by Lois Rose
Notes on the United States Botanic Garden
Thought of by George Washington, the garden was established in 1820 and now is administered through the Architect of the Capitol. Its mission is to promote botanical knowledge through cultivation of a collection of plants, to present displays, exhibits and programs to Congress and the public, and to foster sustainability and plant conservation.
The garden is a short distance from the Capitol building. It is not very large, but contains a wide variety of interesting and unusual specimen plants, especially in alternative colors and shapes and sizes. In early spring—April—there was just the beginning of the display but phlox for example was in abundance. People who work in the neighborhood gather there at their lunch time, sit and read. Water features, clever companion planting, garden rooms—for its size it packs a punch.
The United States National Arboretum
The extensive grounds of the Arboretum deserve at least half a day. The Azalea Collection was in full bloom in April, with thousands of plants covering the sides of Mount Hamilton with paths going up and around. Many of the shrubs come from the breeding program of former director Benjamin Morrison, hybridizing large flowered tender azaleas in the Indica group with Hardy northern species between 1929 and 1954. The Glenn Dale Hillside contains thousands of hybrids. Late blooming azaleas can be seen into May and early June, although April was spectacular and not to be missed, on winding trails, some difficult for strollers and the hike challenged.
National Herb Garden
The garden was in its early stages in April, and is adjacent to several other areas of interest. It is an extensive and diverse display of herbs from all over the world, for all purposes. Imagine the Cleveland Botanical Garden exploded to the entire Wade Oval and beyond. Roses come on in May—summer and fall must be equally impressive. The paths in this area are wide and easy to navigate.
The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum
These are close to the other gardens, contains one of the largest collections of these trees in North America. Penjing refers to the Chinese precursor to the Japanese art of bonsai. Three pavilions hold about 150 plants and there is also a section of stones and ikebana, a style of Japanese flower arranging. The large variety and spectacular execution of this huge collection will require a sufficient time for study and appreciation.
Next to the Supreme Court building is a lovely small garden with much to see. In April there were many early flowering perennials, well arranged, beautifully tended. Be sure to take the short stroll to enjoy this surprising gem.