The “garden” at the American Indian Museum


Americanindian1 It’s nobody’s notion of a garden; it’s a re-creation of the natural environment here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed as the original inhabitants knew it.  It surrounds the awesome building and together the exterior – building and landscaping – is actually more popular than the displays indoors.

I was given a tour of the landscape recently by Marsha Lea, the designer, along with two of her colleagues with EDAW – Jeanette Ankoma-Sey and Roger Courtenay (Roger designed the new National Garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden).

It’s hard to imagine from these photos how downtown this site is, what with all the wildlife it’s attracted.  Like birds galore, mallards, night herons, a family of 11 ducklings.  ThEDAWe plants were grown locally for the project, some by our buddy Barry Glick.  And the plants are all strictly species, no cultivars allowed.

From the museum’s website we learn that:  “Four hundred years ago, the Chesapeake Bay
region abounded in forests, wetlands, meadows, and Algonquian peoples’
croplands.  The [museum] restores these environments and is home to more
than 27,000 trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants representing 145

But keep reading to learn about the various habitats replicated here – hardwood forest, wetland, meadow, traditional cropland and Grandfather Rocks.  It was all carefully researched and executed, and is a great addition to our National Mall.



  1. Yes, go just for the garden (and the nearby National Botanic Garden) but do have lunch in the museum’s cafeteria — it serves food you can get nowhere else.

  2. I visited that “garden” a couple of years ago and couldn’t believe how beautiful it was. Must have been incredibly expensive to produce but it is so very attractive to people and beasts. I agree with the comment to have lunch in the cafeteria – very interesting food!

  3. I’ll third a vote for the food in the cafeteria. It’s all based on native American foods from different areas of the country. The gardens are pretty cool too. Nothing else like hem around. The National Botanic Gardens are spitting distance from here and are great. And both are free! Well, okay, your taxes help pay for them–so go and get your money’s worth.

  4. Every time I am up in DC I spend some time at this wonderful garden. I love the “Natural” look of it and it always causes me to wonder what my area would look like natural! And the food, yes it is VERY different, almost worth the trip itself!

  5. It’s exactly my notion of a garden…

    It WAS probably very expensive to do… and yet, just a relatively short time ago, it was all here for free…

  6. I’m glad you finally profiled this treasure. That and the Botanical Garden are my two favorite sites on the Mall. If you get off at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro exit, you will also pass the USDA demonstration garden on your way to the Museum of the American Indian.

    On the way back to the L’Enfant Metro, take a stroll through Mary Livingston Ripley Garden next to the Hirshhorn.

    And visit the Smithsonian Gardens website for more info on all of their incredible gardens:

  7. And don’t forget the WONDEFUL Enid Haupt garden — I believe Susan did a piece on head gardener Janet Draper here before. Now looking fully recovered from the Inauguration day trampling.
    Then there is the terrific Bartholdi Garden in back of the US Botanic Garden. It has great ideas for urban gardeners and is just off the Mall, meaning you can sit on a bench and take a break from the crowds.

  8. Thanks for a great post about an exceptional garden. It underscores the notion of sustainable landscaping, and if the habitat is created, wildlife comes. The small butterfly garden near the Natural History Museum is another favorite of mine. Aside from butterflies, we ran across a couple of mallards in the small pond there some years ago.

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