A few weeks ago, as I was updating The Best Places in the DC Area to Enjoy a Beautiful Day Outdoors with the Kids, I did a quick read through the comments and realized something: My memory is shot.
Because as I was browsing, I saw a post recommending Greensprings [sic] in Alexandria and thought to myself, “Hmmm, I must have missed this comment because I’ve never heard of this place.” And that very well could have been the case if not for a reply from me right below it thanking her for the heads-up since I wasn’t previously aware of the locale. I have no recollection of ever reading or writing that (and I can’t even use the “too much wine” excuse because I wrote it at 10:57am and, well, even I have some limits).
Anyway, that “realization” came at just the right time, because my kids were going to be off camp the next day, so we could spend some extra time together, and Green Spring Gardens sounded like a great place to do that.
Northern Virginia keeps surprising me with these lovely places that seem to be hidden within the suburban sprawl. You’re driving along a main road past shopping centers and town house communities, then you make a turn into a parking lot behind a strip mall, and voila!, there’s this gorgeous park with a vast green space surrounded by gardens full of plants, flowers, art, whimsical structures, play spots for children, gazebos, and fountains. When we first walked in, I kind of couldn’t believe it existed there. Owen and Sasha also were delighted at first sight.
I wanted to get the lay of the land, so we walked over to the Horticultural Center, a large brown building that you can’t miss, to pick up a map and see if there was anything special we should know about. This was an auspicious decision, because along with the map, we received scavenger hunt instructions for the kids, which added some purposeful amusement to our visit. We took a walk through the Glasshouse attached to the Center before making our way outside to begin the scavenger hunt adventure.
The grounds are comprised of 26 different areas, most of them small gardens, but also a historic house, ponds, and an overlook. We started off in the adorably whimsical Children’s Garden, where the kids spent a good amount of time playing and crossing off some of the hunt tasks, like finding a plant as tall as them, greeting a tree, and telling the time based on a sun dial. A teepee made of bamboo stick and vines, little garden house, small table and chairs, and sensory garden are part of the area, too.
From there, we toured the other areas and completed more tasks on the way — they sang songs in the gazebo, found flowers in their favorite colors, and searched for a caterpillar (to no avail). We took breaks from the hunt to roam around, walking on trails through woodsy areas and running through the open spaces, before making our way to the ponds at the back of the grounds.
The ponds are pretty and peaceful and deserve a close look — we saw several turtles swimming around and enjoyed the lotus flowers among the sights. After hanging out there for awhile, we made our way back to Horticultural Center where the kids picked up surprises for completing all of the scavenger hunt tasks (well, everything but the caterpillar find). While we were back there, I learned that Green Springs occasionally hosts classes and Family Days, which you can register for on their website.
Green Spring Gardens is located at 4603 Green Spring Road in Alexandria. The grounds are open daily dawn to dusk. Horticultural Center hours are 9am – 4:30pm Monday – Saturday, and 12-4:30pm on Sunday. Admission is free.