- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 28, 2002

The U.S. Botanic Garden may be the newest garden show in town, but it's not alone. Washington abounds in tended green spaces, as long as one knows where to look.
Driving along car-clogged New York Avenue or Bladensburg Road, for example, it is hard to believe that the area was once nothing but a patchwork of farmland or that between them is the wide green 446-acre U.S. National Arboretum.
Enter it and you immediately feel the urge to breathe deeper, to revel in the sudden silence. Look across its meadows, and you'll see pointed pines and blunt bushes where stingless carpenter bees are encouraged to visit. Joggers lope up the hills past the Capitol columns, sandstone shafts that stood at the east front of the Capitol Building during the 19th century. A galumphing black Labrador teases ducks that glide across the Heart Pond where massive koi lurk in orange blurs just beneath the surface.
Strangely, the arboretum seems less about trees than simple space.
Established in 1927 with just a few workers and some handwritten records, the arboretum is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. It has more than 500,000 visitors a year, 300 workers and volunteers, and its own aid society, the Friends of the National Arboretum.
The arboretum is also a botanic garden, focusing on the preservation of species over aesthetics. It is a haven for more woody plants but is by no means just trees. Besides the conifer collections and National Grove of State Trees (do you know yours?), gardens feature hollies, azaleas, aquatic plants and ferns.
The National Herb Garden is a brick-paved ring of plants arranged into neat squares of all-natural fragrances, insecticides, dyes and colonial herbs. Signs reading "Please touch" welcome you to feel and smell the tiny leaves.
Across the path is the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum. If you hear "bonsai" (pronounced "bone-seye," not "bahn-zeye") and think Karate Kid, you should visit this collection of exquisite little miniature trees. A collaboration between the arboretum and the National Bonsai Foundation produced the low-walled, distinctly Eastern garden where these tiny junipers and cypresses are housed, shaped by careful pruning of the branches and roots. The complex, closed for redesign since November, will reopen this spring.

If you just want to take in the pure pleasure of blooms, the Hillwood Museum and Gardens , former estate of the late cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, is a hidden treasure in the woodsy hills of Northwest Washington.
Hillwood also reopened after restoration, and is celebrating its 25th anniversary. The 25-acre estate is renowned for its Georgian-style mansion containing extensive collections of Russian-imperial and French-decorative arts. Outside, the golden gilding and intricate weaving are all natural in the different gardens.
Mrs. Post delighted in her gardens and "walked through them every day advising her gardeners of what she wanted," says head horticulturalist Liz Dolinar. "You won't find the latest thing here. For example, butterfly gardens are very popular right now. But we prefer to maintain the gardens here just as Mrs. Post would have wanted them."
The French Parterre, consisting of two low-clipped boxwoods reminiscent of winding treble clefs, surrounds a fountain just below what was once Mrs. Post's bedroom window. The rose garden, even without its spring blooms, is a promising deep green and is where Mrs. Post's ashes are buried. The Friendship Garden was a surprise to Mrs. Post from her friends and combines unique elements such as ivy from Buckingham Palace and boxwoods from Mount Vernon.
But Hillwood is most excited about its Japanese-style garden, which just underwent a $2 million renovation and is scheduled to reopen to the public April 2. (Special preview tours are being offered as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival).
Descending tiers of low green plants, waterfalls, redwood bridges, and rock formations make up this garden, designed in 1957 by Shogo Myaida. It was created to resemble a mountain landscape in miniature and also take into account Mrs. Post's desire for footpaths, Japanese statues, and animal figurines. The trickling water is hypnotic; in warmer weather, water lilies will bloom, fish will be added to the ponds, and two bonsai trees will be set on special display rocks.
"There aren't a lot of flowering plants here," says Ms. Dolinar. "It's more about texture and peace than bright colors. Yet it's just as beautiful as any flowering garden."

Although it's not a special occasion, two other public gardens always find spring worth celebrating: Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown and Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Md.
Dumbarton Oaks is "one of the best-landscaped in the country," according to Holly Shimizu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden. In the 1920s, noted landscaped designer Beatrix Jones Farrand was hired by the owners, Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, to redesign an almost impossible barnyard of overgrowth and odd slopes behind their mansion. She turned it into European-style grounds with gardens, tennis courts, a swimming pool and living quarters. Gardens include hills of forsythia and cherry trees, roses and a wisteria-covered arbor terrace.
Brookside Gardens is Montgomery County's 50-acre display garden in Wheaton Regional Park. It combines the best of all the other gardens with a horticultural reference library, two conservatories for year-round indoor viewing and outdoor areas such as the azalea, rose, yew, and fragrance gardens, and a Japanese-style garden. Brookside also offers many activities throughout the year, with shows and classes in its new visitors center. But you may want to visit now; Brookside just approved plans for a renovation.
Laura Boswell


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