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On a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I had the pleasure of touring the conservatory at the United States Botanic Garden as well as the National Garden that’s just outside the conservatory’s door. Both are located on the National Mall side-by-side with all the incredible Smithsonian museums and the Washington Monument.
The National Garden is a sight to behold! First conceived in 1991 as a showcase for our national flower, the rose, the garden was finally opened to the public in 2006 after many years of fundraising. It was created with contributions from private citizens, garden clubs, small businesses and corporations.
The 3 acres of gardens are largely regional, representing many plants and habitats from the Mid-Atlantic region, all conceived with the idea of maintaining balance with nature. The site was once a marshland that was drained in the early 1600s. It underwent a complete renovation before construction began due to previous excavation and contamination of the site. Severe compaction, drainage issues and toxic pollutants were remediated in advance of the garden’s construction.
1. Regional Garden
The National Garden’s Regional Garden, featuring Mid-Atlantic natives, demonstrates how an urban space can be turned into a natural oasis. Benches and chairs are placed throughout the garden, enticing visitors to linger and enjoy the calm of the garden. The Regional Garden contains hundreds of different plant species, all incorporated into an aesthetically pleasing and fully accessible design. Also, featured here is a wooden walkway that meanders over a water garden and artificial brook.
2. Margaret Hagedorn Rose Garden
The Margaret Hagedorn Rose Garden exhibits hundreds of organically maintained roses of all colors, shapes and sizes. The most formal space within the National Garden, the symmetrical design of the Rose Garden is highlighted with thyme-laced stepping stones and various unique container plantings. This garden is truly breathtaking in June, when all the roses are in bloom.
3. Butterfly Garden
The Butterfly Garden is a pesticide-free environment that provides resources for both adult and larval butterflies using a mixture of plants native to the Eastern U.S. and several introduced species, including numerous trees, shrubs, herbaceous perennials, grasses and annuals. While I was there, I saw at least a half dozen monarch butterflies flitting about the garden, along with a red admiral, several fritillaries and many skippers.
One of the horticulturists working there told me that the plant that draws the most interest from visitors is a member of the milkweed family known as hairy balls (Asclepias physocarpa) due to its puffed, round, spiny seed heads. It was scattered throughout the garden, and everywhere I saw it, a visitor was sure to be standing close-by admiring the plant.
4. First Ladies Water Garden
The First Ladies Water Garden features a lovely fountain and seating areas in honor of the First Ladies of the U.S. There is also an amphitheater on-site that offers a place for events and educational programs, as well as a Lawn Terrace where festivals and classes are often held.
The garden is free and open to the public. It is a true national treasure you should not miss if you ever find yourself in our nation’s capital.
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