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June 11, 2008 > Pat Kite's Garden: Washington DC "must see" gardens

Pat Kite's Garden: Washington DC "must see" gardens

By Pat Kite

Instead of indoor museums, when I voyage, I visit outdoor gardens. They are often attached to old houses, which I love, have specialty plants that make me salivate, and ooze serenity. In the Washington D.C. area there are two "must see." I had heard of Hillwood Gardens, but thought there was an extensive reservation list. Not true, you can just go. This place is fantastic.

For a $10-$12 admission fee, you can stroll through the Rose Garden, Japanese Style Garden, Lunar Lawn, Cutting Garden, Seasonal Garden and greenhouses. You can sit in the easy-chair French Parterre overview, peer down into trees festooning Rock Creek Park, and pretend, if you choose, that you are Marjorie Merriweather Post enjoying her 25-acre acquisition that she turned into both garden and Museum. O.K... but this museum is different. This elegant lady, whose background includes Postum and Post cereals, and an eclectic husband selection, bought this place with the intention of turning the Georgian-style mansion into a museum and garden open to the public. Her collection of Russian artifacts is a must view for anyone interested in the Czarist period. Meandering through, one actually gets to feel Mrs. Post's presence, and if you do have a belief in spirits of the past, she actually seems like quite a likeable, lively person. Check the Internet for Hillwood Gardens to see oodles of pictures.

Closer in to D.C. hotel center, but a long walk nevertheless, is the U.S. Botanic Garden. This is an intellectual sojourn, with the key point being the glass-enclosed conservatory. There are 1000s of plants indoors and out. Not just plants, but special sections with easy to read information. My favorite was the section on medicinal plants. With trends today toward holistic medicine, and scientist people looking to primitive tribes for their cures, this is just super.

It's not just aspirin and taxol for cancer alleviation that emerged from trees. There are special sections devoted to rare and endangered species, orchids, plant that have adapted to modern surroundings, Jurassic plants with a history of 150 million years, Hawaiian species, tropical rainforest, and microclimate desert residents. Something quite different are the Economic plants, those used in cosmetics, beverages, wood, spices, food, and clothing. The U.S. Botanic Garden has no entry fee, has benches and is handicapped accessible. However, if you want to eat or snack, you'll have to traipse over to the new Native American museum about a block away.

If you have a car, the American Horticultural Society is centered on 25 River Farm acres overlooking the Potomac. This has a pretty, small home; one of the original five farms owned by George Washington and is open to the public at no charge. I must mention that my book KISS Guide to Gardening is on display here, making me supremely happy, of course. There is a wildlife garden, fruit trees and children's garden among the offerings. I especially enjoyed looking at the Potomac, thinking of George Washington crossing it with his men. In your mind, walking down the River Farm meadow, you can almost "see" him. Gardens are living history.

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