“Plants are not optional.” This is the slogan for the Washington National Cathedral event — Flower Mart. The outdoor festival is held annually on the first Friday and Saturday of May. The family friendly event offers something for everyone, including the non-gardening enthusiast. Each year a different country is represented through its floral history and culture and this year the United States was the recipient.
We began our day with a visit to the “America the Beautiful” mural where children used crayons to draw what makes America beautiful to them. Two lovely ladies from the All Hallows Guild, the volunteer organization that sponsors Flower Mart, gave us several packets of North American Wildflower Seed packets to take as a souvenir. Next to them was the National Park Service with a touch table of animal skins and items native to Rock Creek Park and the surrounding area.
There were a plethora of flowers, plants and hanging baskets. Prices range from $2 to $20. We noticed perennials and annuals to exotic orchids and bonsai trees. Inside the Nave is an art exhibition representing floral arrangements from 17 embassies.
We popped our heads inside the used book sale which also featured CDs and DVDs, but it was too crowded to browse. I will note that they do accept credit cards. Our family had fun poking around at the white elephant sale filled with an antique English dinner plate, rolling pin and cast iron corn cob holder. A handmade Redwood plant shelf made by one of the volunteers was selling for $100, then down to $75. Since I didn’t want to carry anything because of the long distance to my car, I let my daughter purchase a stuffed animal for $1.00. This is the place to snag a bargain while supporting the gardens and grounds of the cathedral.
I lost track at the number of vendors, but I believe it was over 100 booths. Be sure to shop around as the booths are scattered across the area and you may find vendors selling similar items from clothing and hats to jewelry and baskets. Sunisa’s Clay Flowers are handmade arrangements that look as though they were real. Scout bags had a huge display and there was even a women’s shoe company present. Christine Crisler Designs had the most adorable children’s dresses and aprons adorned with designs from The Very Hungry Caterpillar book. I had to pry my daughter away from the selection of Peruvian hand-knit stuffed toys and children’s necklace display. There are several stands selling little girls hair accessories as well.
Children’s Area & Entertainment
A special Children’s Area is filled with rides and entertainment for all ages. Follow the sounds of the organ grinder and his trio of stuffed animals near the Herb Cottage. There is a ticket booth in front of the Children’s Area where you can purchase tickets for rides, games, carousel and puppet show. Tickets are $1.00 each cash only. The giant slide, moon bounce, whirly bird, tubs of fun, pirate’s revenge, and twister rides are 2 tickets each, while the climbing wall extreme air inline jumper are 3 tickets each. Rounding out the activities are a cakewalk, duck pond and photo booth. There is a separate cathedral tower climb on Saturday only for $10 with a minimum height requirement of 48 inches. Get the chance to climb 300 steps and 300 feet above ground to the bell ringing chamber. The Spirit of America puppet show is performed five times on both Friday and Saturday and located in the Bethlehem chapel. The 20 minute show cost 1 ticket for children and 2 for adults. The carousel was located on the North Lawn, opposite side of the Children’s Area and we were disappointed to see it closed. New this year is The Author’s Nook where children’s authors talk about their work and sign autographs.
To get us into the spirit, we danced to percussion and jazz ensembles of St. Alban’s School. Throughout the day, music was performed on the Pinnacle Stage located in front of the cathedral’s main entrance. Under the building’s scaffolding lies the Pilgrim Steps where bluegrass musicians play. Visitors had the opportunity to vote for the Cathedral to win money to restore the building from the 2011 earthquake.
Food was also everywhere with well known places like Ben’s Chili Bowl, Rockland’s BBQ, Robek’s, The Swiss Bakery, and Sweetbites dessert truck. Sunshines Catering had a beach display set up making me think I was in Margaritaville! Their smoker was cooking up pit beef, ham, turkey and Italian sausage for $6 along with Freedom Fries and fresh squeezed lemonade for $3. Across from them were home baked goods and coffee, but I didn’t want to shell out $1.50 for a simple cupcake. A few tables are set up outside St. Alban’s Café where they offered a pre-fixe Southern lunch for $15 a person. There were also some Asian cuisine stands, along with lobster rolls, burgers, hot dogs, pizza, cinnamon almonds, chocolate strawberries, funnel cake, fresh brewed iced and hot tea, French macaroons, and three soft serve ice cream trucks. It will set you back $4 for a soft serve cone, but it was so delicious. Don’t forget the Kettle Corn varying in price from $5 to $8. Two ATMs are located on either side of the cathedral grounds.
Restrooms are located in the parking garage at the bus entry level. Two port-a-potties are across from the children’s rides. Small restrooms sans changing tables are located outside Bethlehem Chapel. Restrooms with a changing table and water fountain are inside the Cathedral by turning left and walking down a flight of stairs.
There is an underground parking garage at the Cathedral for $5. We arrived 30 minutes after Flower Mart opened on Saturday and there was a line down the street to enter the garage. Street parking is extremely limited. We parked a few blocks away in the neighborhood. The closest Metro station is Cleveland Park. You can also take metro to Tenleytown-American University and hop on the 30 series bus.
The Bottom Line
Flower Mart is held rain or shine and admission is free. The 2013 Flower Mart was held Friday May 3 from 10am to 6pm and Saturday May 4 from 10am to 5m. Pick up a free program for a schedule of the day’s events. The event was a perfect way to enjoy a spring day!