After being closed for more than two years, the U.S. Botanic Garden’s Conservatory is once again open to visitors! The outdoor areas have been accessible for awhile, but it wasn’t until the start of this month that we could go back inside, too. The USBG, both indoors and out, is one of those places that I’d include among DC’s must-go sites. In fact, of all the attractions along the stretch between the U.S. Capitol and Lincoln Memorial, the U.S. Botanic Garden probably is the one our family has visited most. That’s partly because it’s the closest in to where we live and an easy walk or bike ride from our house. But also because it’s a really beautiful, interesting, and fun place to explore for all ages, kids and adults.
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.
Sash taking some of her earliest steps around the USBG
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.
A visit to Season's Greenings is always part of our holiday repertoire
As if I haven’t recommended Season’s Greenings enough as a great weekday, weekend, or holiday outing both here and on Facebook, I’m now dedicating a whole blog post to the annual holiday display at the U.S. Botanic Garden. I’ve already been three times this season — twice with the kids and once on my own. (Yeah, I kind of dig the USBG.)
But since you can read about all that is at Season’s Greenings in the KFDC Holiday Guide, this additional endorsement will give you a glimpse of what’s there. It’s also a reminder that hours are extended until 8pm on many Tuesdays and Thursdays in December for music in the garden. The concerts, featuring a different act each night, begin at 6pm. Here’s a preview of it all.
This guy will greet you on the way to the trains
The first adorable scene in the Enchanted Forest train display
Waiting for the train to emerge from a tunnel
This creature lurks among the forest
It's the details, like this tiny scene inside a tree trunk, that make the display so amazing
Sasha eyes a little room, all whittled from plant materials, behind glass
A mermaid watches over the trains
The Supreme Court constructed from plant materials is in the conservatory
Visited early on a weekday and nearly had the place to myself
What a treat to tour the jungle at night
Music during extended hours
Season’s Greenings will be on view at the U.S. Botanic Garden through January 1. Hours are 10am – 5pm every day, including all holidays. On Tuesday and Thursday evenings in December (except for Christmas day), the Conservatory is open until 8pm for extended hours and live music. Admission is free.
We’ve been spending a lot of time at the U.S. Botanic Garden lately. It’s one of those go-to places that we never seem to get tired of visiting. Plus, it’s a fairly easy walk from our house (and an even easier drive on a rainy day or when I’m feeling lazy), it’s rarely crowded, and there’s something to enjoy no matter what the weather.
Sometimes we go with an activity in mind — play time in the Children’s Garden or a tour of the jungle area where Dora lives (or so Sasha says). Other times we just wander among plant collections, sit in the peaceful Garden Court, stop to sniff herbs and spices in the “Plants in Culture” exhibit, or stroll/relax/play in the National Garden outside.
Taking those carnivorous plant families for a spin
Today, we went with another purpose: We wanted to check out Savage Gardens, an exhibit about carnivorous plants that opened last weekend. Housed mostly in the East Conservatory, the exhibit isn’t very big, but what there is of it is pretty interesting. Large panels on the walls around the room describe different species of carnivorous plants with live ones there to view, too. There are also some interactive displays where you can spin a wheel to learn about plant families, remove (fake) insects from (fake) plants with giant tweezers to see what kinds of bugs they’ve eaten, flip tiles to find out how plants catch their prey, and place magnetic plants on a large picture of a pond scene.
Learning about plant traps
But the centerpieces of the exhibit are giant models of three meat-eating plants, most of which are interactive in some way. You can step inside a 10-foot tropical pitcher plant, press buttons to activate the “traps” on a Venus flytrap, and see the tentacles of a sundew light up. There is also a smaller Venus flytrap model, where you can catch bugs using a foot pedal to close them in, and a 15-foot model of a North American pitcher plant is located outside, just before you enter the Conservatory building.
Getting a bug's eye view in a pitcher plant
It only took about half an hour to see the exhibit, so we took a quick walk through some of the other collections before making our way to the Children’s Garden, where the kids played with the water pump, dug in the soil, and watered some of the potted plants. When the indoor part of the USBG closed at 5pm, we headed out to the National Garden, which is open until 7pm, where the kids ran along the paths and looked at fishies in the small pond.
Flexing her green thumb in the Children's Garden
Watching the fish in the National Garden
Savage Gardens runs through October 8. If you’re interesting in checking out the exhibit, plan on some other activities while you’re there, since it doesn’t take very long to see. The Botanic Garden’s Conservatory is open daily 10am – 5pm (as noted, the National Garden is open until 7pm). Admission is free.
Get the weekend and "summer" started with a Friday evening concert at the Yards
Memorial Day weekend. A time to honor those who have served and sacrificed for our country, the unofficial start to summer, an annual getaway for us. But if you’re sticking around town — or visiting DC for the holiday weekend — you’ve got your pick of things to do. Whether you seek events to observe the holiday, are ready to embrace that summer feeling, or just want to enjoy some quality time with the kids over the long weekend, these ideas for family recreation should have you covered. Happy Weekend!
