Botanical Marathon

My husband Julius and I spent October’s last weekend in Washington, DC. On Saturday we went to Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity (you can read my comments and see my photos on Imprint). On Sunday, Julius ran in the Marine Corps Marathon, which started and ended at the Iwo Jima monument in Arlington, VA. This was his sixth marathon, and the culmination of months of training and preparation. He got up at dawn to make the starting gun, and I had a few hours of free time before seeing him cross the finish line.  I decided to pay a return visit to the United States Botanic Garden on the Capitol Mall.

At 10:00 am on October 31, runners in the 35th Marine Corps Marathon turn right onto 3rd Street SW from Maryland Avenue SW. The U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory is at right.

The Conservatory's main entrance is at 100 Maryland Avenue, SW, just west of the Capitol. The Lord & Burnham greenhouse was built 1933, and contains eight garden rooms under glass with 28,944 square feet of growing space.

The United States Botanic Garden opens at 10 am every day of the year, and on Halloween morning it was serene and quiet, even as the 8-minute-mile runners were racing by outside, accompanied by marching bands, drum corps, and cheering crowds. The weather was perfect, and I was able to enjoy an hour or so in the Conservatory before hopping on the Metro to Arlington. Like all museums on the Mall, the USBG is free, beautifully maintained, and offers a wide array of public programs and events.

I spent most of my time in the Rare and Endangered Species room, and got to know a few of this country’s threatened and endangered plants. In the adjacent rooms, the orchid display was breathtaking, with 200 plants in bloom out of a collection of about 5,000 specimens.

This beauty strutting its stuff near the main entrance is Sophrolaeliocattleya Pumpkin Festival ‘Fong Yuen.’

On the endangered list: Guajacum sanctum (holywood lignum-vitae), here draped with Spanish moss. In the Florida keys, it grows 30 feet high and puts on a show of true-blue flowers every March and April.

Another rare, endangered plant of Florida: White-Birds-in-a-Nest (Macbridea alba).

The little lavender orchid is Stenoglottis longfolia, a native of South Africa, which thrives on tree trunks.

And just for fun, a banana Musa ‘Mysore,’ the most popular Indian cultivar of the “lady finger” bananas.

If you can grow a Hawaiian Ti plant (Cordyline terminalis) in a terra cotta pot, you can put on a display as spectacular as this.

Visit the Garden from November 25 through January 2, and see the Season’s Greenings exhibit—it’s always as fun and impressive as any Fifth Avenue department store holiday display— which will celebrate the plant world and how humans use plants in holiday traditions. There will be extended hours and live evening musical performances ranging from choral groups to jazz, klezmer, and harp music.

And if you can’t make it, be sure to take the Garden’s online Virtual Tour.

From the tropics back into the crisp fall weather: topiaries at the entrance to the U.S. Botanic Garden -- with some of the marathon's 30,000 competitors running by.


About writedesigner

Graphic designer, writer, and gardener Ellen Shapiro is based in Irvington, New York. A frequent contributor to design blogs and magazines including Print, Imprint,, Communication Arts, and Etapes, she writes about trends, issues and personalities in design, illustration, photography, and visual culture around the world.
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