One of many beautiful poinsettias at the US Botanic Garden
I’ve been to the US Botanic Garden (USBG) many times and have always enjoyed the beautiful displays that change with the seasons. But in December, I bypass the holiday dazzle of the evergreen-draped lobby, work my way through the steamy medicinal plant and orchid gardens and head straight to the restrooms. There, behind the glass atrium in a quiet passage all its own is the USBG’s best-kept secret: a one-of-a-kind poinsettia display. Continue reading →
When we locals look to get away from it all, many of us head to a garden property known as Dumbarton Oaks. And this May, I had the pleasure of taking a private tour of the estate. It was an opportune time, not only for appreciating the spectacular flowers from behind the scenes, so to speak, but also for the magnificent spring weather . Continue reading →
Washington, DC’s 11th Street Bridge Park/Photo: OMA + OLIN Anacostia Crossing
There’s a movement afoot that aims to turn old infrastructure into public parks, breathing new life into spaces that have long since been forgotten. Of these, the transformation of an old rail line into a garden on Manhattan’s West Side (the High Line) is the best known. Now comes Washington, DC’s own variation, the 11th Street Bridge Park. Soon, the city’s first elevated park will be perched high atop the Anacostia River. Continue reading →
Those of us who live near Washington, DC seldom fail to be moved by the majestic buildings and monuments that comprise our capital city. And the United States Botanic Garden, one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America, is one of them. Now at holiday time comes a special treat: the Garden’s annual tribute to the city’s most famous landmarks constructed from, you guessed it, plants and other plant-based materials.
The eye-catching display is part of the U.S. Botanic Garden’s ‘Season’s Greenings’ holiday exhibit that also features seasonal flowers and shrubs, a garden railway with model trains and a top-notch collection of unusual poinsettias. It was created by Paul Busse (most famous for the New York Botanical Garden’s Holiday Train Show) and his Kentucky-based firm, Applied Imagination. A team of horticulturalists, botanical architects and landscape designers used over 70 different plant materials to build the sculptures.
Model train passes through a botanical Grand Canyon
Botanical Landmarks On A Mini Mall
At the heart of any trip to Washington, DC is a trip to the National Mall. And the botanical replicas, positioned as they are along the broad walkways and twin pools of the Garden Court, mimic the actual ones outside just a stone’s throw away. Each architectural gem is sited high on a mound from which it overlooks its own pint-sized garden vista.
The crown jewel of the collection, the U.S. Capitol, is located to the left of the Court. Measuring seven feet long, the structure is formed of sycamore leaves, willow sticks, acorns and other natural materials. It took over 600 hours to complete. A peek inside reveals the Statue of Freedom and other figures fashioned from beech nuts, corn husks, acorns and pinecone scales.
Facing the U.S. Capitol on the opposite side of the Garden Court is the Washington Monument constructed from sycamore leaves, sea grape leaves and moss. The Garden’s blue-tiled reflecting pool (one of a pair) stretches behind it.
A gourd forms the dome of the Jefferson Memorial. While inside presides a mini President Jefferson with hair made out of lichens.
Sited at the far end of the pool from the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial features an exterior of sea grape leaves and architectural details made from kangaroo pods, sisal rope and grape tendrils among other materials.
The Library of Congress shines amidst a lush green landscape. Its facade is crafted from elm and locust bark. Sea grape leaves make up the terrace.
Library of Congress
There is even a replica of the U.S. Botanic Garden within the conservatory. Surrounded by hydrangeas, boxwood, pileas, freesias and poinsettias, it boasts a facade made from horse chestnut bark and willow sticks.
U.S. Botanic Garden
Located on the opposite side of the pool from the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court building features a frieze made from beech nuts, acorns and silver birch buds.
U.S. Supreme Court
The White House is encircled by a fence made from screw pod rails and cinnamon tops. Its bas-relief columns are formed of palm frond stems and cinnamon curls. There’s a swing-set in front.
A stroll through the secluded campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland is an otherworldly experience. First, there’s the security, then there are the imposing, mainly windowless limestone buildings towering hundreds of feet in the air. I stopped by NIH late last week to visit a little known but remarkable garden. Located directly across the parking lot from the world’s largest biomedical library, it is known as the National Library of Medicine Herb Garden.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL LIBRARY OF MEDICINE HERB GARDEN
The National Library of Medicine (NLM) Herb Garden was established in 1976 as part of NIH’s Bicentennial celebration. Initially composed of low borders of boxwood, lavender and thyme, the garden has since grown to include over 100 flowering herbs. Meticulously arranged in symmetrical beds, the plants bear silent witness to the healing power of nature and the integral role it has played in the development of modern medicine over time.
View of the National Library of Medicine Herb Garden
THE TOTUM POLE
The first thing you notice upon entering the space is a large Indian totem pole located at the far end of the garden. A part of the NLM’s new Native Voices exhibit, it was carved by Jewell Praying Wolf James of the Lummi Nation from western red cedar found in Washington State. The totem, which symbolizes and promotes good health and healing, is the main focal point of the garden. Its colors also have deep meaning.
NLM Native American sculpture ‘The Bear and the Steelhead’
The bench on the left side of the totem depicts the Salish traditional story of the Raven and the Sun. The story tells of how at great pain, the Raven delivered the sun, moon, stars and fire to humanity and how we humans should treasure them as essential to our survival.
