Over the past few months, I’ve been making an effort to get out and explore close to home, so this past weekend, I decided it was time to visit the U.S. Botanic Garden. Did you know that it was George Washington’s vision over 200 years ago that led to Congress establishing the Garden in 1802, making it one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America? And what better time to visit than during December, when this living plant museum is all decked out for the season.
Although it was a chilly day in DC, I learned that the U.S. Botanic Garden is a popular place to visit in December. Like many DC attractions, there are no admission fees. Every year since 2004, the U.S. Botanic Garden has created a unique holiday exhibit made with plant-based sculptures. I was intrigued when I heard about the 2016 holiday show, Season’s Greenings: National Parks and Historic Places. I thought that visiting this one of a kind display would be the perfect way to wrap up the NPS 100th anniversary year long celebration. The exhibit features over 50 models of national parks and historic sites, each made from plants and other natural materials. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought it would be a good idea. The model train show, which chugs past the sculptures of iconic parks like Mesa Verde and Arches, is very popular on weekends in December, with the line at the Model Train Entrance often stretching along the outside of the building. Since it was just my husband and I, we decided to skip the trains for now, giving us an excuse to go back and see the national park train exhibit on a weekday later in December.
But the Conservatory still had so much to offer. We were able to enter the Conservatory Entrance with no line, and first spent some time in the Garden Court enjoying the DC landmarks collection. You’ve probably seen pictures of these, which included iconic places like the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Smithsonian Castle and the U.S. Capitol building.
It’s helpful to pick up a guide, which describes in detail the 70 different plant materials used to create these structures. I was amazed at the level of detail, knowing that they were made from material like leaves, bark, acorns, sticks and cinnamon. Each creation we saw reminded me of mini versions of the floats you see at the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day. The West Gallery was filled with a giant Christmas tree covered with ornaments from various national parks. But my favorite was the re-creation of the Old Faithful Inn and Old Faithful Geyser, including a cut out of the interior of the Inn with the trademark stone fireplace in the lobby.
We then strolled through the collections in the rest of the building, including The Tropics, World Deserts and the Mediterranean. The Conservatory was filled with beautiful plants and exotic flowers of all shapes, colors and sizes. In the center of the building was the tropical rainforest, which included a dome that rose 93 feet in the air. I couldn’t help but think about how this would be the perfect escape in February, when the weather outside is cold and dreary. If I can’t fly away to a tropical island I can always pretend!
During the holidays, the Conservatory is open until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and will be filled with sounds of live seasonal music. All other days, the hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Season’s Greenings runs until January 2, 2017. Admission is free, but expect crowds at the Model Train Entrance, especially on weekends and from December 26th to the end of the exhibit.