New Arboretum Director is Everyone’s Choice


olsenThe 446-acre treasure in an unloved part of Washington, D.C. that is the National Arboretum has seemed down on its luck these last few years.  It had a short-term director (not a plant person), then several acting directors, and worst of all, a two-year cutback on public hours to just four days a week since a congressional event called a sequester. (I worked in Congress for decades and don’t actually know what that is.)

But I’m happy to report some great Arboretum news in just the last two weeks. First it opened back up to the public seven days a week, thanks to its terrific friends group. Then came the long-awaited announcement of its new director, who just happens to be the person everyone in the plant world seemed to be rooting for – one Dr. Richard Olsen. Here’s why he’s the guy everyone wanted for the job.

True-Blue Plant Geek

Quoting from the Bonsai Federation’s congratulatory announcement, “Dr. Olsen has a bachelor of science degree in landscape design (NC State University), a master degree in horticulture (University of Georgia) and a doctorate in horticultural science (NC State University).” Plus, he studied with the much-admired J.C. Raulston, and his specialty is breeding urban trees.

Just last week I heard Richard speak to members of DC’s geekiest garden club about his tree explorations in China and collaborations with plant geneticists there, after which he distributed some of the collected seeds to growers and enthusiasts like Tony Avent of Plant Delights, who praised the choice of Richard for the job.

Adding to consensus opinion are the facts that Richard came up through the ranks and is young, personable, impressive at the podium, and so on.

Back in the ‘hood


While others can recount Richard’s scientific achievements, my perspective is as a neighbor. Richard and his family live in the same little New Deal-created low-income housing community that I moved into three years ago. It’s now a co-op, and we both serve on its Woodlands Committee.

And when I solicited Richard to let garden-tour-goers see his during our Less Lawn Garden Tour, he agreed, so take a peek! (And thanks to Washington Gardener Magazine editor Kathy Jentz for her photos.)


Bold statements in the Olsens’ front yard.


 How to hide an ugly rain barrel with something beautiful.

I see from a story in our local paper that the Olsens have lived here since 2006. So while people at the Arboretum and plant geeks everywhere are praising the USDA’s decision to tap Richard Olsen for the top job, people in funky and proud Historic Greenbelt can rightly claim him as one of our own.

Now for some eye candy


We’re showing off how fabulous the Arboretum is throughout the year here on Flickr, and there’s more on DC Gardens.


  1. What a great choice to lead our nations arboretum! Richard is a shining star for North Carolina State and now for our national horticultural collections. Best of Luck Richard !

  2. Good for the Arboretum. Not sure what you mean by “unloved”. I would bet that if you asked the residents in that part of DC they’d tell you they love their neighborhood.

  3. Excellent Choice by the Arboreteum. Great news for gardeners and horticulturalists and all the “just plain folks” who enjoy the Arboreteum throughout the year(s). Congratulations Richard! You make us Greenbelters and Woodlanders proud.

  4. Thanks for your glowing report; I have to say that the staff and board of directors of the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) are equally enthusiastic. There is lots to tackle at the Arboretum and I think Richard is up to the task!


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