Text and Photographs by Elaine Mills, Certified Master Gardener
Last October marked the 10th anniversary of the National Garden, the three-acre outdoor garden adjacent to the conservatory of the U. S. Botanic Garden in Washington. This urban oasis, consisting of four interconnected thematic gardens, is intended to serve as a “living laboratory” for ecologically sound gardening practices.
The idea for a national garden began in 1986 when legislation was passed designating the rose as the national flower. The U. S. Botanic Garden was chosen as the most appropriate site in the nation’s capital to feature this special symbol as well as a diversity of other plants. While the garden was dedicated in 1995, it took 10 years of planning and collaboration from the U. S. Congress, the Joint Committee on the Library, the National Fund for the U. S. Botanic Garden, and the Architect of the Capitol before it officially opened on October 1, 2006.
The Rose Garden is the first mini-garden visitors encounter on entering from Independence Avenue. It is arranged as a set of two octagonal beds and includes all eight classes of roses from shrub roses, such as The Pilgrim, to miniature roses like Green Ice and the groundcover Natchez Rose. An important focus is how roses can be grown successfully in the Mid-Atlantic region using sustainable methods. Pesticides are used infrequently, and pollinators and other beneficial insects are attracted by a variety of self-sowing annuals.
A second mini-garden, the Butterfly Garden, is located along Maryland Avenue. Designed and funded as a project of the National Garden Club, it incorporates plants that attract butterflies, such as New York ironweed, purple coneflower, butterfly weed, and trumpet honeysuckle and includes a pergola, a bronze sundial, and benches decorated with butterflies and roses. Visitors are welcome to take a copy of a colorful booklet with information on butterflies and photographs of species one might see in the garden. It also contains a key to the caterpillar host plants and nectar sources found throughout the National Garden.
The Water Garden, honoring the contributions of our country’s First Ladies, features a lovely shallow pool with a central fountain. The mosaic decoration, constructed of five shades of American granite and bluestone, is based on the pattern of a Martha Washington quilt.
The largest of the gardens is the Regional Garden, with plants native to the Mid-Atlantic region. As our locality is situated along the fall line, the garden’s flowing beds are composed of soil types from both the coastal plain (sandy) and piedmont (clay-based loam). The garden boasts a huge variety of plants, including spring ephemerals, groundcovers, grasses, perennials, shrubs, and trees, as well as wetland species. Signs provide each plant’s botanical and common names, plant family, and range. Recorded information, accessible through mobile phones, is available for selected plants.
The National Garden is open to the public from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 daily, including all weekends and holidays. Admission is free. Whether you visit during one of the special 10th anniversary activities or explore on your own, you are certain to enjoy the views of the nearby conservatory, Capitol, and National Museum of the American Indian as well as the peacefulness created by winding paths and many quiet seating areas in the midst of the bustling city.
U.S. Botanic Gardens National Garden
100 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20001
Entrances on Independence Avenue and Maryland Avenue at 3rd Street, Washington, DC
- Call the U. S. Botanic Garden at 202-225-8333 to request a catalog of events or peruse the online list of programs here. A number of special classes and tours are planned in recognition of the National Garden’s 10th anniversary. See especially the tours of the National Garden and Rose Garden.
- Read a blog posting by the Architect of the Capitol on the National Garden’s 10th anniversary.
- Before visiting the National Garden, take a virtual tour.
- Check out the National Garden’s native plant recommendations, including favorite varieties of roses, native wetland plants, native plants for critters, native wildflowers, shrubs, large and small trees:
- Photo Gallery featuring Mid-Atlantic plants.
For more on native plants, see Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia’s preferred Tried & True Native Plants for the Mid-Atlantic.