Public gardens in the Washington area offer inexpensive petal-peeping close to home

April 4, 2014
Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Md., is made up of more than a dozen themed gardens. (Courtesy of Brookside Gardens) Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Md., is made up of more than a dozen themed gardens. (Courtesy of Brookside Gardens)

You don’t have to fight the crowds at the Tidal Basin to see beautiful blooms this spring. Just head to one of the dozens of public gardens in the Washington area.

“Public gardens are such a treasure, and most are free or don’t cost very much to visit,” says Leslie McDermott of Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Md.

Here are a few of our favorite spots for floral fun:

Brookside Gardens
1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton, Md.; daily, sunrise to sunset, free; 301-962-1400.
This 50-acre public garden in Wheaton Regional Park contains more than a dozen themed gardens, including the Azalea Garden, Butterfly Garden and Children’s Garden. “Flowering fruit trees will be a succession of blooms over the next weeks,” McDermott says, which means cherry blossoms should peak just a few days after D.C.’s extravaganza. Don’t miss the indoor conservatory’s spring display of orchids, snapdragons and primroses, open until April 21. A newly restored Japanese-style garden features a teahouse overlooking fish ponds. Pro tip: Check the garden’s website to figure out where to park during construction.

U.S. Botanic Garden
100 Maryland Ave. SW; daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., free; 202-225-8333.
Established in 1820, the U.S. Botanic Garden offers a warm, lush indoor space filled year round with plants from around the world. Explore the National Garden to find a rainbow of blooming bulbs, including Dutch irises, hyacinths, daffodils and early tulips. Peek inside the Conservatory to see the brilliant orchid exhibit, which features hundreds of orchids of many varieties, all in full bloom. The show runs through April 27.

University of Maryland Arboretum & Botanical Garden
College Park, Md.; open daily, free.
The entire University of Maryland campus in College Park is actually a designated arboretum and botanical garden. It features dozens of gardens and special plantings. Visit in April to see daffodils, snow drops and crocuses, or to marvel at the variety of magnolia trees. Cherry tree blossoms should peak this week, just days after those around the Tidal Basin. Make sure to stop by the Benjamin Building courtyard garden’s bright display of spring flowers, and don’t miss the blooming serviceberry trees on the east side of Van Munching Hall and the giant saucer magnolias blooming in the Peace Garden.

U.S. National Arboretum
3501 New York Ave. NE; Fri.-Mon., 8 a.m.-5 p.m., free; 202- 245-2726.
Stroll the arboretum grounds to discover Japanese-Andromeda, winter jasmine, magnolias, forsythias, wildflowers and cherry blossoms. Visitors may see some early azalea blooms this week, though peak season won’t come until the end of the month. In addition to spring blooms, check out the year-round flora in the National Boxwood Collection and the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum.

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens
9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna; daily, 10 a.m.-7 p.m., $5; 703-255-3631.
Visit Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in April to see hyacinths and tulips in bloom as you meander along bucolic pathways. Cherry blossom fans can see pink petals at Meadowlark after the crowds have left downtown D.C. “When D.C. has their cherry trees blooming, we’re about a week and a half after, about mid-April,” says senior horticulturalist Tammy Burke. Don’t miss Meadowlark’s new $1 million Korean Bell Garden and Pavilion. The bell itself is one of only two of its kind in the U.S. “The architecture in that garden is just amazing,” Burke says.

River Farm
7931 East Boulevard Drive, Alexandria; Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Sat., 9 a.m.–1 p.m., free; 703-768-5700.
George Washington never lived here, but he once owned the 25-acre River Farm situated by the Potomac River. No longer a farm, the site is now the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society and maintains its 18th-century roots in its gardens and landscaping. Stroll through the gardens in April to find star magnolias, forget-me-nots, Lenten rose, Virginia bluebells, daphnes and early azaleas.

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