Even if your main pursuit is museum-hopping in the nation’s capital, tourists should devote a day exploring one of these Top 10 Washington DC Gardens. Whether you are chasing a cool place to rest on a hot muggy city day or hunting for a snowy retreat, garden time is zen time.
Find a quiet bench to stare at a rose. Sit underneath a tree to read a book on your Kindle. Walk through a labyrinth and meditate. Relax in nature.
“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in–what more could he ask? A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.”Victor Hugo
And if you are a dog owner, DC’s gardens are the best way to allow your dog to share in the fun. While they will be required to stay on a leash, your pooch will relish the chance to roll around in the grass, sniff a flower, munch on a stick, or listen to birds sing in the trees. Not all of the venues on FemaleSoloTrek’s Top 10 DC Gardens permit dogs.
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U.S. National Arboretum
Address: 3501 New York Avenue NE, Washington, DC
Open: Daily (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) except Christmas
You can devote a day to exploring the 451-acre National Arboretum, as there are 9.5 miles of winding roadways. Over 600,000 visitors traipse through the Arboretum annually.
I have been visiting the Arboretum with my Golden Retriever (Parker) since he was two months old. Whether chasing butterflies, diving into puddles, eating sticks, or lounging on a park bench, Parker loves a trek at the Arboretum.
And come spring, there is no more special place to explore than the hilly trails where the azaleas and rhododendron burst into a rainbow of color—red, pink, orange, coral, and white. Avoid the weekends when crowds clog the paths at Mount Hamilton. Head to the Arboretum with a thermos of coffee to hike the Arboretum’s Azalea Collection when the gates open.
“The first warm days bring out the flowers, and the slopes take on a surreal, almost luminescent glow. Few shrubs have more impact on the spring landscape than azaleas.”U.S. National Arboretum
The Arboretum’s single-genus groupings include azalea, boxwood, daffodil, daylily, dogwood, holly, magnolia, and maple. Your dog cannot go inside the gated National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.
There is a necklace path that surrounds the National Capitol Columns. They now sit on a natural knoll in the Ellipse Meadow at the Arboretum. Their original 1823 home was the East Portico of the U.S. Capitol building.
U.S. Botanical Gardens (USBG)
Address: 100 Maryland Avenue SE, Washington, DC
If you don’t have a car to drive to the National Arboretum, your best choice is to spend a morning at the
U.S. Botanical Garden. This living plant museum recently reopened its conservatory doors after a two-year-long pandemic closure.
But its outside gardens attracted thousands of Washingtonians (as well as tourists) seeking a quiet place among the flowers and bushes – along with their dogs!
We can thank President George Washington who wanted a national botanic garden planted in the capital city.
“Established by U.S. Congress in 1820, the USBC is the oldest continuously operating botanic garden in the United States.”USBG
While dogs are not permitted inside the conservatory or the three-acre National Garden, your canine will enjoy sitting on a bench in front (or side) of the conservatory.
Find the lime green cushion bench sited under a tree to curl up for a quick nap. You also should meander over to the Bartholdi Park & Fountain to eat an al fresco lunch or explore the Kitchen Herb Garden. It is located across the street on Independence Avenue SE.
U.S. Capitol Grounds
Beds of tulips burst into bloom each spring on the U.S. Capitol Grounds. There is no more beautiful outdoor garden in the city to explore.
The U.S. Congress commissioned the nation’s most famous landscape architect (Frederick Law Olmsted) to design the enlarged grounds.
“His symmetrical design incorporated park-like edging, low walls, lamps, careful placement of trees and simple shrubs, and a series of curved walkways that afforded attractive views of the Capitol.”Architect of Capitol
Today, this quasi-park of one of the Top 10 Washington DC Gardens to bike, jog, or walk the dog. Meander down the curving paths. Rest at one of the historic streetcar shelters.
Cool off in the hexagon-shaped brick Summer House nestled on the hilltop on the Senate side of the West Front Lawn. Completed in early 1881, this naturally air-conditioned building features benches and a water fountain.
Enid A. Haupt Garden
Address: 1050 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC
This 4.2-acre “rooftop” garden is part of the Smithsonian complex. Situated outside the Smithsonian Castle, the Enid A. Haupt Garden opened on May 21, 1987. It is named after the American publisher and philanthropist Enid Haupt.
“Few visitors to the Haupt Garden realize that they are standing on the roofs of the National Museum of African Art, the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, and the S. Dillon Ripley Center.”Smithsonian Gardens
The cultural influences in the adjacent museums dictated such design elements as the Moongate Garden and the Fountain Garden. The centerpiece is the Parterre, which mirrors the Victorian-style architectural sensibility of the Smithsonian Castle. Smithsonian gardens frequently change the flowers and bushes in this manicured garden.
Do not miss the Downing Urn, which celebrates the memory of landscape designer Andrew Jackson Downing. Outside the Haupt Garden is nestled the Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden. During the summer, there is a riot of roses profusely blooming and scenting the air.
According to the Smithsonian, “pets are permitted in all Smithsonian gardens except the Enid A. Haupt Garden and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.”
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
Address: 1550 Anacostia Avenue NE, Washington, DC
Nestled by the Anacostia River in the northeast corner of DC lies a jewel that many Washingtonians (and visitors) don’t know exists. The exotic waterborne flowers at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens shine like gems—amethyst, morganite (fuchsia), and topaz—in the small ponds. You do not want to miss this Top 10 Washington DC Garden if you have a car.
