DC's Showcase of Parks and Gardens
Go outside and play in the parks, tackle the trails and relax in the glorious gardens that make DC a favorite city for outdoor enthusiasts. With more than 234,000 acres of parkland and more than 800 miles of bikeways and trails in the metro region, it’s easy to see why Outside magazine named DC the best city in America (2008). Add a touch of green to your red, white and blue DC adventures as you explore historical Civil War forts, magnificent monuments, landmarks and outdoor sculpture gardens.
Brookside Gardens: Located just north of the District, this 50-acre botanical garden features formal and informal gardens and two indoor conservatories. During the summer, Brookside Gardens houses a spectacular live butterfly show. In the fall, a chrysanthemum show features DC’s landmarks, animals, and other fanciful items sculpted out of fall blooms.
Constitution Gardens: Constitution Gardens spreads across 45 acres of landscaped grounds, including an island and a lake. Trees and benches line the paths to create a tranquil atmosphere and a perfect spot for a picnic. The gardens boast approximately 5,000 oak, maple, dogwood, elm and crabapple trees, covering more than 14 acres. Bordering the Reflecting Pool to the north, the gardens include the Signers of the Declaration of Independence Memorial.
C&O Canal Historical Park: Once the lifeline for communities and businesses along the Potomac River, the Chesapeake & Ohio, or “C & O,” Canal spans 184 ½ miles along the Potomac River, starting in Georgetown and ending in Cumberland, MD. Visitors can travel back to the 1870s on a mule-drawn canal boat, ride the original lift lock, tour old quarters as well as hike, bike and camp in this history-rich national park.
Dumbarton Oaks Gardens: Located in the heart of Georgetown, the Dumbarton Oaks estate offers 10 acres of formal gardens with oak trees, a rose garden, a towering bamboo stand and an English country garden surrounding the mansion. Several terraces are devoted solely to the planting of herbs, cherry trees and forsythias. The lovely Pebble Garden is framed by rococo borders of moss and is paved with a mosaic of Mexican stones. Looking for romance? Couples can enjoy the tranquility of the garden by relaxing at Lovers Lane Pool.
Hillwood Museum, Estate and Gardens: Designed for cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and located at one of her former homes, the gardens at Hillwood contain more than 3,500 varieties of plants and trees. Wooded paths connect the gardens and encircle the sweep of lawn on the mansion's south side. Azaleas, violets, rhododendrons and dogwoods add to the garden's beauty. Among Hillwood’s delights: a restored Japanese garden featuring a waterfall and bridge, a rose garden, ivy clipped from Buckingham Palace and greenhouses containing more than 5,000 orchids.
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden: This Smithsonian museum’s outdoor Sculpture Garden offers an artistic take on the afternoon stroll, with over 60 sculptures by artists such as Auguste Rodin, Henry Matisse, Jeff Koons and Alexander Calder placed throughout its one-and-a-half acres of land. Take the time to contemplate in the Garden’s landscaped areas and geometric reflecting pool.
Franciscan Monastery Garden: Flowers, trees and shrubs grow lavishly on the 40-acre grounds of the Franciscan Monastery. Daffodils, flowering dogwood, cherry and tulip trees add to the garden's splendor. The garden includes pathways and authentic replicas of Holy Land shrines. Tropical treasures cultivated in the monastery’s greenhouse include hibiscus, lantanas, tiger lilies, giant caladiums and palm and banana trees.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens: Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is the only National Park Service site devoted to the propagation and display of aquatic plants. Kenilworth is tucked away in Southeast DC along the east bank of the Anacostia River– the city’s last tidal marsh. The Gardens span 14 acres, with 45 ponds that sustain the East Coast’s foremost collection of exotic water lilies, ferns and lotuses. The ponds contain more than 100,000 water plants. The aquatic environment also serves as a habitat for a number of small animals, including various frogs, toads, turtles, birds and insects.
Lady Bird Johnson Park/ Lyndon Johnson Memorial Grove: Built with materials dredged from the Potomac River in 1916, this island was named for the former first lady in 1968 to salute her efforts to beautify the United States. In spring, one million daffodils bloom throughout the park and along the highway leading to the park. At the south, a 15-acre grove of trees stands in honor of President Johnson. A large block of Texas pink granite serves as the focal point of the memorial.
Mount Vernon: George Washington’s Estate & Gardens: Sitting on the banks of the Potomac River, George Washington’s historic Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens gives visitors a first-hand experience into the private life of our first president. Walk through George’s beautifully landscaped and expertly manicured gardens filled with 18-century flowers to see his “green” side.
