While politics take center stage in Washington, D.C., the botanical gardens offer glimpses of history and culture through plant life. Regardless of the weather, the U.S. Botanic Garden is one of the most beautiful things to do in DC. Off the beaten track, it includes endangered species, butterflies as well as breathtaking flowers.

Greenhouse gases, hothouse history and more at D.C.'s Botanical Gardens!

There’s plenty of hothouse history to be seen in D.C.’s Botanical Gardens! Photo credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

Botanical Gardens in Washington, D.C.

If you want to take a break from politics when visiting Washington, D.C. the Botanical Gardens offer a refuge from it all. The United States Botanic Garden is a free “living plant museum.” Its goal? To teach visitors about the importance and need for plants in our ecosystem. And it’s done with stunning displays, and others that will have you wanting to inhale for hours. It’s all part of the mission and commitment to sustainability and educating the public about nurturing plants that support life on earth.

The United States Botanic Garden was part of George Washington’s vision more than 200 years ago. His goal was a place to visit in the capital that would exhibit and explain the importance of plants. The U.S. Congress officially made his vision a reality in 1820, making it one of the oldest botanic gardens in the country.

What’s Inside Botanic Garden

Stop to smell the roses at D.C.'s Botanical Gardens!

Take a break from politics and stop to smell the flowers at D.C.’s Botanical Gardens. Photo credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

A greenhouse of glass provides almost 29,000 square feet of growing space for plants in two “courtyard” gardens and 10 rooms. The dome overhead is 93 feet; walk up to the mezzanine level for a view of the “jungle canopy.” Depending on where you go, you may feel as if you’re in a jungle, a tropical rain forest, or even a desert. In the middle of the winter, it’s warm and comfortable. You’ll want to take in the fragrances all around you.

If you’re a fan of orchids, there are more than 5,000 to see! They come in vibrant colors and shapes that you’d find in other parts of the world.

The Gardens

In addition to the conservatory, there are ample outside garden areas that show off plants from roses to orchids to cactus. There’s a butterfly garden, a rain garden and the First Ladies Garden to wonder through. There’s a children’s garden outside where kids can play and dig, as well as learn about plants.

You’ll see some plants you may consider more common. But there are plenty of rare or endangered plants to take in as well. Caretakers and botanists there help conserve endangered plant species with their live specimens and protectively banking seeds of rare plants under their care.

Become a Junior Botanist

Once inside, touch base with a staff member at the front information desk and ask for a Junior Botanist Adventure Kit. Kids from third through sixth grade can sign them out for free and use the backpack and adventure sheets as they go from room to room in the Conservatory. They’ll learn about parts of the plant, keep a field journal and more.

Guided Tour or a Cell Phone Tour?

When you arrive, check in at the Visitor Information Desk and ask about a free 45-minute guided tour that highlights spots in the Conservatory. There are specialized tours given seasonally. Check the museum’s calendar of events before going to see what’s available and when. If you’re with a larger group, you can make reservations in advance to have a guide—but those reservations need to be made at least a month in advance.

If you feel like heading out on your own, you can use your cell phone as a guide by calling 202.730.9303 and using it in place of a headset.

D.C.'s botanical gardens will bring out the flower photographer in you.

Beautiful blooms and sweet fragrance abounds at D.C.’s Botanical Gardens! Photo credit: Eden Pontz / Discovery TravelingMom

Games to Play

We made up an easy game while we walked through the gardens and conservatory. Each of us took turns being a “judge.” Meanwhile the others had a one-minute time limit to walk around and choose a favorite flower (or leaf etc.). Once we found our choice, we took a picture on our phone. Some of the flowers that were the most beautiful were hidden within larger plants and forested areas. We then returned to the judge who decided which was best. Round after round, we discovered the beauty all around us.

Crafts and Skills

As a bonus, our made up game meant we left with plenty of lovely photos! My daughter asked what we could do with them? I suggested a simple craft project: make our own greeting cards. After all, who wouldn’t love to be on the receiving end of a handmade card with a beautiful flower?

It’s a simple way to also get your child interested in the arts of photography and writing. They’re excited to write thank-yous or greetings on cards they’ve made! Suggest that your child narrow down the photos to her top 20 (at least to start). Print those out in the size of your choice. (Think 4×6.) They look particularly nice when done with a thin, white border.

Separately, buy (at least) the same amount of card stock paper in a neutral or complimentary color to your photos. Lastly you’ll need some rubber cement and a pen. Fold over your card stock and glue down the photo on the front of one side. On the back of the other side, have your child sign his or her name. Have them add the “copyright” sign and a date. Viola! Instant cards with a personal touch!

A great souvenir to help you remember your trip and send on after your visit!