US Botanic Garden
US Botanic Garden
The National Mall stretching between the Washington Monument and the Capitol is lined with prestigious museums filled with artifacts from the past. The US Botanic Garden is unique among its fellow museums in that it is filled with living specimens of plants from all over the globe. Steps away from the Capitol, this glorified greenhouse is almost overshadowed by the huge architecturally impressive museums that surround it but it serves as a breath of fresh air from all the stuffy grandiosity of the other institutions.
The garden was created by the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences in Washington, D.C. in the early 1800’s in an effort to collect and study plants from other regions that might be beneficial to the American people. The wide-ranging collection was amassed by contributions from dignitaries all over the world as well as the findings of various explorations. It wasn’t officially known as the US Botanic Garden until 1850 and Congress funded the construction of the first greenhouse several years later. The garden was originally located at the base of the Capitol at the site of the Capitol Reflecting Pool but was relocated in 1933 and placed under the jurisdiction of the Architect of the Capitol.
The Garden Court makes a grand first impression with its high ceilings, towering trees, and colorful fountains running down the middle. Throughout the year, the displays in this entrance area change drastically with seasonal plants and other attractions. I find this to be the most pleasing area in the Conservatory where you can sit on one of the many benches along the fountain tucked in amongst masses of potted plants and listen to the splashing water and the faint classical music playing in the background.
The tropical display is located in the central dome of the Conservatory and is the most elaborate of all the sections. On the ground level paths weave over and around an artificial stream and the bases of the tall palm trees are surrounded with leafy tropical plants of every imaginable variety. Clouds of mist and faint birdcalls and other “jungle” sounds add to the ambiance as you climb the stairs to the walkways in the forest canopy. Hanging vines of flowers and other plants are woven into the structure of the metal walkways adding visual interest everywhere you look.
Various themed displays fill the greenhouses that surround the central tropical area, each one entered through automatic sliding glass doors to maintain the different climates necessary. The Orchids Room isn’t very big but manages to create a vibrant display with ornate flowers growing from every surface and even more to be discovered upon closer inspection. There is a desert garden, a Hawaiian themed room, and even an outdoor are with pools of lotus and water lilies. The attention to detail is impeccable with ever-changing seasonal floral displays in the entrance, hallways, and Garden Court.
Final Rating: The US Botanic Garden is an important addition to all of the other museums along the National Mall offering living specimens to be studied and enjoyed rather than dusty artifacts under glass. Aside from its extensive plant collections, the building itself is quite remarkable and offers a lush, welcoming environment to relax and be surrounded by nature. It is a fitting garden to represent our nation’s capitol and much deserving of its prominent location alongside the other historic institutions. This is the perfect garden to visit during the winter months or on a rainy DC day, but it is amazing enough to visit any time of the year. FIVE BLOOM RATING