You may have noticed signs for the Arboretum as you drove into D.C. for a day trip, but never stopped. It’s worth the diversion, especially if you have children who need a little time and space to run around and explore, and you like gardens.
Quick Look at U.S. National Arboretum
Address: 3501 New York Avenue NE, Washington, D.C. (GPS address: 2400 R Street NE)
Hours: 8am – 5pm
Pets: Dogs allowed on a leash
Notes: Most paths are stroller accessible, but not all
More than 400 acres comprise the Arboretum with lots of paths and hidden gardens. A map comes in very handy so that you can target the gardens you want to make sure to visit. Start at the Visitor Center to pick up a map, fill up your water bottles and use the restrooms.
The Visitor Center is bordered by a lovely water garden. The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum are directly behind the Visitor Center. The creator of every Bonsai tells a story with their plant choices, art and design. Visitors get a sense of the differences in Bonsai creation within each of the four sections of the National Bonsai Museum. Dogs are not allowed inside the museum.
Familiar smells and textures await visitors to the Herb Garden. You may or may not be able to guess the different herbs but each is clearly marked with a sign. You’ll find collections of rosemary, lavender and chilly peppers, just to mention a few. It’s a fairly small space full of color and smells and some pollinators will probably share the space with you. Don’t be concerned, they are just looking for nectar and won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.
From the Herb Garden you will see big columns on the hill. 22 of them to be exact. These columns used to be part of the Capitol building until they were replaced in 1958. The columns finally landed at the Arboretum in the 1980s. Twenty acres of meadow and a small reflecting pool surround the columns. The view from the top of the hill is stunning.
Walk down the hill and head into paths surrounding Fern Valley, or walk across the road to the Children’s Garden, which would be my preference. Even without kids the Children’s Garden is spectacular. It is divided into sections that include a pollinator garden, vegetable gardens, a banana tree, an orchard and a stack of four honeybee hives. You’ll love this if you are a gardener since there are plenty of great ideas to see for arranging and providing support for your plants. Most interesting are the honey bee hives. A little picket fence keeps observers a respectable distance away but you can still watch the bees coming and going. There are picnic tables under the trees if you’d like to bring your lunch.
Heading towards the back of the Arboretum and nearest the Anacostia you’ll find lots of gardens, large trees, hidden lookouts and more collections of flowers, ferns and trees. It’s easy to keep exploring in this calming environment, just remember you have to walk back to your car.