Let’s Spread the Word about Public Gardens in D.C. and Elsewhere


I just donated to help fund a website that showcases DC-area gardens, a project spearheaded by fellow Ranter Susan Harris.

Wherever I go, I visit gardens; no doubt many of you fellow gardeners do too. And sometimes it is difficult to quickly figure out which public gardens are near where I’ll be staying or traveling through.

I would love to see municipal tourism offices do more to highlight public gardens, and I would love to see public gardens thrive in every locale. Can you imagine being able to consult a website describing and showing month-by-month photos of an unfamiliar area’s public gardens? It might even have a regional garden map with all of them marked, like some areas do with wineries, historical sites, state parks, and other destinations of interest. And a calendar of local garden-related events. What a time savings for potential visitors and a boost for the local economy.

Public gardens teach and inspire. They demonstrate design and maintenance strategies, introduce visitors to previously unknown plants, sponsor workshops and classes, and reinforce the many joys of being in a garden. Even if I never plan to visit a particular area, I would love to know its public gardens are valued and are working their magic on local and visiting gardeners.

Here are some scenes from just a few of the many public gardens in Washington, D.C. adjacent to the National Mall, a stretch of parks, museums and galleries, and public buildings between the U.S. Capitol Building and the Washington Monument. Long may these and other public gardens thrive!

Bald cypress (Taxodium distichum), an American native deciduous conifer, graces the landscape outside Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian — it grew from a log that was brought in to give the wetland area of the garden authenticity.
The Enid A. Haupt Garden is a sheltered courtyard roof garden built at ground level above several underground museums. You can see one of the skylight structures left of the palm.
Herbs and edibles grow in raised beds in the Heirloom Garden surrounding the National Museum of American History.
The heavily treed hellstrips around the National Mall are where I first spotted mini mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus “Nana”), a superb lawn alternative for shady, somewhat moist locations Zone 6 and warmer. It is used here as a low-care and low-growing edge between taller plants and the public walkways.
The Butterfly Habitat Garden showcases mature pawpaw trees (Asimina triloba), a hard-to-find native understory tree that produces edible custard-filled fruits and also happens to be a larval food for the zebra swallowtail.
It is glorious to see some of the downtown D.C. open spaces planted with food gardens.
Like many of the gardens near the Capitol Mall, the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden is long and narrow, traversing a city block between buildings. This is one of my favorites for its inventive plant combinations.
What I like most about the rose garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden is how it demonstrates not only companion flowers and shrubs interplanted with the roses, but also many different groundcovers, which function as living mulches while adding interest.
Part of the joy of these gardens is the architecture surrounding them. Shown here, the Arts and Industries Building. It would not be nearly as pleasant to contemplate this and other handsome buildings without the adjacent gardens’ natural beauty and capacity to buffer traffic noises and smells.


  1. Thanks so much – for the plug, the donation, and your interesting take on these familiar-to-me spots. Like, I didn’t know that was a Pawpaw.
    One sad note – that wonderful veg garden across the street from Air and Space is destined to be turned into a memorial to Eisenhower, if they ever stop arguing about its design.

  2. Being new to the area, I appreciated this account of gardens on the Mall. I would love, however, to see write-ups on other public gardens a little beyond the Mall. National Arboretum and Dumbarton Oaks come to my mind but there must be countless others that I haven’t discovered. Maps sound like a great idea.

  3. I live in the western corner of Massachusetts and the most local public garden in our area is The Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls. http://www.bridgeofflowersmass.org/ I am on the committee and this year we are celebrating the 85th anniversary of a trolley bridge become the Bridge of Flowers – 500 feet of the perfect example of a mixed border. Local artisans have built a beautiful Stone Spring area, and a stunning River Bench where visitors can rest. This year we are demolishing our rotting shed and building a Garden House to shelter the equipment that the volunteer Blossom Brigade uses to help keep the Bridge beautiful. This is a small public garden but it begins blooming in April with bulbs, then flowering trees and shrubs, perennials and many many annuals to take it in full flower through October 30 when it closes for the season. It has become very important to the local economy and attracts visitors from all over the world including China and Japan. How they find us I will never know. Visitors to our Facebook page can see day by day, week by week photos of what’s in bloom. Donations always welcome.

  4. If you want a good guide to public gardens, you may want to check out the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal Admission Program. They have a searchable map, state by state guide and a printable list. It only includes gardens participating in the program, but that is a great starter for visiting another location. The best part is if you are supporting a local garden through a membership, then you can get free or reduced admission or other discounts at other gardens.

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