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Enid A. Haupt Garden

Enid A. Haupt Garden
Washington, DC

The Smithsonian Institution building is the oldest building on the National Mall and it certainly looks the part, a giant gothic castle in red sandstone around which all the other buildings and museums were established. This architectural wonder also harbors the Enid A. Haupt Garden, one of DC’s best-kept secrets. This peaceful garden oasis is a welcome contrast to the bustling activity along the Mall, populated with a casual mix of in-the-know Washingtonians and more adventurous tourists. The garden is actually comprised of three unique sections designed to highlight the corresponding museums below. Unfortunate renovation plans for the surrounding museums have put the future of this garden in jeopardy. Modern designs of the proposal could never live up to this gorgeous Victorian landscape that is truly a garden fit for a castle!

Step through the elaborate iron gates on either side of the castle and time seems to slow as you follow any number of brick pathways through the four-acre quadrangle. This garden seems very secluded from the outside world but extremely welcoming once you are within its walls, with endless benches, tables, and areas for gathering. With rotating plantings thought the year, the Parterre is always the stunning focal point of the site, but once spring and summer arrive, the other sections of the garden come to life. Spring in the Moongate Garden with its weeping cherry tree and pink granite gates is quite poetic. The Fountain Garden lined with rows of saucer magnolia in the spring, is best appreciated in the summer when its cooling water features are much appreciated by children and adults alike. 

S. Dillon Ripley originally spearheaded an initiative that allowed for exhibits and education to extend outside the walls of the Smithsonian, resulting on the creation of what was originally named the Victorian Garden in 1976. Generous donations from horticultural philanthropist Enid A. Haupt allowed for a major renovation and expansion of the gardens in 1987. The Parterre from the Victorian Garden was preserved and the the additions of the Moongate & Fountain Gardens that complement the entrances of the Sackler & African Art Museums were added to either side. This historical garden is now in danger of being replaced with a modern redesign that eliminates the formal gardens in favor of open areas and more visible museum entrances.

Final Rating: The Enid A. Haupt Garden is everything that a successful public garden should be, a welcoming place where people can get away from the city chaos and enjoy being outdoors. It is a formal garden that does not take itself too seriously and simply offers up a beautiful backdrop for a lunch break or afternoon stroll. There is almost an old-world feel to the castle and gardens that stands apart from the other museums and government buildings outside it’s gates. Perhaps it is the hidden, secluded nature of the garden that I appreciate so much that has brought about the proposed “opening up” of the redesign. Hopefully some respect for the history of The Smithsonian and its horticultural history might still save this DC treasure. FOUR BLOOM RATING

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