An Easter Visit to the U.S. National Arboretum

Magnolia x ‘Elizabeth’

Today we took the Easter holiday as an occasion for a long postponed visit to the U. S. National Arboretum.  This venerable institution inspired some of our formative thoughts about gardens during the many visits there while we were living in Alexandria.  It was nice to see that many others had the same idea and parking was at a premium as people tried to follow the self-guided cherry trail that the USNA folk had set up.  We mostly followed our own eclectic interests in moving around from area to area (there are 486 acres so having a car helps).  I think the highlight for us was the hybrid Magnolias.  In other years I’ve been put off of some of these Magnolias because of late spring frosts that leaves them looking shell-shocked.  But when they work, oh, my oh my.  Our favorite was Elizabeth, as pictured at the start of this post.  The tree is perhaps 30 feet tall and covered with creamy yellow flowers that open finally to a red center as the fruit begins to ripen.  The flowers are nicely fragrant to add the icing to the cake.

Magnolia x ‘Elizabeth’ is perhaps 30 feet tall

Magnolia x ‘Elizabeth’ open flower

Magnolia x ‘Elizabeth’ flower with fruit beginning to show

There are a good number of other hybrid Magnolias featured as well.

More hybrid Magnolias

We revisited some of our previous haunts at the USNA like Fern Valley.  But we also found new features that we hadn’t seen before.  Near the R Street entrance is the bonsai exhibit and just outside of it is a delightful little shade garden under towering cryptomerias.  And if you look to right and left of the entrance (and inside as well) are Japanese Maples.  Not fancy ones, just plain old beautiful Japanese Maples.  We have several of these magnificent trees as well.  And just like ours the ones at the USNA seed the ground like the propagation of the species was the responsibility of each and every plant.  There are seedlings everywhere.  Apparently great public gardens go down the same paths that we have trod ….  In the end we concluded that the trees are worth the myriad seedlings.

Entrance to the Bonsai Exhibit — note the Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum)

Lovely Shade garden under the Cryptomerias

Japanese Maple seedlings

One of the reasons for going to a great public garden like this is to be inspired or learn new things about the art and practice of gardening.   It is after all why we have Cryptomerias up here in Frederick (which is probably pushing the climate zone where they are happiest).  We saw several things that we’ve added to our want list.  There was a trillium that we have to get because it matches the name of one of us and because it’s pretty as well.

Trillium cuneatum (Little Sweet Betsy)

And an epimedium that has a cloud-like cluster of flowers above its leaves.  Very floriferous indeed.

Epimedium stellulatum

But one of the things which was most surprising out of the day was little elm from China that has some of the prettiest green flower seeds that you could imagine.  Imagine a tree with green flowers.  I’ve not seen these pictured anywhere but I found them quite striking.

Chenmou Elm (Ulmus chenmoui) seeds

6 comments on “An Easter Visit to the U.S. National Arboretum

  1. Melissa

    Loved the Ulmus chenmoii blossoms! How have I missed them in the past? One of the sad things (to me, as a photographer) about budget cutbacks at the Arboretum is that the gates are no longer open from dawn to dusk. I used to love coming in early to photograph when the sun was just starting to appear. Now it’s 8 am, and in the late spring and summer that’s a challenge. I see you rose to the occasion!

    1. jw

      Now that I’ve seen this little elm at its best I am curious as to what it looks like over the rest of the year. If you want to check it out sometime, it’s on the China Valley path down to the Anacostia dock.

  2. Les

    I really like the color of Elizabeth. It just glows and has a hint of green to it. I wish I had room for one or several dec. magnolias. The Elm is something too. It has been nearly 15 years since I have been to the arboretum, and when we went there was no trouble parking, having the place nearly to ourselves. I know they are and were underfunded, but the place seemed a tad run down when we were there.

    1. jw

      I agree that there is a not-quite-fully-funded air about the place, compared to Longwood for example, but there are aspects to the collections that are totally unique. It’s a public heritage that is worth preserving. I note that Brookside Gardens in Montgomery County, Maryland managed to fence the whole place against deer whereas we could see individual plants inside the National Arboretum that were being fenced off from deer, a less effective and ultimately frustrating approach.

  3. MNGarden

    What a wonderful way to celebrate Easter. Thanks for sharing your special day. Everything is beautiful and you have some wonderful captures.

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