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The Botanical Garden in Washington is well worth the visit

We recently took a walk in the USA as many would have seen on our Eckards Facebook page. We loved it and even though we were there to celebrate a landmark birthday, we saw loads of great garden inspiration in between the celebrations and I came back with loads of ideas for my garden as well as for Eckards.

We spent time in Washington DC as well as in New York and Chicago. When I say we recently took a walk in the USA we literally did. The being on holiday with someone with a step counter means that you get a daily report of how far we walked and boy did we walk... most days we covered close to 30km... No wonder my feet were sore every night! But it was so worth it. Being with a Horticulturalist means one also gets to stop and wow at the plants and trees and on foot it’s the best way to discover them

Washington DC

We were there at the end of autumn and got to see beautiful leaf colour which was a lot more intense than what we get in Gauteng. Around the White House and in the park opposite the Maples in red, the giant Magnolias and the Swamp cypresses (Taxodium) kept me smiling all the time. There is something about hugging a full grow Taxodium that just gets my heart happy.

What stood out for me in Washington and we were mostly around the mall and official “sites” is that the trees were cared for and looked healthy. Clearly money is spent on arboriculture which makes all the difference to the overall impression of a city, important when attracting tourists.

Bedding plants are all over too with Begonia Dragon Wings as well as Begonia Big standing out in containers and popping over borders adding some red colour all over along with some Chrysanthemums.

Red Maples opposite the White House I LOVE Taxodium! Begonias add their red to the landscape

We loved the Smithsonian and discovering the collection of plants in the classic partier at the back. Here we had a chat to one of the gardeners who was planting the next batch of instant colour which for them was violas for winter. Amongst the collection I stopped and stared in wonder at possibly the biggest Gardenia I have ever seen. The shrub was easily 4 meters high on its own and most amazingly was growing in a pot!

We discovered a bee and pollinator friendly garden as well as a trial garden where special plants were being tested to see how well they would handle the coldest temperatures. What we grow as perennials and many of our favourite small shrubs they grow in America as annuals, replacing them each summer. I knew this but was still surprised by the plant for now and replant when the next now comes along that they do. This does mean that everything looks fresh and not tired as we sometimes see shrubs and annuals past their prime here at home.

The next batch of colour going in Collectable plants at the Smithsonian The biggest Gardenia I have ever seen

Up at the Capital Building we saw more beautiful trees and indeed many of the trees there are commemorative trees and are listed. Of particular note were the Giant Magnolias anchoring the front of the building. I have no idea as to their age I would say they are well over 100 years old and have been allowed to keep their natural shape and not pruned as we see them here in Johannesburg. Simply awesome!

If you are ever in Washington then a visit to the national Botanical Garden near the Capitol Building is a must. Only finalised in 2015 this garden has modern and classic features. Botanic gardens are as close to heaven on earth as possible for a horticulturalist... and it can be a bit of a rabbit hole so having a handy step counter nearby telling one to move along as we don’t have all day helped us get on and see even more!


New York and Chicago:

It’s hard to relate the wonderful experiences in a short article but what I can say is that Americans do things not only differently, some better some we do better but what they also do is that they spend the money to get the look. What I found interesting is that in parts of Chicago if a business has outside space they are bound by council to have a green elemen, so that helps the city to look greener and not just grey.

Throughout our stay in these two cities we were in the commercial and downtown areas so be got to see beautiful pavement gardens and plenty of instant colour and themed plantings. We were there for autumn so the plant displays were full of colour for fall inspiration including Pumpkins for Halloween. Fall Mum’s have long been a favourite of mine but to see how they do them in the States has given me some inspiration for our autumn displays next year.

The sure opulence in plants around the Rockefeller Centre in New York lifted our spirits on a grey day and I don’t need to tell you how much fun it was to be in Central Park and just be with all the trees. The same Landscape architect that planned the trees around the Capitol buildings in Washington did the original design for Central Park so for the Horticulturalist in me that was super cool to feel the connection. From Strawberry Field to the Bethesda Fountain we just loved it. What is noticeable is that all over many of the landmarks there are plaques thanking families and community members for the funds to restore and preserve them.

Rockefeller opulence Iconic Central Park Sidewalk displays in Chicago

New York’s other green space must do if you’re in the neighbourhood was a walk on the High Line. This 2.5km elevated walkway through the Meatpacking District is on a disused elevated railway track. Trees and wild plants add to the unusual landscape which snakes through the buildings giving a unique view of the area. They have kept the plant material wild and weedy intentionally but between the sleek pathway and funky benches in the design, it all works.

We had fun with leaves and marvelled at the maples in Millennium Park but my Chicago green treasure trove was on our last day as we walked through Lincoln Park on the shores of Lake Michigan. The park offers beautiful trees and wild gardens amongst large open green spaces with awesome views of the city. Our walk continued through the zoo at the top end of our route with even more interesting plant groupings along the way. And just when you’ve seen it all there’s the Lincoln Park Conservatory... possibly the best fernery I have ever been in and a stunning plant collection in a glass conservatory... back down the rabbit hole of discovery for me... but what an end to our trip.

There is no place like home (yes we saw Wicked on Broadway) but I really wanted to share just some of my experiences with our Eckards community. I hope it inspired you as much as I could with this small snippet of our trip.

Life is a journey and if there are plants and good people in your life then taking a walk of discovery adds to who you are and certainly reminds you of what is important. Leaving the USA reminded me of that classic movie statement... I’ll be back ... there’s so much more to see :-)

Planted bollards to keep cars off Fall displays on Michigan Avenue Taking in the sights in DC!
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