Cool Off in Washington D.C. Area’s Gardens and Parks

There’s more to Washington DC than cherry blossoms. Here are some scenic gardens (most are free!) where you can enjoy the fragrant blooms of summer.


Hirschhorn Sculpture Garden – The Hirshhorn Museum’s Sculpture Garden is a zen place in the middle of the National Mall. Have a seat in the 1.5 acre recessed garden and contemplate the 60 sculpted masterpieces, including Auguste Rodin’s Les Bourgeois de Calais and Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace Wish Tree. Other notable contemporary and modern art sculptures on display are by Matisse, De Kooning and Calder. It’s a shady spot on a hot day.

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Rock Creek Park has great running, hiking and biking trails

Rock Creek Park – forsythia, dogwood trees, weeping cherries, this huge swath of land in the middle of Washington DC has it all. Enjoy nature’s beauty in DC’s 1,700 acre parkland established in 1890 by an Act of Congress. As the third National Park established, Rock Creek Park was the third US National Park. This natural oasis is a thriving habitat for native species like the snapping turtle and sits adjacent to the National Zoo. Rock Creek encompasses Fort Stevens, part of the Civil War defense of Washington; Pierce Mill and the Francis Scott Key Memorial in Georgetown. September 27, 2016 is Rock Creek Park Day.

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens—lilies and lotus plants are the big draw here, attracting photography enthusiasts from all over the world. Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens is a magical place in all four seasons, but it’s especially thrilling when the water lilies are in full bloom in late spring and early summer. There are several hiking trails and boardwalks for wandering through this National Park on the East Bank of the Anacostia River. While you’re there, take a walk down the Anacostia Riverwalk by the wetlands to catch a glimpse of the eagles and ospreys that make this habitat home. You can also take kayak inside the Aquatic Park.

US National Arboretum

Tudor Place Historic House & Garden is in the heart of Georgetown. This National Historic Landmark showcases five unique garden styles: Box Knot, Round Garden, Holding Garden, Bowling Green and East Lawn. All are elegantly landscaped with ornamental plants. Established in 1816, Tudor House celebrates its bicentennial this year, with special events, daily guided tours and high tea.

Tudor house
English style gardens at Tudor Place in Georgetown before the big bloom

US Botanic Gardens—a multitude of flowers, like amaryllis, camellias and anemone, bloom outside the US. Botanic Garden on the National Mall. Then go inside to enjoy this living museum of plants. Exhibits range from plants native to Hawaii and the U.S. tropical territories, along with desert and medicinal plants, an orchid room and a Children’s Garden. The museum is free and open every day of the year from dawn until dusk.

A view of President’s Park from inside The White House.

Known to many as the Ellipse,  President’s Park lies on the west side of The White House. The grounds around this iconic landmark are landscaped, protected and maintained by the National Park service.  This view is from inside the White House during a tour, but visitors usually see it from the gate pictured here behind the fountain; a beautiful view!


Enid Haupt Garden—tulips, forsythia, bluebells bloom in this little oasis of beauty and peace at the foot of the Smithsonian Castle. Located in the heart of the Smithsonian Museums on the National Mall, you can take your lunch and relax amid the landscaped gardens and enjoy the tinkling of the fountain. The garden is maintained year-round and another shady spot on the National Mall.

Brookside Gardens

Brookside Gardens -cherry blossoms, dogwoods, magnolias and azaleas are all on display at Brookside Gardens in suburban Maryland (the only park here outside of the DC city limits but not far away). With acres of natural and planted landscapes at Brookside, this is the season to walk the shady hiking trails. Don’t miss the tropical plantings inside the Conservatory. There’s a moving memorial to the people of Montgomery County who were shot by the Beltway Snipers in fall of 2002.

Hillwood Estate—early blooming roses, English ivy and azaleas are all part of a perfect spring landscape at the magnificent Hillwood Mansion, Museum & Gardens, the property of the late heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post. Built in the 1950’s, Hillwood’s thirteen acres are separated into garden rooms—the Four Seasons Overlook, Rose Garden, French Parterre, Japanese Garden, Pet Cemetery, Friendship Garden, Lunar Lawn and Greenhouse. Take a guided or self-guided tour and enjoy the view of DC from one of the city’s highest points.

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Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.

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