United States Botanic Gardens
Nov. 9, 2002
As the weather in D.C. gets a little bit cooler with the onset of autumn, I wanted to find fun things to do around the city that are also located indoors. Thus began my journey to the Mall to visit the United States Botanic Gardens. Despite a nippy breeze and my lack of sufficient winter clothing, I decided to walk to the Mall from campus rather than take the Metro. It really wasn’t too cold outside, and besides, I couldn’t scrape together enough change from the sofa cushions to pay for a fare card.
It was quiet out for a Saturday afternoon, so I took my time with a leisurely stroll to the Mall. By the time I got to the Smithsonian Castle, I realized the inevitable had happened. I was lost. Jefferson Avenue, Independence Avenue … I had no idea where the Botanic Gardens could be found. I quickly located one of the maps that tell poor, lost tourists where to go. After living here for more than two years, one would think I would know how to get around parts of the city other than Foggy Bottom. Oh well.
Once I figured out where I was going, I continued my trek to the gardens. The conservatory of the Botanic Gardens is located diagonally from the Capitol and is only a five-minute walk from the Smithsonian Castle.
It was a rather large building composed of glass and steel, reminiscent of the Art Nouveau movement prominent in France in the early 1900s. Potted palm trees lined the entryway into the building, providing a tropical aura for incoming visitors. As I walked into the conservatory, a gust of warm, humid air hit my slightly chilled body and made my curly hair frizz.
A narrow wishing pool filled with pennies and other coins ran down the middle of the main room. I threw in a couple of pennies for good measure and walked through a set of sliding doors into a room labeled “Jungle.” The first thing I saw was a Congressman, though I am not sure who, being photographed amid palm trees and colorful flowers. My favorite part of the Jungle room was the gigantic palms that grew to the heights of the second story of the atrium.
There was also a stream running through the room, and it was filled with golden and white fish that shimmered underneath the water amidst the copper and silver tones of the coins that had been tossed in. A light mist was sprayed all over the plants and I could feel light drops of water accumulating on my skin.
A plant hanging off the side of a rock had tentacle-like green vines coming out of its center that were covered with a layer of soft, spiny hairs. It was appropriately named Medusa’s Head and came from the countries of Mexico, Jamaica and the Honduras.
Another interesting aspect of the Jungle room was the steel promenade that circled the dome of the atrium. I climbed up the stairs, my boots clanging against the metal staircase, and walked around the border, looking down on the palms, the fish and the Congressman getting his picture taken.
When I felt as though I had completely immersed myself in the vegetation of a jungle, I moved on to the Orchid room. It was a small room filled with orchids of all colors and sizes growing on the side of a huge, black rock, with streams of water gliding down into another pool. My favorite was the “Crimson Glow,” a bright red orchid the size of my fist. There was also the Java orchid that formed a sac with its petals to collect water.
I sped through the next room, World Deserts, which was filled with cacti, because it brought back the harsh childhood memory of the time I sat on a cactus and had to spend two hours getting each individual spine plucked out of my rear end. I definitely didn’t want to relive that disaster or even think about it longer than necessary.
There were two more rooms, called Oasis and Primeval Plants, that were rather small, and I walked through them pretty quickly.
Although the conservatory of the United States Botanic Garden is on the small side, it provides tourists and D.C. residents alike with a warm refuge from the cold weather that the seasons change has brought upon the city and the campus. I would definitely make another trip to the conservatory the next time I am down at the Mall, because since it is a free and a beautiful haven.