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10 Reasons to Visit the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC
Discover natural beauty at this free-to-enter, kid-friendly landmark on the National Mall.
Washington, DC and the surrounding area are home to numerous national parks, but the city also offers the United States Botanic Garden (100 Maryland Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20001), a living plant museum that informs one million-plus visitors per year of the importance of plants to not just human beings, but the earth’s ecosystems as a whole. Below, we’ve listed reasons why the Botanic Garden should be on your list of places to see on a visit to the nation’s capital.
Visiting the U.S. Botanic Garden and observing all of its wondrous features is free for the entire family. Its Conservatory and National Garden are open every day of the year from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., with the National Garden staying open until 7 p.m. from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Bartholdi Park is open every day from dawn until dusk.
The history of the U.S. Botanic Garden coincides with the history of the U.S. itself, as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison all wanted a national botanic garden, with their efforts eventually leading to one being established on the National Mall in 1820. The Botanic Garden has been in continuous operation since 1850 and in its current location since 1933.
One of the Botanic Garden’s crown jewels is the Conservatory, a greenhouse containing two courtyard gardens and 10 garden rooms under glass. The permanent exhibits and gardens found inside offer a wide array of plants and environments, providing a comprehensive experience that engages your sense of sight, smell and sound.
One of the world’s most mythic and beautiful plants, the orchid is one of the Conservatory’s main attractions. An entire area is dedicated to an ever-blooming, ever-changing display of the plant. In total, the Botanic Garden possesses roughly 5,000 orchid specimens, with hundreds available to view on any given day.
Located just across Independence Avenue from the Botanic Garden’s Conservatory, Bartholdi Park is a two-acre space that is ideal for peaceful isolation, featuring sheltered benches to go with shade in the summertime and cascading sunlight in the winter. The gorgeous Bartholdi Fountain is a sight for sore eyes. And of course, the park also offers a stunning variety of plants, from evergreens to perennials to roses and bulbs.
Okay, not literally. However, the Botanic Garden does feature a World Deserts room, where you will find succulents, shrubs, grasses and a range of other flowering plants that call the desert home.
The three-acre National Garden showcases environments of the Mid-Atlantic region and plants from all over the country. Key features include the Rose Garden, which highlights roses that thrive in the Mid-Atlantic, and the First Ladies Water Garden, which honors contributions made by First Ladies of the U.S. This outdoor laboratory serves as a great educator for aspiring gardeners as well.
The Children’s Garden makes for an outstanding outdoor space to entertain the kids and spark their curiosity in the natural world. Children can use gardening tools, touch and smell plants, create a vine tunnel, dig, enjoy the platform climbing structure and so much more. And, most importantly, parents can take a seat in a shaded area.
In line with its mission of conserving plants and educating the public of their immense importance, the U.S. Botanic Garden offers an area solely dedicated to rare and endangered plant species. The changing display highlights plants that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Check out the online gallery before you go.
The Botanic Garden gets decked out for the holidays thanks to this annual exhibit. This year’s model will feature a model train running through classic train stations like New York City's Grand Central Terminal, St. Louis' Union Station and many more. Inside the Conservatory you'll also find the garden's collection of DC's iconic landmarks, including a model of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture and a showcase of poinsettias. The 2018-19 edition is open from Nov. 22 – Jan. 1 (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.), and will stay open until 8 p.m. with holiday concerts most Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December.