In July, the weeklong Lotus & Water Lily Festival is held. It celebrates these exotic flowers that grow in water instead of dirt. The best time to see the lotus flowers in bloom is the morning during late June-July. They close up during the mid-day heat.
Today Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is part of the U.S. National Park system. In addition, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
“The site has a distinguishable character as a once nationally-recognized aquatic water garden that was one of the first of its kind in the United States.”NPS
Dogs are welcome at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens. But if you plan to come in the summer, arrive early so your canine doesn’t suffer heat stroke.
Or bring along a thermos filled with ice cubes. This is an easy way to hydrate a hot dog. You can choose between big lawn chairs or picnic tables for a place to rest.
Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden
Address: Independence Avenue SW & 7th Avenue SW, Washington, DC
“Art + Ideas + People” is a slogan that describes the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, as well as its not-to-be-missed outdoor sculpture gardens. Although you may be distracted by the annoying singsong music blasting from the nearby ice cream treat truck, you hopefully can block it out by meditating in this sunken sculpture garden. It is conveniently located 14 feet below the surface of the National Mall.
There are more than 30 works of art on display year-round. Visitors wander from room to room in the open-air gallery.
“Plants accent and provide a lush backdrop for the sculptures, divide the garden into different ‘rooms,’ and make the garden a comfortable and beautiful place for visitors during all four seasons.”Smithsonian
Fido cannot come inside the sculpture garden. But you can walk around the perimeter and peek down inside.
The gardens opened with the museum in 1974. Sculptures include abstract and modern works of art, including Auguste Rodin’s Burghers of Calais (cast 1953-1959) and Sterling Ruby’s Double Candle (2018).
National Gallery Sculpture Garden
Address: 7th Street NW, Constitution Avenue NW, and Madison Avenue NW entrances
As early as 1790, it was the vision of Charles Pierre L’Enfant to create a public landscaped garden on the National Mall—known as “the great walk.”
There is a second outdoor sculpture garden located on the National Mall. You should not miss seeing it. The National Gallery of Art (NGA) is home to the NGA Sculpture Garden. This exotic garden promises adventures that turn back the clock for visitors. See a giant Typewriter Eraser, Scale X (Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen) or run from the giant Spider, 1996, cast 1997 (Louise Bourgeois).
Comprising 6.1 acres, NGA’s Sculpture Garden is located between 7th and 9th Streets. There are 33 different trees, ranging from Fragrant Snowbell to Weeping American Elm.
Unfortunately, your pooch cannot visit this venue. Only service animals are allowed.
Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens
Address: 4155 Linnean Avenue NW, Washington, DC
You must buy an admission ticket to see the home where Marjorie Merriweather Post once lived. Founded by the daughter of the Post Cereal brand company, Post acquired this property in northwest Washington DC in the 1950s. The slogan for Hillwood is “the mansion that became a museum.”
But in addition to visiting this time capsule that includes her Russian art collection, be sure to explore the 13 acres of formal gardens. Post designed the gardens to flower in the spring and fall when she was in residence. In addition, the massive greenhouse features the orchid library.
The formal gardens include a French Parterre, a Japanese-style Garden, and a Lunar Lawn. At the circular overlook, four statues pose at the Four Seasons Overlook. Magnolia, cherry, dogwood, crape myrtle, and witch hazel are planted in this tranquil grove. Hillwood’s 25-acre estate is located adjacent to Rock Creek Park.
Post remembered her beloved four-legged companions with a Dog Cemetery. Post buried Her last dog, Scampi, at the pet cemetery in 1972.
Members can bring their dogs to walk in the Hillwood Estate gardens on Sundays between 9:30 a.m. and 12 noon.
Address: 1703 32nd Street NW, Washington, DC
Located in historic Georgetown, Dumbarton Oaks was the country estate of Robert and Mildred Bliss, philanthropists and art collectors. They purchased the 1801 Federal-style home in 1920. A timed-ticket is required to tour the mansion and gardens.
Landscape architect Beatrix Farrand designed this “oasis within the city.” Trek 16 acres of the wild meadows, wooded pathways, orchards, kitchen gardens, and formal terraced gardens. Around every corner, Farrand created vistas celebrating nature.
Today, Dumbarton Oaks is a Harvard University research institute and museum. The Bliss family gifted their estate and collections. They donated the 27-acre pastoral woodland to the National Park Service, which administers as a unit of Rock Creek Park. The Dumbarton Oaks Park Conservancy was created in 2010.
Dogs are permitted at Dumbarton Oaks Park, but they must be on a leash.
Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America
Address: 1400 Quincy Street NE, Washington, DC
This Top 10 Washington DC Gardens would not be complete without listing my favorite destination for my doggo – the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America.
Located in Brookland’s Little Rome, the monastery gardens are free to visit. “Discover a different DC.”
“The Franciscan Monastery . . . has been named one of the Top 5 places most tourists miss when sightseeing in Washington, DC.”MyFranciscan.org
It indeed offers an oasis for local residents as well as travelers to Washington DC. The century-old gardens include native plants, roses, and sacred shrines. The Monastery also seeks volunteers to tend its vegetable gardens.
Franciscan friars designed the gardens over a century ago. The vegetable harvest program provides fresh produce to local food non-profits and parish food pantries.
The Garden Guild also conducts free tours of the gardens on Saturdays from April 2nd through September 24th at 11 am and 12 noon.
Parker and I will also be coming back in October when the friars bless pets on the Feast Day of St. Francis. These gardens are a sanctuary for humans and doggos!
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