Jun 21 2009

Washington, DC, Travel with Kids: The U.S. Arboretum

Washington, DC, Travel with Kids: The U.S. Arboretum

Guest Post by Deborah Ager


Tucked away on acres upon acres of the U.S. National Arboretum grounds are the former columns of the U.S. Capitol, the National Herb Garden, Asian Garden, National Bonsai and Penjin Museum and other living collections of natural life. Since the U.S. National Arboretum (http://www.usna.usda.gov/) is located off the beaten tourist path, you’ll find quiet grounds and lots of space to roam. For this trip, it’s best to bring your snacks, drinks and lunch since there’s not always food available on the grounds. If you’re tired of being elbow to elbow with people in the Smithsonian museums, the Arboretum will be a welcome change.


Take the Little Ones to See Little Trees


Our first stop, conveniently located near the main parking lot, takes us to the National Bonsai and Penjin Museum. The trunk of a juniper looks like a small sculpture and tiny leaves spread out from the base in fan-like patterns. According to the website, this collection began when Japanese bonsai enthusiasts generously donated 53 bonsai to the people of the United States in order to commemorate the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976. Since then, the collection has grown to 150 plants in three pavilions. We find ourselves fascinated by the tiny leaves, artful presentation of branches and the peace they inspire.


Most of this collection is enclosed by a high wall with no ceiling, which makes it easier to keep track of small children. On this page of the National Arboretum website, you can go on a virtual tour of the bonsai. (http://www.usna.usda.gov/Gardens/collections/VirtualTours/BonsaiVirtualTour.html)


Within sight of the bonsai collection and main building, the National Capitol Columns rise from a knoll in the Ellipse Meadow and inspire curiosity in all of us. The columns were part of the Capitol in 1828 yet didn’t support the dome because the completed dome differed from the original plan.


The reflecting pool by the columns is reminiscent of the pool on the National Mall between the Washington and Lincoln memorials. The water is a hit with kids and welcome on a hot day.


You’ll probably want to take photographs here. Non-commercial photography is allowed without a permit and visitors are often spotted taking each other’s photos among these majestic architectural pieces.


Learn About Herbs in the National Herb Garden


The National Herb Garden is nestled into a field within sight of the National Capitol Columns and offers seasonably changing plants and beds. Every plant here – even the trees! – is an herb. The gardens are split into the Dye Garden, Medicinal Garden, Fragrance Garden, Culinary Garden and others. These special divisions provide an interactive way to teach children about how herbs are used to dye cloth, keep us healthy, and season our food.


To see more of the plant collections, we hop in the car – a half mile to a mile separates some of these collections, and the collections themselves involve a lot of walking – and drive to the Asian collection. Included here are the China Valley, Korean Hillside and Japanese Woodland gardens. The Japanese apricots and the gazebo overlooking the Anacostia River make this a favorite stop for all of us. Children can freely run the paths up and down the hillside and make all they noise they’d like. Every time we come to this garden, we find a new part of it to explore. This place is perfect for the adventuresome spirits among you.


You’ll most likely want a car if you’re traveling here with kids. While some exhibits are close together, a few require a long walk along quiet park roads.


Admission: Free

Parking: Plentiful and free

Contact Information

United States National Arboretum
3501 New York Avenue, NE

Washington, D. C. 20002-1958
Tel: 202-245-2726

Deborah Ager is a professional writer, marketer and city explorer. Visit her website to get free tips about online marketing and SEO copywriting. Follow her on Twitter!

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2 Comments to “Washington, DC, Travel with Kids: The U.S. Arboretum”

  1. Herb Garden Washington on 21 Jun 2009 at 5:00 am

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