The many DC gardens and nature centers in and around the city provide an easy escape from the daily grind. Here are a few of our favorites:
The National Zoo
- Directions: The National Zoo
The best time to see the National Zoo is when it opens at 8am. The best parking lot (Lot A, close to the Panda House) is never full that early, and you’ll have the zoo all to yourself.
Parking is $24 for the day, though you can sometimes find free parking early on Sundays along Connecticut. Alternatively, take the Metro Red Line to Woodley Park / Zoo. The Zoo entrance is about a half-mile up Connecticut from the Metro escalator.
Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
Meadowlark is my favorite garden in the area, and it’s a treat year-round. In Winter, the park is decked out in holiday lights. In Spring, Summer and Fall, the natural colors take over.
- Directions: Brookside Gardens
If you’re looking to experience heaven on earth, there are two paths: 1. give up the best years of your life to toil, and spend your piled up millions converting a patch of wilderness into an ornate formal garden that you can wander through each morning in your bathrobe, or 2. take a short drive to Brookside Gardens.
Combining several periods of Japanese traditional gardens into a garden of earthly delights, Brookside offers a daily dose of beauty for DC residents. The Japanese tea house is a charming place to rest and take in the scenery, and Brookside also features a seasonal, popup butterfly sanctuary.
Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
- Directions: Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
If you’ve never toured a traditional Asian lotus garden, you are in for an other-worldly experience. The best time to go to Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens is in mid to late Spring, when the lilies are in bloom.
Green Spring Garden
- Directions: Green Spring Garden
It is amazing how much variety has been built into just 30 acres at Green Spring Garden. This horticultural wonder is located between Annandale and Alexandria and has a historic house that serves both tea and a botanical education.
The original house was owned by Michael Straight the scion of a wealthy family that owned The New Republic, which he eventually led as publisher. Straight had an interesting past. On the one hand, he was a connected DC socialite who wrote speeches for Franklin D. Roosevelt and eventually served as deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. On the other hand, he was a communist sympathizer and KGB operative.
Among the more interesting features of the property is a small lily garden, which is in bloom from mid to late summer. While it is not nearly as extensive and varied as the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, it excels in at least one important way: there are no crowds here.
Also of interest are the ponds down the hill from the mansion, which feature a large, shady gazebo and attract suburban wildlife, such as tame ducks and migratory birds.
- Full Review: Meander through the Oatlands Plantation and gardens
- Directions: Oatlands Plantation
From March 30th – December 30th, Oatlands Plantation, a quintessential Hunt Country house and gardens, is open to the public. The lush gardens feature a number of rare botanicals, and it’s no wonder, this is the site of the first greenhouse in America.
- Directions: Hillwood Estate
My children never tire of Hillwood, though at $18 a pop it’s too expensive to visit everyday. It’s closeness and meticulously landscaped grounds make our annual springtime visit a special treat.