The National Aboretum

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.

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15 responses

  1. It is a really beautiful place and hidden from tourists – quite hard to get to unless you have a car – so it is a bit of a gem for us locals. We have ridden our bicycles there and around the paths – it is wonderful. (except for the pollen of course! 🙂 )

  2. Yeah – we were back into cardigans today! Rained all day and more coming tonight. A couple of months though and I will be complaining about 100 degree heat with 95% humidity!

  3. It almost seems counter productive to have such a beautiful
    place to visit and you have to have a automobile to go to it you would think
    that there might be a special rout of bus or train to get there, but at least
    it was well worth the trip. This is why I would rather live in the rural area instead
    of the city.

  4. You could! I think you are only about 3 hours away. You should come for a weekend – though the azaleas are finished or ruined now by all the rain we have had this week. But seriously, if you do visit DC you should put the arboretum on your list of things to see/do – it has a fabulous bonsai collection too – I will post those photos soon.

  5. I suppose when they first established the Arboretum it was outside "town" and DC just sprawled into it over time. It was not intended to be open to the public so I don't suppose they gave any thought to public transport. It is a wonderful retreat for us locals though as DC gets pretty touristy and they don't tend to wander this far. You can actually catch the metro train and then bus to the arboretum but I think a tourist would have to be pretty keen. Not sure if any tour companies include a visit here – I have never seen a tour bus there but that doesn't mean they don't go during the week. I agree that rural living has a lot of advantages over city living!

  6. DC is very popular during Spring and Summer – so another tip – come in Autumn. I think summer is way too hot to be traipsing around the Memorials anyway. Spring is busy because of the cherry blossoms around the tidal basin. The Arboretum seems to always have something flowering – it has many different collections through its grounds.

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