The Conservatory is open daily, 10 am-5 pm (including weekends and holidays); the National Garden is open 10 am – 5 pm daily, with extended hours till 7 pm during the summer; Bartholdi Parks is open dawn to dusk daily.
By Metro: Blue or Orange line to the Federal Center SW or Capital South station.
Photo credit: Andreas Praefcke (conservatory); USBG (orchids)