Every March and April, some 1.5 million bloom-seeking visitors descend on Washington, D.C., to drink in the pink and white cherry blossoms. Against the white marble of the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument, they’re an iconic postcard come to life. Until you realize every selfie you take and every move you make amid the blushing clouds comes with crowds.
We’re not saying you shouldn’t go in for a big bite of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which continues through April 14 around town. You just might want to seek out some of the city’s other flower-powered gardens and plots, too. “There are almost 100 public gardens in the D.C. area, but Philadelphia gets all the love for outdoor spaces,” says Kathy Jentz, editor of Washington Gardener magazine. Here are some of the lesser-known blossom zones around the capital.
Dumbarton Oaks Garden
1703 32nd St. NW, 202.339.6400
Sixteen acres of prime Georgetown property, adjacent to the Dumbarton Oaks Museum, boast both dazzling views of the surrounding city and one of the city’s prettiest, most-varied green spaces. “It was designed in the early 20th century by one of the most famous female landscape architects in the world,” says Jentz. That’d be one Beatrix Farrand, whose naturalistic hand can be seen in evergreen plantings surrounding grassy meadows and a rose garden that’d make an Englishwoman swoon. A citrus tree-filled 1810 Orangery building provides shade and resting spots, too.
Horticultural geeks adore walking the serpentine, redbrick paths of this space of raised beds and hanging baskets with 200 or so annual and exotic varietals. “I think it’s almost the best garden in town, a little jewel box,” says Jentz. “It’s for real plant collectors.”
7931 E. Boulevard Drive, Alexandria, Virginia
On the road to George Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation (where, yes, you should check out the flower and veggie patches), River Farm offers up 25 Potomac-fronted acres of both wildflowers and formal gardens. “The views are lovely, there’s free admission and the farm surrounds a colonial-era house,” says local floral designer Sarah von Pollaro, who frequently brought her son here when he was young. “It used to be part of George Washington’s estate, so there’s history, too.” Just know that River Farm tends to be closed for weddings on many weekends, so check ahead or go during the week.
U.S. National Arboretum
3501 New York Ave. NE, 202.245.2726
Twenty-two sandstone Corinthian columns grace a grassy meadow at this 446-acre expanse in Northeast D.C., but they’re part of a defunct U.S. Capitol portico, not some far-flung Greek ruins. The urban park, crisscrossed by walking paths, offers up rose gardens, an impressive bonsai collection and conifers representing all 50 states. “The arboretum is tops for me, since it’s got so many hidden treasures, and it’s got free admission,” says von Pollaro. “I love it when the azaleas come out in May, and in summer it’s full of lilacs, which are great to picnic under. It’s a nature preserve in the city, and you can really make an afternoon of it.”
Orchids at the Smithsonian Institution
Kogod Courtyard, 8th and F sts. NW, 202.633.7970
There’s currently a floral stampede of sorts inside the glass-covered courtyard between the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and American Art Museum. Through April 28, “Orchids: Amazing Adaptations” stars hundreds of blooming plants. “It’s a beautiful, light-filled venue for highlighting the diversity in the orchid family and their amazing ability to adapt to different environments and conditions,” says Barbara Faust, director of Smithsonian Gardens.