The name Botanic Garden is somewhat misleading, as this collection is more than just a garden, it’s a museum of living plants. Located on the National Mall at the foot of the Capitol Building (on First Street S.W., between Maryland and C Street), the Conservatory is free to the public and open from 10 am-5 pm daily. Parking is limited in the area, but USBG can be reached by Metro: Blue or Orange line to the Federal Center S.W. or Capital South station.
The USBG dates back to 1816, with the idea of collecting, growing, and distributing plants from around the world that might contribute to the welfare of the American people. The idea started, and then sputtered, but eventually caught on after the Wilkes Expedition brought back to Washington a collection of living plants from around the world.
In 1933, the USBG moved to its current location. The site now includes the Conservatory, two acres of surrounding grounds, and outdoor display gardens in Frederic Auguste Bartholdi Park.
Walking through the gardens, I found some old favorites of mine, as well as lots of plants that I have never seen before. The collection is all labeled, so it’s easy to find out what you are looking at. There are a variety of living exhibits, and seasonal displays, resulting in approximately 4,000 plants on display, and docents are available to answer questions and provide further information.
On my visit, the feature exhibit was a themed display on family reunions – this one was A Gathering of Plant Families. It was interesting to browse the family tree display and discover which plants are related to which others. For example: Did you know that thyme is related to the houseplant, the coleus?
My favorite displays were the orchids. Large and small, and in a variety of shapes, from a simple white in color, to more vibrant tropical colors; they all were beautiful. If only I could grow them like that at home.
While the USBG is great on a sunny summer day, it offers year-round, all-weather options. As the seasons change, so do the blooms.