Diverse pockets of green in Washington, DC
By Kathy Jentz
With more attractions per square mile than just about anywhere else in the United States, the 2-mile-long National Mall in Washington, DC, includes the Smithsonian Institution and its satellite historical and art museums, the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the National Gallery of Art, and much more. Less well-known—and less visited, which can be a blessing for those seeking relief from the city’s crowds—are the many horticultural delights between, around, and even on top of the buildings. If you’re a garden lover, consider incorporating some of the following free and easily accessible green spaces in your Mall-hopping itinerary. The numbers refer to their locations on the map.
United States Botanic Garden
At the foot of Capitol Hill, the United States Botanic Garden (1) is one of the oldest public gardens in the country. Inside the conservatory are rooms representing various regions of the world, including the Mediterranean and the tropics, and a garden containing plants from the southern and southwestern United States. Even those without an interest in horticulture may be intrigued by the carnivorous plant collection. (100 Maryland Ave. SW, usbg.gov, 202-225-8333)
Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden
Gardens of the Smithsonian
The Smithsonian Institution maintains a dozen impressive and varied gardens (gardens.si.edu) that serve as outdoor museums on the Mall. Among them are the small Mary Livingston Ripley Garden (2), which features unusual herbaceous and woody plants combined in inventive and delightful ways by self-professed “plant geek” Janet Draper, the horticulturist who has spent 20 years tending these beds. She leads tours of the garden every Tuesday at 2 p.m. through October.
Mary Livingston Ripley Garden
In the 4.2-acre Enid A. Haupt Garden (3), the granite moon gates are favorite frames for taking selfies and people-watching. During the summer months, you will find containers overflowing with tropical plants. Many visitors do not realize that this is a rooftop garden, spanning the National Museum of African Art, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and the S. Dillon Ripley Center. Pyramid-shaped windows located around the garden allow light into the galleries below.
Enid A. Haupt Garden
Seven acres of tiered terraces at the National Air and Space Museum (4) have been planted with trees, shrubs, and perennial groundcovers—many of them native—to attract birds and beneficial insects, the original fliers that inspired the accomplishments celebrated inside. From tiny grasses blessed by a Cherokee elder to stately cypress trees used to build canoes, every element of the Native Landscape at the National Museum of the American Indian (5) serves to remind us of the passage of time and the direct ties each of us has to the land.
Pollinator Garden at the National Museum of Natural History
The 1.3-acre Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (6) can be one of the hottest places in DC in the summer, as the humid air gets trapped in the sunken and mostly shadeless plaza. The heat is worth braving, however, when you see the clever pairings of more than 60 large-scale works of art with various landscape features, such as the sculptures of mourners sited next to weeping beech trees. The Pollinator Garden at the National Museum of Natural History (7) teems with butterflies and other nectar-eating insects in the summer, and the small Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden (8) was recently redesigned to spotlight four seasons of interest.
Finally, the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History (9) includes vegetables, fruits, herbs, and annuals that were cultivated in American gardens prior to 1950. Popular “Food in the Garden” events are held in this venue once or twice a year and include edibles, drink, and conversation about the connections between plants and people.
5 More to Visit
The region around Washington, DC, features scores of public gardens. Many are showcased on the dcgardens.com website, which includes photos of how they look each month of the year. The five gardens below are particularly notable; consult the individual websites listed for more information, including admission fees and hours. The hot and humid summer weather can be taxing, so take precautions and visit outdoor gardens early in the morning if possible.
On the north side of the DC beltway, this collection of woody plants is magnificent year round. Summer highlights include crape myrtles, chaste trees, and summersweet. (1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, MD; montgomeryparks.org; 301-962-1400)
The monastery is actually a friary, but never mind that. Come for the tropical beds, rose collection, and native woodland walk. If you have time, take a guided tour of the Holy Land shrine replicas. (1400 Quincy St. NE; Washington, DC; myfranciscan.org; 202-526-6800)
Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens
Marjorie Merriweather Post bought Hillwood in 1955 to house her Russian and French art, but her love of flowers is evident from the orchid collection. A summer highlight is the large cutting garden. (4155 Linnean Ave. NW; Washington, DC; hillwoodmuseum.org; 202-686-5807)
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Summer is the best time to visit for fabulous photos of the abundant water lily and lotus blooms. Don’t be surprised if you arrive on a weekday and have the whole place to yourself. (1900 Anacostia Ave. SE; Washington, DC; nps.gov/keaq/index.htm; 202-692-6080)
U.S. National Arboretum
“Don’t miss our mature grove of dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) trees located near the Gotelli Dwarf and Slow-Growing Conifer Collection,” says Scott Aker, USNA’s head of horticulture and education. They are among the oldest of this species in North America. (3501 New York Ave. NE; Washington, DC; usna.usda.gov; 202-245-2726)