U.S. Botanic Garden’s Sustainable Gardening Showcase is SITES-Certified

Photo credit: U.S. Botanic Garden

Hey, remember the Sustainable Sites Initiative? It’s the project of the U.S. Botanic Garden, the Lady Bird Johnson Center and the American Society of Landscape Architects that created the landscape equivalent of LEED certification for sustainability.

Well, some happy news here in D.C. (and I can read your cynical minds at this very notion) is that the newly renovated Bartholdi Park at the U.S. Botanic Garden recently won SITES Gold certification – the first public garden in the U.S. to do so and the first in D.C. of any kind.

Now I’ll confess my doubts about the renovation.  Bartholdi Park has been a favorite of mine for decades! It’s at the base of the House of Representatives office buildings and when I worked there I escaped to this spot as often as possible, as did so many Hill staffers. (Insert snarky thoughts about Hill staffers here.)

And the kind of garden it was? The kind designed 80 years go as a place for humans to sit in, relax, have lunch, and get ideas for their home garden – a decidedly “ornamental” one. (I hate that term but that’s a topic for future rant.)

So when I heard about the make-over, a redesign focused on eco-services, food and accessibility, I worried.

But then I saw the result, now just over a year in the ground, at a recent press conference and was totally won over. Though still too new to judge, it’s very pretty, and even more human-friendly than before.

Bartholdi Park receives SITES Gold certificate. (L-R) Saharah Moon Chapotin, USBG Exec. Director; Thomas Crawley, Bartholdi Park gardener; Ray Mims, USBG Sustainability Horticulturalist; Jamie Statter, VP of SITES, U.S. Green Building Council; Darron Damone, Andropogon Landscape Architects; Emily Janka, AOC Planning and Project Mgmt Jurisdiction Exec.; and Jason Curtis, SITES AP, Andropogon


As described in more detail in the press release, judging of the garden by SITES was based on five elements:

Water/stormwater management

The one-acre park has 10 rain gardens! Read all about them in Adrian Higgins’s great article about them in the Washington Post, entitled “Many rain gardens fall flat. This one shows how it’s done.” The use of potable water in the garden was also reduced.

Bog garden includes carnivorous plants from the collection of Bill McLaughlin

Most are native, and the USBG is working with the Mt. Cuba Center to monitor the pollination results. There’s also a good-sized kitchen garden. The use of annuals in pots is reduced. Plants were re-used on site or nearby.

Corn growing in Bartholdi Park. Photo credit: U.S. Botanic Garden.
Raised-bed kitchen garden.
That’s the Rayburn House Office Building in the background.

Good soil.
During construction topsoil was removed, amended and replaced. Soil was treated like the living system it is.

Concrete from sidewalks was crushed and reused. Permeable pavers were used extensively. Furniture was made locally from fallen oaks.

Ray Mims showing off new furniture. That’s Devin Dotson in the background.

Human health.
This last element you don’t usually see on lists of sustainable gardening features, and to SITES I say hooray for including us humans! In this garden it means wheelchair accessibility throughout, more paths and seating than ever, what they’re calling “nature-in-motion walks”, Saturday morning yoga, more water fountains, bicycle parking, and educational signage. Accessibility in this particular garden couldn’t be more important, since the opening of the Disabled Veterans Memorial just across the street.

Photo credit: U.S. Botanic Garden.

Tours of Bartholdi Park and other events there can be found at www.USBG.gov/Programs. Bartholdi Park is open to the public free of charge every day of the year. It just never closes.

Landscape for Life is the homeowner version of the Sustainable Sites Initiative. Check it out!


  1. I asked Ray Mims to clarify/expand on how soils were treated on the site. He responded:
    “Soil is one of the five main components of the Sustainable SITES Initiative, which works to protect this living system during construction projects. During the Bartholdi Park renovation project, the contractor was contractually obligated to remove two feet of topsoil from construction locations, keep intact, and return to the site after construction was complete. The project only called for adding amendment to the soil for the rain gardens, as adding in some sand increased the speed of water entering the soil in the rain gardens. Additionally, there were 12 locations in the one-acre garden that were protected throughout the project (“Special Vegetative Protection Zones” in SITES parlance) where both plants and soil were protected throughout construction. This is a prerequisite of SITES and these USBG areas – some as large as 25 feet by 10 feet – were kept in place without removing soil and plants and were protected from compaction and construction work as well.

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