Urban Horticulture in a Capital Place: The National Botanic Garden

By, Arabella Beavers, Busy Beavers Gardening. Why would urban horticulture be important to The Plantium roving gardener? As our climate changes, as gardeners our ability to respond to these changes in a sustainable manner has to stay current and relevant. Urban horticulture is the study of the relationship between plants and the urban environment. It focuses on the functional use of horticulture so as to maintain and improve the surrounding urban area.[1] Staying current with the sustainability aspects of horticulture and gardening means being inspired by its new trends.

My inspiration this spring came from our nation’s capital and the gardens of Washington, DC. An amazing tribute to the history of gardens and an inspiration to the future of sustainability in urban horticulture the National Botanic Garden can’t help but stir the gardener’s imagination.

I was fortunate enough to visit Washington, DC and although the weather was a little inclement for spring, I was so delighted to find such spectacular gardens in our nation’s capital. From urban gardens along the city streets to sculpture gardens and the glory that is housed in the National Botanic Gardens – this city definitely is in touch with its green side. The United States Botanic Garden (USBG) is a botanic garden on the grounds of the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., near Garfield Circle. The Botanic Garden is supervised by the Congress through the Architect of the Capitol, who is responsible for maintaining the grounds of the United States Capitol. The USBG is open every day of the year, including federal holidays. It is the oldest continually operating botanic garden in the United States.

USBG Entrance

The Courtyard Entrance, National Botanic Garden

 

Here’s a little history on this historic garden. The garden began as the Botanical Garden of the Columbian Institute but became the United States Botanic Garden in 1850, thirteen years after the demise of the institute. In 1867, Congress provided money for the construction of the first greenhouses. Constructed by the Architect of the Capitol in 1933, this historic Lord & Burnham greenhouse contains two courtyard gardens and 10 garden rooms under glass, totaling 28,944 square feet of growing space. Several historic trees stood on the site including the Crittenden Oak which marks the spot where John J. Crittenden made an address in an effort to avert the Civil War. Others included the Beck-Washington Elm which was a scion of an elm earlier planted by Washington himself. There was also a plane tree which Thaddeus Stevens brought from the Vale of Cashmere, a sycamore planted by Senator Daniel Voorhees, a Chinese oak from the grave of Confucius, two cedars of Lebanon, and several others that have historic associations.

The Bartholdi Fountain, the work of Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, the same sculptor who designed the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor stood in a central site in the gardens, however, it was placed in storage for several years to make way for the memorial to General Meade, the hero of Gettysburg.

The garden “was formally placed under the jurisdiction of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress in 1856 and has been administered through the Office of the Architect of the Capitol since 1934. The Architect of the Capitol has served as Acting Director of the United States Botanic Garden and is responsible for the maintenance and operation of the Garden and for any construction, changes, or improvements made.” [2]

Today, the United States Botanic Garden is home to almost 10,000 living specimens, some of them over 165 years old.

USBG and Capital Dome

The National Botanic Gardens with Capital Dome Behind

Enough with the history…. Here’s my camera eye view of the experience that I had at the USBG on that wonderful ‘April Showers’ day…..
Nestled Within the shadows of The Capitol – currently under a state of repair, this lush garden was displaying its last flush of spring bulbs and beginning to prepare for a perennial push. With some exceptional displays of roses, iris and flowering bushes such as fragrant aballia. I was so excited to see this wonderful array – especially since it was still snowing back in Colorado!

Rose in USBG

Rose Specimen in the Rose Garden

The irises were particularly beautiful at this time of year, with the Iris tectorum ‘Alba’ being stunning in white and another favorite, the traditional bearded iris, in an array of colors that reminded me of a Monet masterpiece I had just seen in the National Gallery. There was even an iris called the red velvet Elvis iris, sadly not yet in bloom!! While plants such as the Iris tectorum can be hard to find, think about more common ones such as the Iris ‘Immortality’ to achieve the pure beauty of the white iris. https://shar.es/1l6uCg

Iris Specimen in NBG

Blooming Iris at USBG

Iris in Bloom

One of the things I loved so much was that they had many specimen plants – one of my particular favorites was this daisy – the Erigeron pulchellus var. pulchellus ‘Lynnhaven Carpet’, a wondrous woodland plant.

Erigeron pulchellus var. pulchellus 'Lynnhaven Carpet'

Erigeron Specimen

Continuing my walk through, I was particularly impressed by their water gardens with a contemporary gazebo and lovely plantings. It was alive with birds and a pair of mallards taking a bath in the shallow ponds. Examples of water grasses, lilies and water iris were just stunning.

