A great garden in the nation's capital you'll probably never see – even if you live here – is in front of the EPA's headquarters, just across the street from the Smithsonian. Strewn gloriously along Constitution Avenue are four rain gardens, designated by a nice sign telling you all about it and the simple depression of grade that catches rainwater and drains it slowly. But it's all so beautiful you'd never think of it as a Low Impact Development bioretension cell (that's what they are but ugh, what a name!).
Combined, they're just one of 35 gardens that are the responsibility of horticulturist Elizabeth Federico, on the right in the photo, or the 100+ sites covering many acres that are overseen by GSA's top horticulturist for the DC region, Janet Kenoyer, on the left. These folks are gung-ho about switching to more sustainable landscaping and use this site to encourage others, especially other government facilities, to follow suit. So you'll see the website has gobs of information about stormwater management – another unsexy term for what's arguably the most important environmental issues in landscapes, at least here in the East.
Bottom to top, turtlehead, Amsonia hubrechtii, 'Little Joe' eupatorium and viburnum 'Doublefile'.
But the jewel in this horticultural crown is tucked in a courtyard just behind this building and there's some juicy DC lore about the site, starting with its history as a secret whorehouse back in the day. More recently it was construction rubble before being transformed into a haven for EPA workers, though not without having to stop for the filming of the movie "Breach". Here's the plant list for the courtyard, with photos of each plant (unfortunately, taken when the plants were very young). And here's the plan for the courtyard, also with plant names. Kenoyer told me the top factor in plant choice was sustainability, not where the plants grew originally, because "not
all natives are sustainable." So about half the plants are natives and all of them are on my list of recommended plants for low-maintenance gardeners in this region.
Aster 'Alma Potschke', Itea 'Little Henry', Viburnum x Burkwoodii 'Mohawk', permeable pavers and an old street curb reused/recycled into a bench.
GORGEOUS, VERY DOABLE, AND LARGELY UNSEEN
I love that these gardens prove once and for all that responsible stormwater management can be beautiful and I applaud the EPA's efforts to make that point better known to the public. Sadly, most of the teaching has to be online because the courtyard isn't open to the public (since 9/11 not much IS here in this town) except by prearranged tour.
Knock Out Rose 'Radcan' and coropeosis verticillata 'Zagreb'