The United States National Arboretum

Being a native of Virginia, I can’t believe I have never been to the National Arboretum. I decided to take advantage of a nice spring day while soaking up some Vitamin D. I could not believe that the city’s beautiful landscape was free to frolic through.

However, my perfect visit wasn’t error proof. Mistake number one was parking. A visit to National Arboretum is free which means lots of people. Going in the afternoon means jammed parking lots. I highly recommend going in the morning.

Mistake number two was not bringing quarters. Our first stop was to the Administration Building where I knew my daughter would enjoy seeing the koi. There are machines where two quarters will get you small pellets of fish food. Luckily, I had coins in the car, but it was a bit of a jaunt back.

We went through a lot of quarters. However, I think she would have stayed there for hours. The fish were bubbling to the surface in a giant frenzy. I’m sure they are well fed, but it was neat to see the different sizes and colors of koi along with lotus plants and lily pads.

A visit to the Arboretum would not be complete without seeing the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. The Karate Kid reference came up repeatedly as my husband was in awe of the plethora of bonsai trees. I was surprised to see pink bonsais. Just walking through the different pavilions with Asian sculptures was very peaceful. However, beware of carpenter bees. While they are harmless having no stingers, they scared my kiddo.

We were fortunate to attend a special exhibit Ikebana, a floral exhibit celebrating cherry blossoms and other flowers to create beautiful arrangements. There was also a scholar’s desk on display. While this exhibit is over, the next exhibit will be held from May 26 to June 10 focusing on Bonsai Azalea trees.

Mistake number two was wearing sandals. While some areas were paved and had parking lots nearby, our family decided to walk. A prime example was the Columns and Azalea exhibits which were set on an incline covered in thick grass and mulch. With map in hand, I still didn’t find the paved path leading to the National Capital Columns.

I could see the Herb Garden and the Columns from the Bonsai & Penjing Museum so I followed the crowds. To know that these columns once supported the East Portico of the United States Capitol is pretty incredible.

Mistake number three was not staying hydrated. It was hot and carrying water is a must. We could have brought a picnic or at least cold water with us, but we didn’t. There are vending machines, bottled water and ice cream at the Arbor House gift shop, along with clean restrooms with changing facilities. Just outside the Bonsai & Penjing Museum is a food truck with mainly Latin/Caribbean cuisine and drinks.

A quick peek into the forest leads to the 60-year old Azalea Collections. There are a variety of colors and styles of azaleas that are simply breathtaking. Before we left I gazed at a sign that read Power Plants Farming Energy. It showed how different plants like peanuts, alfalfa and algae can create biodiesel. While it wouldn’t interest young folks, it’s a great lesson for the children of the future to help save our environment.

The National Arboretum is open daily except Christmas from 8am to 5pm. A great alternative to walking is to take a 35-minute tram tour. It operates throughout the day and gives a taped narrative about the history of the Arboretum. Tram tickets can be purchased at the kiosk in the parking lot near the R Street gate. The cost is $4 for adults, $2 for children and free for under age 4.

The National Arboretum covers a huge 446 acres in size. Other popular spots include the National Herb Garden, National Grove of State Trees, and Perennials. Bathrooms are located at Arbor House and next to the parking lot for the Asian Collection. Despite the mistakes, there was something to please every member of our family.

Photo by Kathleen Molloy

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