The Model Train Railway is always the big draw, and this year’s “World’s Fair” theme doesn’t disappoint, with famous structures from the historic public exhibitions, from Chicago’s Ferris wheel to the Eiffel Tower to New York’s Unisphere — and several more. And replicas of many iconic DC buildings created from plant materials are on display in the main hall of the conservatory along with animal topiary designs and festive decor and flora.
A special scavenger hunt activity adds some extra fun for kids right now. They can pick up a passport from a kiosk in the conservatory, which lists different plant species from around the world that kids have to seek out in the various galleries around the Garden. Once they’ve found a plant, they can use a stamp to show they’ve “been there, done that.”
But I have to point out that the USBG is also terrific beyond the holiday season. In fact, it’s one of our go-to spots for outings all year round. The location — an easy bike ride or nice walk from our house — is a big personal factor, but the offerings are what ultimately seal the deal.
First, there’s the general experience of feeling like you’re outdoors, surrounded by a diverse array of plants from all over the world, in the comfort of a warm and beautiful place. There’s lush flora — big elephant ear leaves and lofty palms — in the lofty Jungle area. It’s cool and dry in the desert gallery, where many varieties of cactus are on display. You can see a reconstructed Jurassic landscape of ferns and other ancient plant groups that have survived for 150 million years in the Garden Primeval Gallery. An entire room is dedicated to Hawaii, where plant species are unique because of the remote volcanic islands. Even more areas showcase interesting vegetation from around the world.
And then there are the interactive exhibits, which both kids and adults can enjoy. The Children’s Garden, which is open during the warmer months, welcomes young visitors to flex their green thumbs. They can pump water, use shovels to dig, water plants, and sometimes plant flowers. There’s also a little garden house complete with a green roof, and a bamboo area (where Sasha says we have to be quiet so we don’t disturb the pandas). You can also put your senses to use in the “Plants in Culture” exhibits you sniff herbs and spices and learn about the ways plants are part of our everyday lives and of people around the world. [Note: The Children’s Garden has been renovated since this was written and now has different, but still fun features.]
The offerings aren’t limited to the indoors. Outside, the National Garden features a lovely fountain, a rose garden, a small amphitheater, and paths that meander through the gardens and bridge a small creek in one place. The kids love wandering through, exploring the different areas and looking for tiny fish in a little pond. When it’s nice out, we bring along lunch or snacks and throw a little picnic into the outing, either sitting at the amphitheater or tables next to the fountain.
So, go experience Season’s Greenings while it’s there, and go back again (and again) to enjoy the rest any time of year.
The U.S. Botanic Garden is located at 100 Maryland Avenue SW, just across from the Reflecting Pool in front of the Capitol. Season’s Greenings runs daily (including Christmas Day!) through January 5. Hours are 10am – 5pm, with extended hours to 8pm for live seasonal music on Tuesdays and Thursdays in December. The rest of the year, it’s open 10am – 5pm. Admission is always free.