Who doesn’t love going on a field trip, filled with opportunities to visit different places, learn something new, and have an adventure? I hope to share some of my field trip adventures with you, whether it be a visit to a park, a garden, a greenhouse, or a flower show or festival. However, with the current shelter-in-place status due to COVID-19 leaving most of us safely in our homes, many vacation and field trip plans have been canceled out of necessity. Nevertheless, being stuck at home does not prevent me from taking a different type of trip. I’m about to take a trip down memory lane. Want to come along for the ride?
Spring break this year became a stay-cation due to the stay-at-home order, but last year about this time, we took a vacation to Washington D.C. It was a fantastic trip, filled with educational opportunities as we visited the many monuments, museums, and government buildings. The highlight of the trip for me was a visit to the United States Botanic Garden (USBG), a place that had held a spot on my bucket list for quite some time. I was ecstatic that I would finally be able to cross it off the list.
The idea of creating a garden for the nation took root back in the late 18th century in the minds of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison respectively. In 1820 a public botanic garden was established on the National Mall and remained until 1837. In 1842, the idea to reestablish a national garden was brought to light when the Wilkes Expedition brought plant specimens that they had collected from around the world back to Washington, D.C. These plants became the first permanent collection for the USBG, and miraculously four plants dating from that expedition are still at the Garden today. In 1850, the USBG got a new home, and it has been open to the public and in continuous operation since that date. In 1933, the Garden moved to its current location on Maryland Avenue, where it includes the Conservatory, the National Garden, and Bartholdi Park. I was very excited to explore a part of our nation’s history, the fruition of a dream from our Founding Fathers.
As I approached, I could see the towering conservatory above the trees, and I got as giddy as a kid in a candy store. I couldn’t wait to step inside and transport to different climates and places around the world, marveling at the flora, all while staying under one roof. I was in awe when I discovered that the greenhouse contains ten garden rooms and two courtyard gardens, totaling a whopping 28,944 square feet of growing space! I could only dream of working in a greenhouse that size!
Once inside, I strolled from room to room, taking it all in. I stood motionless, feeling the humidity on my skin in The Tropics, as I looked out from a mezzanine level viewing the jungle canopy and the 93-foot ceiling. I was mesmerized as I walked from one room to the next, entering areas entitled Plant Adaptations, Hawaii, Garden Primeval, Medicinal Plants, and the Mediterranean, all based on the flora contained within. Learning about how plants have evolved and adapted to survive for millions of years and how different cultures have incorporated plants into their daily lives was fascinating.
My three favorite rooms were the World Deserts, Rare and Endangered Species, and Orchid areas. I was drawn in by the abundant succulents, shrubs, and grasses of all shapes and sizes in the World Deserts display, and enthralled by the rare and endangered plants that reminded us why bringing them back from the edge of extinction is so essential.
The U.S. Botanic Garden’s orchid collection numbers approximately 5,000 specimens, presenting hundreds on display at any given time. The beautiful orchid blooms I witnessed were all mesmerizing, in a dizzying array of shapes and colors, a real feast for the eyes.
When our tour came to an end, and I had finished walking through all of the displays and soaked up all the information I could, sadness overtook me as I realized that my trip to the United States Botanic Garden was over. On more than one occasion during my visit, my breath had been taken away. The conservation work that this and other Botanic Gardens are doing to save the diverse collections of plants on our planet is so important, and I applaud them for their work. Through their collections, they remind people of the value and importance of plants to not just the earth’s ecosystems, but also to humankind.
Since returning from my visit, I have discovered that the USBG has a Production Facility that boasts 85,000 square feet, including 17 environmental zones and 34 greenhouse bays, making it the largest greenhouse complex in the United States that supports a public garden. It contains all of the USBG collection that is not currently on display. The Production Facility is not usually open to the public, but the USBG does hold an annual open house at the Facility where visitors can explore the vast plant collection. I think I just added another field trip to my bucket list!
If you are longing to take a tour of a botanical garden during the shelter-in-place order, many of them are offering virtual tours on their websites. These virtual tours are a fantastic way to explore the beautiful flora within the gardens right from your own home. Enjoy!