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Washington DC’s Off-the-Beaten Path Gardens

Celebrate Washington DC in full flower

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In spring, Washington D.C. dazzles with cherry blossoms and gardens. More than 3,000 cherry trees pop into bloom, framing the Jefferson Memorial and fringing the Tidal Basin with a lush ribbon of pink and white that’s subtly reflected in the water. The most famous site, the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park, is bucket list beautiful. Locals know to find additional blooms and fewer crowds at such off-the-beaten path gardens as the U.S. National Arboretum and at Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens.

Peak bloom, when 70-percent of the cherry buds open, can occur between mid-March to mid-April, depending on weather. The city celebrates each year with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, featuring a parade, kite-flying, live music and more special events. This year’s event takes place March 20 to April 15.

Although the cherry blossoms receive headline billing, the District is in flower  from spring through fall. Leaven your Washington, D.C., exploration of museums and monuments with a stroll through the city’s “secret” gardens.


Cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin

The budding cherry trees soften the facades of government buildings and lace the streets. Delicate, fragrant, and like all things magical, the blooms are fleeting, but so worth experiencing.

Start your cherry blossom tour at the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial but come early, very early. Be there by 6 a.m. if you can. The crowds are thinner than later in the day and the  light, optimal for photos. Engaged couples and wedding parties pose amid the blooms. For a panoramic view, take a paddle boat out on the water.

Walking amid the canopy of petals is restorative even when accompanied by throngs of people.


U.S. National Arboretum

Make time for the United States National Arboretum. You’re virtually guaranteed to see blooms between mid-March to mid-April since the facility’s 2,000 cherry trees represent more than 200 species that flower at varying times. Another plus: less intense crowds than at the Tidal Basin.

At the 446-acre Arboretum, 2.2 miles from the capitol, the seasons bring  kaleidoscopic color. In spring, hillsides blaze with azaleas, daffodils and dogwood. In summer see hydrangeas, water-lilies, roses and peonies. Woodlands, boxwood, ferns and a noted bonsai collection add to the experience.


Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens

Hillwood, an uptown urban oasis, unfolds with 13 acres of formal gardens surrounded by 12 acres of woodlands that back up to Rock Creek Park. On a stroll, it’s easy to forget that you are still in the city.

Landscaped to the tastes of Marjorie Merriweather Post, the heir to the Post cereal fortune, the gardens are as carefully arranged as the rooms in her mansion. The grande home showcases Russian decorative arts—including bejeweled Faberge eggs– as well as 18th century French furnishings.

The Japanese-style garden, a tranquil setting of winding paths, bridges, boulders, ponds and waterfalls, soothes with flowering cherry trees. In March, the floral scent of 2,000  orchids greets you in the greenhouse. In April and May the rhododendrons, magnolias and crab apples flower and from spring through summer, roses and myriad other flowers bloom.


At A Glance

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Season:
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