Washington DC – The National Botanical Gardens

THE National Botanical Garden adjoins the Capitol grounds on the west, and is part of the government reservation, known as the Mall. It was originally an alder swamp, with the Tiber Creek flowing through it. The first attempt to establish a garden here was made about fifty years ago. It was begun with a small collection of trees and plants carelessly brought together, and of no special value, and it was not until 1850, when the first building was erected, that it began to claim attention. At that time Congress commenced to make annual appropriations for it, and it was enriched by having placed in it the extensive and valuable botanical collections brought to Washington by the Wilkes Exploring Expedition from southern climes. Nothing now remains of these collections save a Jujube tree. During the past twenty years the rarest and most beautiful plants have been gathered from all parts of the world, and the national garden is at present the equal in many respects of the famous gardens of Europe. Within the enclosure of ten acres are small houses for the growing of plants, and a grand central conservatory three hundred feet in length, with a huge dome—a veritable palace of glass and iron, with large transept halls and octagonal pavilions, filled with the choicest floral productions. It rivals the great conservatory in the Royal Kew Garden in London, or that on the Chatsworth estate of the Duke of Devonshire, and in its architectural design and proportions it is finer than either. In the avenues of the garden is an extensive scientific collection of trees, consisting of the best American and foreign varieties, and everywhere about the grounds the most valued flowers and shrubs are cultivated. North of the main conservatory is the celebrated Bartholdi fountain, which was exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial.

Visitors throng the garden in winter as well as summer, and it is regarded as one of the attractions of Washington. It is often jocosely called the ” bouquet garden” for congressmen. During the annual session of Congress as many as two thousand bouquets are sent from it to the wives and fair friends of the statesmen, and when the session is finished, each congressman is entitled to take to his home one large box of choice plants, which privilege is seldom neglected, particularly as the government pays the cost of transporting the botanical specimens” anywhere throughout the United States. The garden is under the control of the Library Committee of Congress, and a liberal appropriation is annually made for it. Its superintendent receives a salary of $1,800, and the employes are paid nearly $10,000 per year.