National Arboretum: Perched on one of DC’s highest points, the National Arboretum rambles over 444 acres. Ten miles of hard surface roads wind through the scenic grounds, making it ideal for exploration on bicycle, on foot, or by car. The National Arboretum was established in 1927 by Congress and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The Arboretum includes several major plant collections, including azaleas, cherries, hollies, rhododendrons, ferns and wildflowers. Hundreds of acres of natural forest complement more than a dozen special gardens. The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum on the Arboretum grounds showcases the delicate Asian art form. Across the road from the bonsai collection, the National Herb Garden features an extensive spread of antique roses and ten specialty herb gardens.
Potomac Park: Divided into two sections, East and West Potomac Parks, this swath of green space covers some of the city’s most memorable sights. West Potomac Park includes spectacular views of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, Constitution Gardens, the Reflecting Pool, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the FDR Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Tidal Basin, framed by the famous cherry trees. East Potomac Park also blooms with cherry blossoms in the spring. At the southern tip of the park, Hains Point features ball fields, a golf course, tennis courts and picnic grounds.
Rock Creek Park: Named after the Potomac River tributary that snakes through Northwest DC from the Kennedy Center into suburban Maryland, 2,800-acre Rock Creek Park is one of the nation’s finest and largest city parks. Designated a National Park in 1890, the park was the first urban natural area set aside by Congress as “a pleasuring place for the enjoyment of the people of the United States.” Today, locals and visitors escape into Rock Creek to bike, hike, play golf, ride horses, picnic, enjoy live performances and explore historic sites. Within city limits, the park boasts 29 miles of foot trails and 13 miles of bridle paths. The creek itself tumbles through six miles of wooded forests, rolling hills and quiet wilderness in the heart of the busy city before fading into the Maryland suburbs.
Tudor Place Gardens: The stately grounds of the Tudor Place estate in historic Georgetown include five acres of beautifully landscaped gardens. Owned by Martha Custis Peter, granddaughter of George and Martha Washington, the gardens have retained the expanse of green lawns, parterres and woodland originally developed by the Peter family. The sloping South Lawn contains the specimen trees planted in the early 19th century. Formal plantings such as the Flower Knot and English Box make up the North Garden and along the estate's south facade is the ever-blooming China rose planted by Martha Peter.
U.S. Botanic Garden: Azaleas, lilies and orchids bloom within the glass and aluminum conservatory, while specialized areas of the facility explore primordial plants, medicinal plants, and other topics of interest. The Botanic Garden also features an exotic jungle and a tropical rain forest, in which climbing vines race toward the top of the tiered greenhouse. Another spectacular exhibit is the orchid collection, which features more than 10,000 varieties. The Garden earned a new claim to fame in 2009 as one of the featured locations in Dan Brown’s “The Lost Symbol.”
Washington National Cathedral Gardens: The Washington National Cathedral's 57 acre-tract provides a perfect view of the city. Located atop the highest point of the city, the grounds of the Cathedral include a variety of gardens. The Cathedral's small herb garden features rosemary, thyme and mint. The Bishop's Garden is the setting for magnolias, orchids and exquisite flowers. The Little Garden is designed to look like a medieval herb garden surrounded by hedges of old English boxwood. The Cathedral is also home to a rather mysterious treasure, the Glastonbury thorn tree. This English tree, according to legend, blooms only on Christmas Day and when royalty visits. The tree has lived up to the legend so far. It has bloomed only on Christmas Day. The other five times it bloomed were for Queen Elizabeth's visits in 1951, 1957 and 2007 and for Prince Charles' visits in 1981 and 2005. The Cathedral is also the site of the annual Flower Mart held in early May.
Circles, Squares & Forts: DC’s wide streets and broad avenues come together at circles and squares throughout the city. Here, locals also come together for picnics, lunch, people-watching and more. Join a pick-up game of chess, listen to an impromptu music set or relax fountain-side at Dupont Circle. Admire the lovely architecture on Logan Circle and visit the neighborhood’s hip and trendy boutiques. Take a break in the shadow of the White House in Lafayette Square, or go full-speed ahead to Farragut Square for summer evening concerts.
Some of the forts built to defend DC during the Civil War are now popular parks and gathering places. Fort Reno, the largest of the forts, and Fort Dupont, now play host to local, regional and national acts in two of DC’s most popular free summer concert series.
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