The U.S. Botanic Garden is a wonderful place to visit any time of year, but it gets the most attention during the holidays when its annual Season’s Greenings exhibit is on display — and for good reason. Featuring the most delightful train display, models of DC landmarks in the festively decorated conservatory, plus concerts and extended hours, it’s one of the best ways to enjoy some holiday fun around DC.
The highlight, especially for kids (and the kid in all of us adults) is the garden railway, which is always beautiful, whimsical, and uniquely crafted from plant materials. This year’s theme is America’s Gardens with recreations of structures — conservatories, fountains, and sculptures — from botanical gardens around the country. See the Canopy Cathedral Treehouse from Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania (random fact: I worked there when I was in high school), the Science Pyramid from the Denver Botanic Gardens, the World’s Largest Concrete Garden Gnome from Iowa’s Reiman Gardens, the USBG’s own Bartholdi Fountain, the Biltmore Conservatory, Topiary Flamingos from Ohio, and many, many more fantastically imaginative works. The model trains zipping through it all adds another layer of whimsy and delight.
Try to get a close look to see how the individual leaves, seed pods, stems, and other plant parts are placed to create the works — it really is impressive. Stand back, too, to take it all in and appreciate the mini botanical wonderland.
Once again, in the main Garden Court you can also view Washington landmarks constructed from plant materials as well as poinsettias and other vibrant flora. And be sure to stop in the West Gallery where there is a 26-foot Christmas tree with its own model train whizzing by recreations of DC row houses — all made of plant materials and based on real homes on Capitol Hill and Georgetown.
For more holiday magic at the Botanic Garden, there are concerts Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December, when hours are extended until 8pm. This is my favorite time to go. The music adds extra spirit and it’s lovely to see the exhibit and plant collections illuminated by colorful lights. Plus, there’s usually no wait to get in then.
Be aware that lines to get in do get long, especially on weekends and when kids are on Winter Break from school. Your best bet for avoiding a wait is to go on a weekday before they’re off for the holidays (think after school activity) or on one of the Tuesday or Thursday evenings in December.
And if you get there and the line is just too long, there is more than just the Seasons Greenings exhibit to enjoy. Explore the plant collections, both inside and out, and pick up a Plant Hunt guide, so the kids can search for specific species. And be sure to check out Patrick Doherty’s amazing Stickwork Sculpture Installation in the National Garden. Bartholdi Garden, also part of the USBG right across Independence Avenue, will also be festively decorated this year.
Season’s Greenings opens on Thanksgiving Day, November 28, and runs through January 5, 2020, including Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Hours are 10am – 5pm daily (and noted 8pm closings on Tuesdays and Thursdays in December). Admission is free. Get more of a glimpse in the photos below, but definitely plan a visit there to enjoy it all in person!