Simply Put: Local Public Gardens
A couple of the Behnke staff went to Swarthmore College near Philadelphia recently to attend a perennial conference. We also walked around the Swarthmore Campus (which hosts the Scott Arboretum) and spent an afternoon at Longwood Gardens; both in the rain. As I label my photos, I am struck by how lucky we are to have so many fine public gardens in our area. The Philadelphia gardens are only a couple of hours drive away, but of course we have many nice gardens right here in D.C. and the ‘burbs.
The gardens are well-maintained, well-labeled, and free—so they are great for family outings and getting ideas. There is nothing like seeing a plant in the ground, or finely crafted mixed container plantings to inspire you on your next trip to Behnke’s.
With digital photography, it’s so much easier now to record what you like. Take a photo of the plant, and a photo of the label. No need to steal labels anymore! (We find that the plants that are unusual and in bloom almost always suffer from label-thief blight.) Contact Us or bring your photo in. We’ll tell you if we can get the plant, and if not, maybe we might be able to tell you where else to look.
Locally, my favorite gardens are the following, with the areas I most like to visit: Go to their websites for more information. A small disclaimer: I am more interested in perennials than other, lesser garden subjects, and that bias may show up in the descriptions below.
The websites will list also activities and lectures for the public, with top-notch speakers. And here’s a secret: the gardens are more interesting to visit in person! Turn off that computer and get thee to a garden!
- The United States National Arboretum in DC has collections of magnolias, crabapples and other trees and shrubs, and azaleas; all of which are particularly nice to visit when they are in bloom. The herb garden is spectacular, and the Bonsai collection is world class. Asian Valley showcases Asian plants, while the recently renovated Fern Valley showcases native plants.
- The United States Botanic Garden also in DC, at the foot of Capitol Hill has a spectacular historical greenhouse range which was renovated about 8 years ago. Hidden in a courtyard in the structure is a zone-denial garden (plants that normally wouldn’t take the winters here). The patio surrounding the greenhouses has terrific container gardens in season, and is a great place to take a break when your feet are succumbing to museum syndrome.
Adjacent to the building is the intimate Bartholdi Park, which features the Bartholdi Fountain when it’s in town (it’s currently offsite for restoration). And opened in 2006, the National Garden, which has a rose garden, water features, and the Regional Garden, featuring native plants.
- The Smithsonian Institution has a number of gardens on the national mall, including a native plant garden at the National Museum of the American Indian, and the intimate, ever-changing and eclectic Ripley Garden which always has interesting perennials to see. Smithsonian Gardens
- Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland is a wonderful place to walk around. Massive bulb displays in the spring are worth a special trip, and the rose garden has recovered from deer pressure, thanks to a deer-exclusion fence around the property. This is a particularly good place to see perennials and shrubs for shade. Nice greenhouses with seasonal displays.
- Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria, Virginia is the place to go if you are interested in vegetable and herb gardening, as the staff have particular expertise in these areas. They also have little vignettes (“twenty thematic demonstration gardens”) set up to give you ideas for home landscapes; courtyards, townhouses, and so on. They also have nice beds of perennials.
By Larry Hurley, Perennials Specialist