Washington DC Travel and Tourist Information
When city designer Pierre Charles L’Enfant laid out his plans for the nation’s capital, he envisioned a majestic federal city situated among shady trees and ample green spaces. The cheery daffodils, tulips, roses, and delicate cherry blossoms that frame the city's attractions provide a delightfully green environment for the city, as magnificent federal buildings dissolve into calming urban oases. Catch your breath in one of these wonderful parks and gardens, or in one of the many squares and circles throughout the city.
Located just north of Washington, DC, this 50-acre botanical garden features formal and informal gardens and two indoor conservatories. During the summer, Brookside Gardens houses a spectacular live butterfly show. In the fall, a chrysanthemum show features Washington, DC landmarks, animals, and other fanciful items sculpted out of fall blooms.
Constitution Gardens spreads across forty-five acres of landscaped grounds, including an island and a lake. Trees and benches line the paths to create a tranquil atmosphere and a perfect spot for a picnic. The gardens boast approximately 5,000 oak, maple, dogwood, elm and crabapple trees, and spread over 14 acres. Bordering the Reflecting Pool to the north, the gardens also include the Signers of the Declaration of Independence memorial.
DUMBARTON OAKS GARDENS
Located in the heart of Georgetown, the Dumbarton Oaks estate offers 10 acres of formal gardens in a charming Georgetown setting. Oak trees, a Rose Garden, a towering bamboo stand and an English country garden surround the mansion. The grounds of the mansion consist of several terraces devoted solely to the planting of herbs, cherry trees and forsythias. The lovely Pebble Garden is framed by rococo borders of moss and is paved with a mosaic of Mexican stones arranged to represent a wheat sheaf. Looking for romance? Couples can enjoy the tranquility of the garden by relaxing at Lovers Lane Pool.
GUNSTON HALL GARDENS
Overlooking the Potomac River, just south of Washington, DC, Gunston Hall was built by noted patriot George Mason. Today, Gunston Hall is known for its lovely grounds, which include 550-acres of formal gardens and wooded countryside. The gardens were restored by the Garden Club of Virginia and contain only plants and shrubs actually found in colonial days. One of the gardens' treasures is an original boxwood hedge planted by George Mason. The densely wooded estate includes a nature trail, which leads visitors through the forest and past red cedars, white oaks, water oaks, red maples, beech, black walnut, and sassafras.
HILLWOOD MUSEUM AND GARDENS
Designed for cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post and located at her former mansion, the gardens at Hillwood contain more than 3,500 varieties of plants and trees. Wooded paths connect the gardens and encircle the sweep of lawn on the mansion's south side. Azaleas, violets, rhododendrons and dogwoods add to the garden's beauty. Among Hillwood’s delights: a recently restored Japanese garden featuring a waterfall and bridge, a rose garden, ivy clipped from Buckingham Palace and greenhouses containing over 5,000 orchids.
FRANCISCAN MONASTERY GARDEN
Flowers, trees and shrubs grow lavishly on the 40-acre grounds of the Franciscan Monastery. Daffodils, flowering dogwood, cherry and tulip trees add to the garden's splendor. The garden includes pathways and authentic replicas of Holy Land shrines. Tropical treasures cultivated in the monastery’s greenhouse include hibiscus, lantanas, tiger lilies, giant caladiums and palm and banana trees.
KENILWORTH AQUATIC GARDENS
Dubbed “the ultimate off-the-beaten path experience” by travel guide author Bill Whitman, Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is the only National Park Service site devoted to the propagation and display of aquatic plants. Kenilworth is tucked away in Southeast Washington, DC along the east bank of the Anacostia River, the city’s last tidal marsh.
The Gardens span 14 acres, with 45 ponds that sustain the east coast’s foremost collection of exotic water lilies, ferns and lotuses.
Kenilworth began as the hobby of Civil War veteran W.B. Shaw. In 1882, he was married and purchased 37 acres of land along the Anacostia from his father-in-law. He began his collection by planting a few water lilies from his native Maine in an ice pond near his home then gradually added species from all over the world. Shaw and his daughter, Mrs. L. Helen Fowler, operated Kenilworth for 56 years as a commercial water garden and successfully developed many new varieties of water lilies. The National Park system purchased the Gardens in 1938.
One of Washington, DC’s greatest natural wonders, the ponds at Kenilworth contain more than 100,000 water plants. Many of the interesting varieties of aquatic plant life were developed here during Shaw’s day, while others were imported. Among the Gardens’ more exotic species are the Victoria cruzziana, a tropical water lily from the Amazon Basin whose leaves reach up to six feet in diameter, and the Egyptian lotus, believed to be Cleopatra’s favorite flower. Many other species of pond and marginal plants grow in the shadows of towering native trees. The aquatic environment also serves as a habitat for a number of small animals, including various frogs, toads, turtles, birds and insects.
