Adventure

Top 15 DMV Gardens

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.

Bishop’s Garden

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.

Brookside Gardens

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. 

Dumbarton Oaks

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.

Pantere Garden at Smithsonian
Pantere Garden

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.

River Farm

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.

Tudor Place

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

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  • Irma R Franco
    November 11, 2023 at 8:23 am

    Good morning, how beautiful and inspiring specially on a cold windy NH morning !
    Thank you!

    • Terri
      November 11, 2023 at 1:07 pm

      I agree that photos of sunny spring gardens really lifts the spirits when it is cold and rainy in the fall or winter. Plus it brings back such wonderful memories of the flowers blooming.

  • Linda (LD Holland)
    November 11, 2023 at 12:18 pm

    We love it when we find great gardens that are open to the public. Awesome to know there are so many in the DMV. And a great reason to draw us to visit. Visiting when the flowers are in bloom would certainly be my choice. But the sculpture garden looks great in the winter snow. So many great spots to relax in the Maryland and Virginia area.

    • Terri
      November 11, 2023 at 1:09 pm

      I love the DMV gardens as places to visit year round as you notice different things depending on the season. We get so little snow in DC that I rush out to photograph the sculpture gardens as soon as the first snowflake falls!

  • Heather
    November 11, 2023 at 1:50 pm

    What a beautiful post! Interesting, I saw all the orchids in Singapore so didn’t expect to find them in your post in Washington, DC!

    • Terri
      November 11, 2023 at 7:40 pm

      Orchids are big in DC. Did you get to see the orchid room at the National Botanic Garden? It is extraordinary. I also saw the gorgeous orchids in Singapore.

  • Laureen Lund
    November 11, 2023 at 1:52 pm

    Such a great post for my next visit. So many years ago I hardly want to admit it, I did a DC/Georgetown garden tour. It was incredible and really got me interested in gardens as destinations. I love this area.

    • Terri
      November 11, 2023 at 7:39 pm

      I am so glad you did a garden tour in DC. When an expert leads a tour, you learn so much about the plants. I am a big fan of guided tours.

  • Sara Essop
    November 11, 2023 at 2:07 pm

    It’s amazing that there are so many beautiful gardens in this area. I’d really love to visit all of them.

    • Hannah
      November 11, 2023 at 2:51 pm

      Arboretums have to be one of my favourite places to visit as they always give me such a sense of calm. I’d love to visit those you’ve listed in DMV, thank you for sharing!

      • Terri
        November 11, 2023 at 7:38 pm

        I always try to visit arboretums when I travel to a new city. We are so lucky in DC to be the home of the US’s National Arboretum. I hope you get to visit.

    • Terri
      November 11, 2023 at 7:38 pm

      I think we may have more gardens then most cities and I am not complaining lol!

  • Hannah
    November 11, 2023 at 3:00 pm

    I love exploring gardens! These all look so charming! I’d love to visit them all but especially Tudor Place – it looks so beautiful! Thanks for the great guide!

    • Terri
      November 11, 2023 at 7:36 pm

      I think Tudor Plabe sometimes gets forgotten but it is a charming place to visit.

  • Viola
    November 11, 2023 at 3:55 pm

    Reading about the Top 15 DMV Gardens is like taking a stroll through a symphony of nature! I’m particularly drawn to Tudor Place. Thanks for this green oasis in the midst of bustling city life!

    • Terri
      November 11, 2023 at 7:36 pm

      Thank you! I love Tudor Place because it is the exquisite jewel box tucked into the back streets of Georgetown.

  • Sharyn McCullum
    November 11, 2023 at 4:05 pm

    Gardens are wonderful and I love visiting them too. They give so much – colour, relaxation, peace, a chance to clear the mind and exercise the body. I’d really love to visit the Franciscan Monestary.

    • Terri
      November 11, 2023 at 7:35 pm

      The monastery is exquisite. You always find yourself more serene after you visit.

  • Goya Galeotta
    November 11, 2023 at 6:57 pm

    OMG, I love waterlilies – so I’d love to visit Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

    • Terri
      November 11, 2023 at 7:35 pm

      The water lilies are incredible to see – they are huge!

  • Erica Forrest
    November 11, 2023 at 7:07 pm

    Lovely post, thank you for all of these ideas for my next visit to the area. I love visiting gardens both at home and while traveling. They offer such a respite in the middle of busy travel days. We have a lot of Olmsted designed parks and gardens in the Pacific Northwest and it is wonderful to see their work in the DMV area too. Wonderful suggestions and photographs!

    • Terri
      November 11, 2023 at 7:34 pm

      I am a huge fan of Olmsted Sr and Jr. We are so lucky in DC to have their imprint on the US Capitol Grounds landscaping, Bishops Garden, Rock Creek Park, and the National Mall Renault in the early 20th Century.

  • Alanna
    November 11, 2023 at 7:30 pm

    These are all so amazing, you’d never know most of them were even there. Dumbarton looks especially beautiful to me!

    • Terri
      November 11, 2023 at 7:31 pm

      Dumbarton is incredible due to the landscape designer. This was her masterpiece!

  • Tish
    November 11, 2023 at 9:04 pm

    Terri I love the DMV gardens!
    Will have to start visiting some
    Thanks

    • Terri
      November 12, 2023 at 5:07 am

      Now that I have you joining me on DC walking tours, the next step is a garden tour! 🌷🌻🌼

  • Adéle
    November 12, 2023 at 2:11 am

    I so need a trip to DC, spending time in these gardens would be such a tonic right now. Such a lovely article. Thanks for sharing this info.

    • Terri
      November 12, 2023 at 5:06 am

      I really hope you can visit Washington DC. You can visit 5 of these gardens briefly in one day as they are located in the National Mall vicinity.

  • Emma
    November 12, 2023 at 7:28 am

    Wow, great photos, love the look of the blossom in Pantere Garden and the snow in the sculpture garden. Great to see there’s a garden worth visiting no matter what season it is!

    • Terri
      November 12, 2023 at 10:59 am

      I do visit these gardens year round so I wanted to showcase their beauty in each of the four seasons. I love a garden in winter because you see its “bones”—the leaf-free tree branches and the barren earth.

  • Tara | Silly Little Kiwi Blog
    November 12, 2023 at 8:27 am

    The water lilies!!! So beautiful!

    • Terri
      November 12, 2023 at 10:58 am

      🪷🪷🪷🧘‍♂️🧘🧘‍♀️