Situated on the grounds of the United States Capitol, near Garfield Circle, lies the oldest continually-operated botanic garden in the United States – the United States Botanic Garden. Established by the U.S. Congress in 1820, the botanic garden houses an incredible variety of both local and exotic plants, including specimens and seeds that can be dated back all the way to the South Seas exploration of the Wilkes Expedition.
The striking glass and aluminum curves of the gigantic Lord & Burnham greenhouse demands attention, and while you can enter the United States Botanic Garden through the imposing stone facade of the the main conservatory, a lot of people end up in the botanic garden by following the green (and associated tranquility) of the National Garden, which lies on the Botanic Garden’s west border. In addition to the odd sculpture or two that finds itself exhibited in this space, this outside garden includes a regional garden of plants native to the Atlantic Coastal Plain and Piedmont, a rose garden, a butterfly garden, and the First Ladies Water Garden, a water garden in memory of the First Ladies of the United States.
Then there is the Conservatory itself. Housed in the stunning, aforementioned greenhouse, the Conservatory is divided into separate rooms, each simulating a different habitat. Rooms included in this list are The Garden Court, Rare and Endangered Plants, Plant Exploration, Orchid House, Medicinal Plants, Desert, Hawaii, Garden Primeval, Plant Adaptation, Jungle (which is by far the largest room, featuring an elevated catwalk to walk above the jungle canopy), Children’s Garden, and Southern Exposure. The end result is a wide array of many small collections of interesting plants, and I have to be honest, I did break out in a broad smile when I stumbled across the small collection of our local fynbos on display.
The United States Botanic Garden is a wondrous space. Compact enough that it doesn’t take too long to wander through, but filled with so much colour and with such varied plant species (with the odd sculpture and mural thrown in) that you can’t but help meander through with a peaceful mind and even broader smile on your face. Easy to recommend if you are looking for a little break from exploring all that history that is housed along the National Mall!
As an extra bonus, just across the road to the south of the Conservatory lies Bartholdi Park, also part of the United States Botanic Garden complex but tucked away just enough from the tourists that it is often referred to as Washington D.C.’s secret garden for the locals. Anchored by its incredibly beautiful cast-iron fountain, the Fountain of Light and Water by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi (the man who designed the Statue of Liberty), Bartholdi Park is considered a refuge from the stresses of the city, with secluded benches offering quiet shade in the summer and sheltered sunlight in the winter, all while surrounded by a giddy array of trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, vines, ground covers, roses and bulbs. In other words, the perfect way to escape the constant buzz of the US Capitol and National Mall strip!