LADY BIRD JOHNSON PARK AND LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON MEMORIAL GROVE
Built with materials dredged from the Potomac River in 1916, this island was named for the former first lady in 1968 to salute her efforts to beautify the United States. Though technically a part of the District, the park sits at the Virginia end of the Memorial Bridge.
In spring, one million daffodils bloom throughout the park and along the highway leading to the park. At the south end of the park, a 15-acre grove of trees stands in honor of President Johnson. A large block of Texas pink granite serves as the focal point of the memorial.
MOUNT VERNON GARDENS
George Washington's former home reflects the first president’s love of trees with its wooded landscape and beautiful flowers. Many of the trees on view at the estate were planted by Washington himself, including the white ash, American holly, English mulberry, flowering dogwood, hemlock, tulip poplar, and yellow buckeye. New trees have been planted in Washington's honor by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union. Most of the new trees are grown from the seeds or cuttings of the original trees planted by Washington. Mount Vernon also features a flower and kitchen garden dominated by large boxwood hedges that have been growing since Washington's day. Visitors can purchase seeds and boxwood plants at the gift shop.
Perched on one of Washington, DC’s highest points, the National Arboretum rambles over 444 acres of rolling hills. Whether blanketed in spring green or autumn gold, this prestigious horticultural institution offers a welcome refuge from Washington, DC’s busier tourist attractions. Ten miles of hard surface roads wind through the Arboretum’s scenic grounds, making it ideal for exploration on bicycle, on foot, or by car.
The National Arboretum was established in 1927 by Congress and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, the Arboretum conducts research on trees and shrubs to develop superior forms that will thrive in various climates in the United States. By exchanging seeds and plant material with other horticultural research institutions throughout the world, the Arboretum is able to expand its genetic resources. The Arboretum includes several major plant collections, including azaleas, cherries, hollies, rhododendrons, ferns and wildflowers. Hundreds of acres of natural forest complement more than a dozen special gardens.
The National Bonsai and Penjing Museum, located on the Arboretum grounds, showcases the delicate Asian art form. Samples from China, Japan and the United States are housed in four pavilions adjacent to the Administration building. The Bonsai Collection was started with a gift of 53 master bonsai specimens and five viewing stones from the people of Japan and was expanded by subsequent gifts from Hong Kong’s Penjing Collection and the North American Bonsai Collection. The ornamental trees on display range from 15 to over 350 years of age.
Across the road from the bonsai collection, the National Herb Garden features an extensive spread of antique roses and ten specialty herb gardens. Sorted by their function, the Arboretum’s specialty herbs include fragrance herbs, medicinal herbs, herbs for dyes, herbs with industrial uses, herbs for cooking, herbs used by American Indians, beverage herbs and more.
Divided into two sections, East and West Potomac Parks, this swath of green space includes some of the city’s most memorable sights. West Potomac Park includes spectacular views of the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, Constitution Gardens, the Reflecting Pool, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the FDR Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Tidal Basin, framed by the famous cherry trees.
ROCK CREEK PARK
Named after the Potomac River tributary that snakes through Northwest Washington, DC from the Kennedy Center into suburban Maryland, 2,800-acre Rock Creek Park is one of the nation’s finest and largest city parks. Designated a National Park in 1890, Rock Creek Park was the first urban natural area set aside by Congress as “a pleasuring place for the enjoyment of the people of the United States.” Today, Washingtonians and visitors escape into Rock Creek Park to bike, hike, play golf, ride horses, picnic, enjoy live performances and explore historic sites. Within Washington, DC city limits Rock Creek Park boasts 29 miles of foot trails and 13 miles of bridle paths.
Rich in history, Rock Creek Park has served as a quiet refuge for many of Washington, DC’s leading citizens. After a grueling morning of politics, John Quincy Adams delighted in retreating to “this romantic glen, listening to the singing of a thousand birds…” Nature-loving Teddy Roosevelt would often birdwatch and hike the vast terrain, while Ronald Reagan frequently rode horses at its stables. The park is such a presidential favorite that after the Civil War, a commission formed to find a “healthier situation” for the Executive Mansion seriously considered relocating the presidential residence to Rock Creek Park.
The creek itself tumbles through six miles of wooded forests, rolling hills and quiet wilderness in the heart of the busy Capital City before fading into the Maryland suburbs. From late winter to early autumn, wildflowers decorate the grassy parkland, deferring to splashy tree colors in October. The Creek is home to over 36 species of fish, while squirrels, mice, weasels, foxes, beavers and opossums are frequently spotted in the woodlands. Birdwatchers can readily spot sparrows, woodthrushes, woodpeckers, crows, cardinals and many other species.
