Strolling among the flowers, bushes, and trees on my Top 15 DMV Gardens list should be a “must-do” for every visitor. These “District Maryland Virginia” (DMV) gardens include public and private institutions. Several are formal gardens designed for wealthy patrons.
Whether you prefer to meander aimlessly on a path, draw in a sketchbook, sit under a tree, or meditate on a bench, you will feel your spirits revived when spending time at my Top 15 DMV Gardens.
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.
But you’ll want to bundle up because the temperatures are dropping in the DMV. Fortunately, adidas offered to send me a soft and cozy hoodie so I stayed toasty warm.
Also, skip the ballet slippers or booties for touring gardens. You need sturdy walking shoes because lawns and pebble paths can be slippery. Luckily, adidas also sent a pair of sneakers. I logged a lot of miles on my all-day tours of Top 15 DMV Gardens.
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Address: Pilgrim Road, Washington D.C.
While visitors flock to see the cherry blossom trees on the Tidal Basin, locals head to the medieval-inspired Bishop’s Garden. It is located at the Washington National Cathedral.
Roam the walled garden to find the Prodigal Son sculpture, the Shadow House, native plants, and the terraced landscape.
Originally, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. designed Bishop’s Garden for private use. It was accessible only from the Bishop’s house. But the public can now visit this garden.
Stroll the 59-acre site surrounding the Cathedral. The grounds include Bishop’s Garden, the Olmsted Woods, and an oak and beech forest. Pray, meditate, or just relax at this year-round sanctuary for Washingtonians and visitors to the nation’s capital. The grounds are open from dawn to dusk.
Address: 1800 Glenallan Ave, Wheaton, Maryland
This is the only Maryland garden listed in my Top 15 DMV Gardens. Located in Wheaton Regional Park, this public garden is famous for its tulip collection. Admission is free.
“I never knew a flower that I didn’t like. “Flowers are happy things.”P. G. Wodehouse
Choose between separate garden areas: Aquatic Garden, Azalea Garden, Butterfly Garden, Children’s Garden, Rose Garden, Japanese Style Garden, Trial Garden, Rain Garden, and the Woodland Walk.
The Formal Garden areas include a Perennial Garden, a Yew Garden, the Maple Terrace, and a Fragrance Garden. Brookside Gardens also features two conservatories for year-round enjoyment.
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 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.
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.
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 gardeners update the seasonal flowers and bushes in this manicured garden.
“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
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 Estate is “the mansion that became a museum.”
Post designed the gardens to flower in the spring and fall when she was in residence. The 13-acre formal gardens include a French Parterre, a Japanese-style Garden, and a Lunar Lawn. The massive greenhouse features the orchid library. (Take a stroll through the greenhouse to see all the different varieties.)
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.
Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America
Address: 1400 Quincy Street NE, Washington, DC
This list of the Top 15 DMV Gardens would not be complete without listing my favorite meditation garden – 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.” According to the monastery, it is one of the Top 5 places most tourists miss when sightseeing in Washington, D.C.
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.
Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden
Address: 990 Jefferson Drive SW, Washington DC
Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses at the four-season Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden, located outside the gates of the Haupt Garden. You’ll detect a myriad of scents, including apples, clover, lemons, and violets.
Read the Interpretive signs “planted” throughout the garden beds. Learn about the rose family, fragrance factors, history, and planting companions.
During the summer, there is a riot of roses profusely blooming and scenting the air.
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 15 DMV 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.
National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden
Address: 7th Street NW, Constitution Avenue, NW, and Madison Avenue NW entrances
If you are visiting the Smithsonian museums located on the National Mall, schedule your “artsy” lunch break at the CAFE. It is located on the grounds of the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden 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 snowbells to the weeping American elm.
Unfortunately, your pooch cannot visit this venue. Only service animals are allowed.
Address: 7931 E Boulevard Dr, Alexandria, VA 22308
River Farm is a bucolic escape to the country yet located just 13 miles from Washington DC. Formerly owned by George Washington, this Alexandria, Virginia estate has been the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society (AHS) since 1973. Its mission is to be “America’s Home for Horticultural Excellence.”
Tiptoe barefoot across the lawn, walk among the flowers, meditate on a bench, or just stare at the Potomac River when you visit River Farm.
The children’s garden which includes all the elements for fantasy play, including a miniature house, a shanty, and a wooden boat. A sturdy orange watering can waits to be grabbed by a “wee gardener” to soak the zinnias in her garden.
And if there is any debate over whether time stops at River Farm, then simply walk through the Historic White House Gates. For nearly 120 years, 28 U.S. presidents passed through these gates for ceremonial entry and exit from The White House. The gates were removed in 1937 and moved to a private estate on the Potomac River. The AHS discovered them in storage after acquiring the property in 1973. They are now installed at River Farm.
Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
Located on the National Mall, the garden at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian recreates the habitats of forests, meadows, wetlands, and croplands to show the restored environments of the Chesapeake Bay and Piedmont regions from four hundred years ago.
There are 33,000 plants of approximately 150 species that are native to the Piedmont. They can be used for food, fiber, dye, medicine, and, building materials.
“Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them, listen to them.”Jo Harjo (Poet Laureate)
The Croplands is probably the most exciting section of the gardens as visitors can see the produce that will be turned into food for the museum’s restaurant. Plants include corn, peppers, and tomatoes.
Address: 1644 31st St. NW, Washington, D.C.
“America’s story lives here” is the slogan for Tudor Place Historic House & Garden. Discover where six generations of Martha Washington lived, including the enslaved and free people.
This Georgetown venue features two styles of gardens. Meander through the North Garden and admire the European-style formal gardens. Roam through the South Lawn to discover the English landscape design. Check the website for a month-to-month guide to what will be in bloom.
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.
But its outside gardens attract thousands of Washingtonians (as well as tourists) seeking a quiet place among the flowers and bushes! Leave plenty of time to explore the USBG’s collection of formal and naturalistic gardens.
The three-acre gated outdoor garden includes the First Ladies Water Garden as well as the Rose Garden, Pollinator Garden, and Mid-Atlantic Regional Garden.
Fun fact: President George Washington wanted a national botanic garden planted in the capital city.
U.S. Capitol Grounds
Address: Washington, D.C.
The grove of Yoshino cherry trees burst into bloom in late March on the U.S. Capitol Grounds. Locals try to keep it a secret!
The U.S. Congress commissioned the nation’s most famous landscape architect (Frederick Law Olmsted) to design the enlarged grounds.
According to the Architect of Capitol, “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.”
Today, this quasi-park is one of the Top 15 DMV Gardens to bike, run, walk, or play with your dog.
Peek inside the hexagon-shaped brick Summer House (built in 1881). It is nestled on the hilltop on the Senate side of the West Front Lawn. You can cool off during DC’s muggy summer months in this naturally air-conditioned building. There are benches and a water fountain.
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.
The formal National Herb Garden is landscaped with four different “rooms.” Check out how herbs are used for dyes, medicine, fragrances, and flavorings. It is the largest designed herb garden in the United States.
And come spring, there is no more special place to explore than the hilly trails where the azaleas and rhododendrons burst into a rainbow of color. Skip the weekends when visitors clog the paths for selfies. Weekday mornings are the best time to visit. Hike the Arboretum’s Azalea Collection when the gates open.
The Arboretum’s single-genus groupings include azalea, boxwood, daffodil, daylily, dogwood, holly, magnolia, and maple.
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.
I try to regularly visit all these 15 DMV gardens on rotation because they help to relax in nature and admire the art of landscape design. (Plus my dog Parker loves to sniff the flowers!)
“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.”Thomas Jefferson