NLM Native American sculpture ‘The Raven and the Sun’
CULPEPER’S WORLD-FAMOUS HERBAL GUIDE TO RADIANT HEALTH
Among the nearly 20 million books and other forms of medical information on its library shelves, the National Library of Medicine considers Culpepers’sComplete Herbal to be a primary source for information on herbs and herbal medicine. Written over 350 years ago by Nicholas Culpeper (1616-54), the guide contains a wealth of pharmaceutical and herbal knowledge. It also includes a listing of herbs and their properties, many of which can be found in the garden.
Culpeper’s master work, The Complete Herbal
Culpeper was a 17th century physician and herbalist who spent much of his life outdoors gathering and cataloguing medicinal herbs. Although he studied medicine at Cambridge, he abandoned a traditional practice in order to provide low-cost health services to the poor. He believed that no man should have to ‘starve’ to pay a physician.
Mikania micrantha growing wild in the forest
Culpeper saw plenty of suffering around him. So, he sourced his medicines from the surrounding countryside, which enabled him to offer the bulk of his services for free.
This not being pleasing, and less profitable to me, I consulted with my two brothers, Dr. Reason and Dr. Experience, and took a voyage to visit my mother Nature, by whose advice, together with the help of Dr. Diligence, I at last obtained my desire; and, being warned by Mr. Honesty, a stranger in our days, to publish it to the world, I have done it.”
Considered a radical in his time, Culpeper’s herbal medicine practice and writings on the subject proved to be a thorn in the side of his fellow physicians. Moreover, Culpeper believed that expensive fees and the use of Latin by doctors kept power and freedom from the general public. He shocked the establishment by publishing the Complete Herbaland other works in vernacular English so that everyone could read them.
Today, it is widely believed that Culpeper’s systemization of the use of herbals was a key development in the evolution of modern pharmaceuticals.
Up close in the NLM Herb Garden with Verbena bonariensis in the background
A sample of some of Culpeper’s cures using various plants and flowers can be found on the National Library of Medicine Herb Garden website. I caution you, however, from attempting any of the remedies at home since they have not been officially proven to work. Following are just a few plants whose healing properties caught my eye.
PLANTS THAT HEAL
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) USES: Diaphoretic, immunostimulant and tonic.
Cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans) USES: To reduce inflammation and treat sore mouths and ulcers. It also can be applied to painful joints.
Goldenrod (Solidago Canadensis) USES: Mild diuretic and treatment for urinary tract inflammation and kidney stones.
African Blue Basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x O. basilicum ‘Dark Opal’) USES: Reduces fever and treats skin infections.
African Blue Basil
Comfrey, Knitbone (Symphytum Officionale)USES: A healing plant for broken bones, wounds and ulcers.
Comfrey, also known as Knitbone
Here was a surprise. Although I am aware that Lenten Rose, Helleborus orientalis, can be somewhat toxic, I didn’t know it can also kill rats.
Finally, I certainly didn’t know that Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) can be used topically for wounds, cuts and abrasions and is also good for allergic mucus problems including hay fever. I may try it out!
These are just a very few of the many interesting and beautiful flowering herbs to be found at the National Library of Medicine Herb Garden. The garden is maintained by the Montgomery County Master Gardeners and the Potomac Chapter of the Herb Society of America. For more information on the garden and how to get there, click here for the website.
Memorial Day weekend is a big weekend for gardeners, as evidenced by the long lines of cars queued up outside area garden stores. Nurseries are teeming with brilliantly colored bedding plants, perennials in full bloom, and a seemingly endless selection of deep green foliage plants, flowering shrubs and ornamental trees. It’s enough to make even the most experienced of gardeners a little bit crazed. Continue reading →
After decades spent living in the Washington, D.C. area, I have come to associate spring with the annual peaking of the cherry blossoms on the National Mall. And because of this long-standing tradition, I am perhaps more aware of the weather at this time of year than others who don’t live in the area. Some years, I’ve donned a heavy jacket to see the flowers, many years I’ve worn shorts. Still other years, fickle spring winds have spelled the early demise of the delicate pink blossoms. Continue reading →
In Japanese, bonsai translates roughly as ‘tray planting,’ but over the centuries the term has come to mean so much more. Today, bonsai and its Chinese predecessor penjing represent the highest forms of horticultural art. And happily, one of the best collections in North America of these amazing miniature trees and landscapes is located right here in Washington, D.C. It’s called the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. Continue reading →
If winter’s dull palate is getting you down, the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. offers a colorful respite. Located adjacent to the Capitol Grounds, the Garden is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. I love visiting the magnificent glass Conservatory on gray winter days where I always find plenty to cheer me up. Here, amidst thousands of tropical flowering plants, specialty orchids, carnivorous plants, cacti and succulents, everything seems to be blooming. Continue reading →
Of the many beautiful gardens around Washington, D.C., Hillwood Museum has one of the best. Dramatically situated on a hill overlooking Rock Creek Park, the property’s English-style ‘outdoor rooms’ provide a year round display of seasonal color. As if that weren’t enough, a visit to the estate also affords sweeping views of the city across a naturalistic woodland setting. I recently visited on a sunny August day to see what was blooming. Continue reading →