Rock Creek Park’s history reflects the early settlement and development of Washington, DC and the surrounding area. The parklands were originally inhabited by the Algonquin Indians who hunted, fished and relied on the rocks they found in the banks of the creek to procure and process their food supplies. White settlers relied on Rock Creek’s running waters to power their gristmills and sawmills.
Pierce Mill, one of eight original mills built along Rock Creek in the 1820s, used waterpower generated from Rock Creek to grind corn and wheat into flour until it was closed in 1897. Over a hundred years after closing, Pierce Mill is once again a functioning flour mill. The antique millstones and hoppers offer a peak into the operations of a 19th century flour and cornmeal mill.
The Art Barn sits next door to the Pierce Mill, originally built by the Pierce family in 1820 as a carriage house. Today the carriage house is home to the Rock Creek Gallery, featuring monthly exhibits by local artists. During the Cold War, the barn’s loft concealed American counterintelligence officials who attempted to intercept messages from the nearby Embassies of Hungary and the former Czechoslovakia.
Two miles north of Pierce Mill and the Art Barn, Rock Creek Park Nature Center provides an excellent orientation to the park and its special events and programs. Children will enjoy poking around the hands-on Discovery Room or visiting the Rock Creek Planetarium, the only planetarium operated by the National Park Service.
Next to the Nature Center, the Rock Creek Park Horse Center offers a truly unique opportunity to go horseback riding in an urban park. Guided trail rides depart regularly, Tuesday through Thursday at 3:00 pm and Saturday and Sunday at 12:00 pm, 1:30 pm and 3:00 pm.
Given Rock Creek Park’s expansive size and varied terrain, it affords visitors and residents a wide variety of outdoors experiences. Golfers can sneak in a quick round at the Rock Creek Park Golf Course, located near the Maryland border. During the summertime, the Carter Barron Amphitheatre presents a pleasing series of outdoors performances. The open-air Fitness Course, located near Connecticut Avenue, provides an appealing alternative to a stuffy gymnasium and caters to a broad range of fitness levels.
TUDOR PLACE GARDEN
The stately grounds of the Tudor Place estate in historic Georgetown includes 5-acres of beautifully landscaped gardens.
Owned by Martha Custis Peter, granddaughter of George and Martha Washington, the gardens have retained the expanse of green lawns, parterres and woodland originally developed by the Peter family. The sloping South Lawn contains the specimen trees planted in the
U.S. BOTANIC GARDEN
The newly renovated Conservatory reopened in December 2001, following an extensive renovation. Azalea, lilies and orchids bloom within the glass and aluminum conservatory, while specialized areas of the facility explore primordial plants, medicinal plants, and other topics of interest.
The Botanic Garden also features an exotic jungle and a tropical rain forest, in which climbing vines race toward the top of the tiered greenhouse. Another spectacular exhibit is the orchid collection, which features over 10,000 varieties.
In 2003, the Botanic Garden will unveil two new features, a children’s garden and a meditation garden. Special events and exhibits take place throughout the year.
WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL GARDENS
The Washington National Cathedral's 57 acre-tract provides a perfect view of the city. Located atop the highest point of the city, the grounds of the Cathedral include a variety of gardens. The Cathedral's small herb garden features rosemary, thyme, and mint. The herb garden also includes Herb Cottage, where visitors can purchase herbs and herb-flavored vinegar. Bishop's Garden is the setting for magnolias, orchids and exquisite flowers. The Little Garden is designed to look like a medieval herb garden surrounded by hedges of old English boxwood.
The Cathedral is also home to a rather mysterious treasure, the Glastonbury thorn tree. This English tree, according to legend, blooms only on Christmas Day and when royalty visits. The tree has lived up to the legend so far. It has bloomed only on Christmas Day. The other three times it bloomed were for Queen Elizabeth's two visits in 1951 and 1957 and for Prince Charles' visit in 1981. The Cathedral is also the site of the annual Flower Mart held in early May.
WOODLAWN PLANTATION GARDENS
Overlooking the Potomac River in Mount Vernon, Virginia, Woodlawn Plantation is known primarily for its extensive collection of old-fashioned roses. Roses were a favorite of the plantation's original owner Nelly Custis Lewis, George Washington's foster daughter. During a reconstruction of the gardens, the Garden Club of Virginia included two parterres (formal rose bed areas) in honor of Ms. Lewis. These parterres hold more than thirty-six beds of roses.
information provided by Washington, DC Convention and Tourism Corporation
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