Water garden 2 NBG

The Water Gardens, USBG

The Water Gardens, National Botanic Garden

Moving on through this delightful place, I was getting a soaking of my own as it was turning out to be a wet English type day – so I headed toward the greenhouse conservatory to see what I could find in there. Boy was I in for a colorful treat! It was like entering Aladdin’s cave, magical hothouse full of blooms and delights for the garden enthusiast.
The formal ponds within the main entrance are bedazzling – azure pools surrounded by bright pink azalea’s, orange orchids and surrounded by citrus trees – it was like a mirage. But this is a real garden and its microclimate creates the perfect temperature and humidity for the array or orchids and bromeliads clinging to the exotic trees they call home. At the end of each pool was an extraordinary living wall that contained more orchids –  a tropical display that was stunning to me.

Water Garden_USBG

Indoor Formal Water Gardens

Orchids 2 NBG Orchids_Closeup 2 NBG

Orchids in the Tropical Garden

Orchids in the Tropical Garden

 

As you can see from these close up images, these are not the orchids you buy at the supermarket!!

The national botanic garden houses many specialized gardens with displays including a Mediterranean garden, tropical gardens, desert gardens, tundra and a children’s play garden – something for everyone.  What I liked about it the most was that it had such a diversity of plantings.  Plants that we all know and love and use regularly in our gardens, such as lavender, to really unusual varieties that have been nurtured from far off lands form these magnificent displays.

 

 

Med Garden at USBG

Mediterranean Garden in the Conservatory

This really is a spectacular place and somewhere that I would love to return.  Seeing these magnificent displays not only left me wondering about the hundreds of hours of maintenance these gardens would take – but also how inspired I now am to travel and explore gardens all over the world. The challenge of seeing these plants in their natural environment, just as nature intended, then translating them to the urban horticultural environment is a challenge I am ready to take.

I leave you with some interesting facts and more information – next time you are in DC make sure not to miss these glorious gardens.

https://www.usbg.gov/

Happy Planting!

Arabella Beavers, Busy Beavers Gardening

https://www.facebook.com/Busy-Beavers-Gardening-LLC-201131763257382/?fref=ts

Aspen, Colorado

©ARABELLA BEAVERS, 2016

  1. Tukey, HB Jr. (1983). “Urban horticulture: horticulture for populated areas”.HortScience: 11–13.
  2. https://www.usbg.gov/brief-history-us-botanic-garden

Find Your Inspiration

Find Your Inspiration

Where do I find my inspiration for designing beautiful gardens year after year? Ten years ago I first witnessed a living wall at the Chelsea Flower show in England and after lots of dreams and drawing boards I finally got to create my first living wall last summer 2015 right here in downtown Aspen, Colorado.

in·spi·ra·tion

  1. Noun: the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

Inspiration and trends in gardening can start from an article in a magazine, a student’s concept while studying at University or at the array of garden shows that are held all over the world.  This is where I find my best inspiration.

A particular favorite garden show of mine is the Chelsea Flower Show in London, England – where all of the best and greatest designers in the world all gather over ten days and meet to show off their latest creations. It was here at the Chelsea Show I first saw a living wall and marveled at this enormous structure covered in plants.  Without seeing the vision of the designers before me – I would never have been inspired to cover a concrete wall in flowers!!!

These shows provide not just single inspiration (i.e. living walls) but everything from solar paneled irrigation, new types of plants (cross pollinating a rose and a daisy!) and even animal habitats. Creative urban wildlife habitats are another huge trend that I first saw at Chelsea as well as water features created from household gray water. Show and display gardens are designed to impress at garden shows so if you really want to see what’s at the cutting edge of gardening then you’d better hit the show road.

Garden shows are featured all over the world – Holland, Japan, England and America and feature world class innovators and designers who create show gardens that win awards and prizes and wow us all. Depending on the size of the show local, national and international celebrity gardeners such as Piet Oudolf (a particular favorite of mine) will unleash new planting schemes and plant combinations that are created in an environmentally conscious way to thrill and tantalize us all. By witnessing world class designers and their incredible ideas we can all take small parts of this back to our own backyards. Not that you have to build a living wall in your own back garden but rather maybe, just maybe someone else’s genius idea displayed at your local gardening show might just be the inspiration for your own garden designs!  After all we are all inspired by others.

Here is a selection of inspirational gardens that have moved me over the years.

Happy Planting!

Arabella Beavers, Busy Beavers Gardening

https://www.facebook.com/Busy-Beavers-Gardening-LLC-201131763257382/?fref=ts

Aspen, Colorado

All photos Copyright 2016 Arabella Beavers

Garden Inspiration

Beautifully designed stone wall also serves as urban wildlife habitat.

Garden Inspiration

A living wall seen in indoor and outdoor applications.

Garden Inspiration

This greenhouse should blow your mind!

Garden Inspiration

A living tower gives entirely new meaning to vertical planting.

Garden Inspiration

Xeric Mediterranean style in any climate.

Garden Inspiration

The beauty of hundreds of Clematis!

Garden Inspiration

A ‘plethora’ of lavender from many different growers!