The National Arboretum is a wonderful space of 446 acres with 9.5 miles of roadway wandering through it. It is right here in Washington DC – but you really need a car to get to it. This last weekend we rented a car and visited on Saturday to see the azaleas which were in their flowering peak.
The Arboretum was established by an Act of Congress in 1927 and is today administered by the US Department of Agriculture and is run with a staff of 99 and about 150 volunteers.
As the only federally supported arboretum, and one of the larger arboretums in the country, the National Arboretum breeds plants for arboretums throughout the country. The Arboretum was opened to public viewings in May 1954 – primarily after high demand from the public to view the azaleas.
The Azalea Collection came about when the arboretum’s first Director, Benjamin Morrison, developed hybrids from breeding large-flowered Indica azaleas with cold-hardy species. Between 1946 and 1948 10,000 unnamed hybrids were planted. Morrison then introduced 454 azalea cultivars. Most of these are not available in the nursery industry.
In the Ellipse Meadow of the Arboretum are twenty two 34' Corinthian columns – the National Capitol Columns – which were actually on the East Portico of the Capitol from 1828 – 1958. The columns are set on a foundation of stones from the steps that were on the east side of the Capitol and old identification marks from the quarry are still visible on some of the stones.