Summer in the City
Where: Throughout the area
When: All weekend long
Admission: Varies by activity
Celebrate the unofficial start of summer with an activity exclusive to this time of year. Jazz in the Garden begins this evening and other free concert series have already started; outdoor public pools, spraygrounds, and water parks open Saturday; the strawberry picking season is underway; and blue crabs are making many a feaster very happy. This post has specifics on all of the special events and series that come with the warm months.
Where: Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens
When: Friday – Sunday, 6-9pm
Admission: $18/adults, $12/ages 6-11, free for children 5 and under
Visit Mount Vernon after the daytime crowds have departed for a special Memorial Day weekend celebration. Guests can take evening tours of the Mansion, relax and enjoy wine and desserts available for purchase, and delight in 18th-century music, dancing, games, and wagon rides. Stroll the lantern-lit grounds and immerse yourself in the 18th century as the sun sets on the plantation and costumed residents like the charming Lady Washington and her granddaughter Nelly interact with visitors. This family-friendly event celebrates the beginning of summer on the plantation
National Memorial Day Parade Where: Constitution Avenue NW, 7th to 17th Streets When: Monday, 2pm Admission: Free
The annual National Memorial Day Parade celebrates and honors American veterans with a grand procession through the city. Get a curbside view of military units and vehicles, marching bands, flag teams, and hundreds of veterans as they travel up Constitution Avenue. This year’s parade will feature a tribute to the generation that served and sacrificed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn, following the formal end of the war last December.
National Memorial Day Concert Where: West lawn of the Capitol When: Sunday, 8-9:30pm, gates open at 5pm(or Saturday for the dress rehearsal) Admission: Free
Why watch on TV when you can be there in person? The 2012 National Memorial Day Concert will take place on the west lawn of the Capitol on Sunday from 8 – 9:30pm. Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna are hosting the event once again, and an all-star line-up of artists will join the National Symphony Orchestra in honoring those who have served and sacrificed for the U.S. If you’re planning to go, this FAQ page on the concert website is worth a read. If you can’t make Sunday’s show or don’t want to deal with the crowds, Saturday’s dress rehearsal is also open to the public — gates open at 5pm, and the show begins at 7:30pm.
Memorials on the Mall Where: National Mall When: All Weekend Admission: Free
Tributes to those who have served our country will take place at the many memorials and monuments on the National Mall throughout the weekend. Times vary, but you can look for schedules on the National Park Service website. The Mall is guaranteed to be crowded, so plan accordingly.
DC United Kids Day Where: RFK Stadium When: Saturday, 6:30pm Admission: Free with admission to match
Kick it DC United-style before Saturday’s match against the New England Revolution! This family-friendly event is designed specifically with the smallest fans in mind. The fun begins at 6:30pm when gates open in the VW Garage. Kids get a passport upon entry that gets stamped as they complete a variety of fun, interactive stations, including a NASA Goddard Space Flight Center astronaut photo booth, soccer obstacle cours, Memorial Day Thank You cards for the troops, a cheer card station, and a National Air & Space Museum interactive motion exhibit. When they have 8-10 stamps, they can redeem their passport for an exclusive Kids’ Day goody bag.
Titanic: 100 Year Obsession Where: National Geographic Museum When: Daily Admission: $6/adult, $4/ages 5-12, free for 4 and under
This is a must-experience for anyone with even a mild interest in the Titanic. Covering the ship’s complete history, from construction to completion, its demise to the search for remains, its discovery to continued exploration, the exhibit is presented through a variety of fascinating and many interactive displays. Read the KFDC review for more info.
Savage Gardens Where: U.S. Botanic Garden When: All Weekend (runs May 26 – October 8th) Admission: Free
This exhibit all about carnivorous plants is opening at the Botanic Garden on Saturday. Savage Gardens tells the story of their astounding adaptations to inhospitable habitats. Through displays in the Conservatory Terrace, East Gallery, and National Garden, feed your senses with the captivating, the bizarre, the larger-than-life, real and imaginary world of these unique plants.
Say Aloha! Where: National Museum of the American Indian When: Saturday & Sunday, 10:30am – 5pm Admission: Free
In honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the museum welcomes Hawaiian artists, performers, and practitioners of traditional Hawaiian healing and culture. Visitors can learn about living a life of “aloha” by watching and learning about hula, watching films and presentations, and meeting and greeting Hawaiian guests.
Reap the Fruits Where: Farms throughout the area When: All weekend Admission: Varies by location
The strawberry season is in full swing, and the pickings are still good at area farms. You can get in on the pick-your-own action; this post has all the info you need to get started.
Best in Shows
Where: Theatres around the area
When: Throughout the weekend
Admission: Varies by venue Five Little Monkeys is at Adventure Theatre. Tiny Tots and Pinocchio are on The Puppet Co. stage. Shine and the Moonbeams is performing at Jammin’ Java. Find details on all of these shows in this post about live entertainment in late spring.
For even more ideas for fun with the kids, outside and in, check out these popular KFDC posts: