Springing to Life

National Arboretum Ranked Among Country’s Best Gardens

Posted April 4, 2003 at 2:40pm

Cherry blossoms aren’t the only thing blooming in Washington.

Visitors to the U.S. National Arboretum, which was named one of the top 10 botanical gardens in the United States in the April 2003 issue of Country Living Gardener, can expect to see plants and flowers from all over the world.

Arboretum Director Thomas Elias was elated when he heard about the Country Living article.

“I’m delighted that we made the list,” he said. “I think it reflects a concerted effort that has been made over the past several years to improve the grounds.”

Elias said the National Arboretum, at 3501 New York Ave. NE, houses collections that other arboretums don’t have access to. He said the National Bonsai Collection is the finest in the Western world and added that the National Arboretum houses the largest glendale hybrid azaleas in the world.

“We have features here that you won’t find at other gardens,” Elias said.

The Arboretum, which is administered by the Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, has tried to keep improving with the implementation of the Master and the Strategic Plan five years ago.

The Arboretum just completed a $1.3 million bonsai museum renovation that includes a new courtyard, entry way and growing area so that the Arboretum is able to maintain the plants.

This spring the Arboretum is focusing on infrastructure improvements to the irrigation lines, and this summer officials will begin working on an interpretative plan. Staff will discuss better ways to educate the public during exhibits and special programs while re-evaluating their current techniques.

“We are trying to find better ways to communicate to our visitors in an informal education setting,” Elias said.

The heavy snows this winter did not adversely affect the plants, but visitor numbers were down slightly. Elias said he thought that it was due in part to lagging tourism in Washington.

“Right now there has been a slight decrease because people are afraid to travel,” he said. “We had a number of groups for the Cherry Blossom Festival that have canceled out.”

But Elias expects that special exhibits, programs and summer weather will increase the turnout.

The Arboretum attracts visitors near and far, with 75 percent of its visitors coming from Maryland, Virginia and the District. It hosts about 500,000 visitors a year.

The Arboretum is looking forward to the Ikebana International Flower Show, which will take place April 18-27.

The annual exhibit features both modern and traditional styles of ikebana, the art of Japanese flower arrangement.

“The focus will be on spring,” said education director Nancy Luria. “They will bring in containers [and] make arrangements with on-site constructions.”