Saturday, July 2, 2016

Horticultural Highlights from our Nation's Capital

Last week, I wrote about our trip to Washington, D.C. Jack and I moved from the D.C. metro area in 2011, but I'll admit that it has been much longer since I explored the National Mall area.  I guess when you live and work in a place, you rarely appreciate it in the same way that visitors do. So it was interesting to be back there and see the sights through visitor eyes.

I was particularly impressed with the U. S. Botanic Garden. I visited the Botanic Gardens several times when Jack and I lived in the area, but it was always to see a special exhibit or look around the Conservatory. I didn't think think there was much of interest on the outside. So I was surprised to see how extensive and improved the outside gardens are now. There is a rain garden, a rose garden, a butterfly garden, and a water garden, just to name a few.

In particular, the front of the building seemed much improved to me. Now called "the terrace garden", very attractive raised beds now break up the hot dry, expanse of the stone entry. 

This view is looking across the front entry toward the Capitol.

Notice how the beds vary in shape and height and are planted in different color schemes. 

Though I wouldn't like this arid look for my own garden, I was attracted to the blues and silvers of this bed.

One other big thing going on at the National Mall is turf renovation. The long, expanse of grass between the Washington Monument and the Capitol takes a beating from foot traffic of 33 million visitors each year, and when we left in 2011, the grass looked pretty bad. 
An ambitious renovation plan is underway and is transforming it to this:

Four to five feet of compacted soil is being removed and replaced with a compaction-resistant "engineered" soil, which appears to consist of layers of large gravel and sand, and, I assume, a top layer of good topsoil.

The finished design will result in slightly less grass on the mall, but the grass that remains will be healthier and better protected. The walkways across the mall will be wider and better defined and the grassy areas protected by granite curbs that will encourage walkers to stay on the paved pathways. Underground cisterns that collect storm water will feed the irrigation system. 

I commented to Jack that the landscaping in the Mall area overall looked better than I remembered. When we returned home, I discovered that it is due to a public-private partnership between the National Park Service and the nonprofit Trust for the National Mall. Read more about this partnership and what they have accomplished to improve the National Mall here.

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