The Hill Gardener

The US botanic Garden Is Full of Holiday Magic

23 gardens from around the US are featured this year in the Season’s Greetings exhibit, including the Climatron in Saint Louis, Missouri. Courtesy of the US Botanic Garden

On Capitol Hill, there’s no better way to get into the holiday spirit than visiting the US Botanic Garden. But first, get in the holiday spirit by taking in the four decorated windows sponsored by Coldwell Bankers at 605 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE. The charming window scenes capture every holiday experience from reindeer ice skating to penguins dancing.

Phyllis Jane Young, long time Capitol Hill real estate agent and community leader, is the main sponsor of the display. She has always believed more is better, and there’s more than ever in this year’s display. In fact, you may need more than one visit to appreciate it all. What started out years ago featuring a toy train running around a Victorian village has now turned into four windows of pure joy and delight.

It is magical the moment you step in the US Botanic Garden with tall white trees lining the hall draped in icicles and tons of sparkling lights. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

American Gardens At Botanic Garden

After viewing the windows, take the trip down Pennsylvania Ave. to the US Botanic Garden for another popular family tradition. Each year, the partnership with Applied Imagination LTD out dazzles itself and there is always a new theme and things to see and do.

This year’s holiday exhibition features replicas of botanical gardens from Hawaii to Maine.  The plant-based re-creations of conservatories, fountains, and sculptures will fill the train room.  Over the years, the curators of the shows have adjusted the presentations to better accommodate children.  Yes, Thomas Train and friends will be making a return appearance for the toddler set.

This year, a space tunnel, representing the Huntsville Alabama Botanic Garden is sure to be a crowd favorite.  Children will be able to climb through and fit into an astronaut’s space helmet.  The Huntsville Botanic Garden is 112 acres located near the US Space and Rocket Center and the space tunnel is inspired by the one in the Huntsville children’s garden.

See 3,000 poinsettias that are on display throughout the garden, including new breeds like the luv-u-hot pink ones. Courtesy of the US Botanic Garden

There are 23 different states represented in this year’s display.  You’ll see intriguing objects from gardens across the nation, like the world’s largest concrete garden gnome, a singing tower, and topiary flamingos.  Each object is constructed from natural, plant-based elements.  In the main hall, the exhibition features DC landmarks such as the Albert Einstein Memorial, the White House and the Washington Monument.  Capitol Hill is well-represented by the Supreme Court and of course, the US Capitol.  

Tap your Toes in Twilight Time 

As if all the trains and magical displays aren’t enough, on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, the US Botanic Garden stays open for live seasonal music until 8:00 p.m.  Information officer Don Devlin says these evenings are really the best time to come visit.  “The crowds are smaller and the Botanic Garden looks especially beautiful at night all lit up,” Don says.  The staff sets out about 50 chairs for the performances in the garden court.  This year, for the first time, the Friends of the US Botanic Garden will have a gift store.  In partnership with Zeke’s Coffee, they will also provide hot drinks and small bites.

Four windows create a world on wonder at the corner of 6th and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, sponsored by Coldwell Bankers.

On December 5, The Capitol Accord Chorus, a female-only harmony group, will be performing four-part barbershop style music from jazz to showtunes.; on Dec. 19, Lox and Vodka will play klezmer, Jewish and spiritually enriching music.  You can check the US Botanic Garden website under concerts to check on dates and groups playing,

3,000 Poinsettias Brighten Up the Conservatory

The US Botanical Garden staff have tended to 3,000 poinsettias over the year to have them ready for the holiday season.  Poinsettias are native to the tropical forests of southern Mexico, and can grow 30 feet tall in the wild. This year, US Botanic Garden Plan Curator Bill McLaughlin, says the public will get a sense of the poinsettias native form.  The Botanic Garden staff have used two heirloom cultivars, ‘Oak Leaf’ and ‘St. Louis’ to create a new plant that imitates the original Mexican plants.   “The holiday show often exhibits new varieties of the plants,” says Don Devlin, “many are not yet available to the consumer.” There are 15 new varieties that are now just being sold at local garden centers.

Tips for Hill Residents

Reindeers are all decked out in holiday splendor watching many of the fun activities in the window. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

A quarter of a million people will visit the US Botanic Garden in the six weeks of the holiday show, so lines become long, wrapping outside the building on busy days near Christmas, and over the Christmas break.  There are two ways to enter.  One line takes you into the train room.  The other leads into the garden court and the rest of the Botanic Garden.  So, make sure you get in the right line.  If you can come before Dec. 15, when school breaks begin, you have a better chance of getting in without a wait.

Parking at the Mall is never easy.  There is parking across the street from the Botanic Garden reserved for Capitol staff with special permits.  A little-known secret is that you can park in these spots if Congress is out of session.  The US Botanic Garden is walkable from the SW Metro stop, and the website gives you more detailed directions.

Santa climbs a ladder to deliver packages night and day in the display. Photo: Rindy O’Brien

The great thing about the US Botanic Garden’s “Seasons Greetings” is that it offers something for everyone. There are lots of things for children to interact with and room for them to wander.  For gardeners and scientific or history buffs, there are rooms of plants to discover, including the poinsettias.  For the more senior family members, there are benches to sit on and just enjoy a few minutes of quiet time as the rest of the family zooms around.  However you do it, you’re bound to have a delightful time.

Rindy O’Brien looks forward to bringing friends and family to celebrate the season by visiting these great holiday places. Contact Rindy at