Plants and Parks: Summer Fun

The Fountain at Longwood Gardens

As a student of Landscape Architecture, my required Plant Identification class was only offered during the summer. The summer is often reserved for vacations and travel, so the summer semester and classes tend to be less robust; however, it is a perfect time to look at plants because everything is green and growing. I visited a lot of local outdoor spaces for that summer Plant ID class, and many of the sites I had no idea existed. I fondly remember discovering new parks, gardens, arboreta and various other outdoor places. Like the plants within them, outdoor spaces exhibit a wide variety of sizes, shapes, features and unique styles. That summer class made me look at travel differently: now I always seek out the closest outdoor places to visit. They are typically free of charge, and as the summer progresses and the temperature rises, the fountains and shade trees often found in these venues are a great relief. Now I take my students to some of the very same places I learned about as a student. Here are some favorites:

Arboreta: The National Arboretum

Chances are there is an Arboretum near you, and it’s probably free to visit. Besides an array of trees and paths to hike, many include special shows or manicured gardens as well. The National Arboretum in DC is no exception. Make sure to visit the acclaimed Bonsai exhibit, featuring both indoor and outdoor specimens. We were lucky to catch a special exhibit on Bonsai Azalea during our visit.

Conservatories: Rawlings Conservatory

See if your area has a conservatory close by! Architecturally speaking, they are spectacular structures to visit. The 1888 Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory in Baltimore’s Druid Hill Park was renovated and reopened in 2004. It houses three distinctly different greenhouse gardens, along with the main structure, called the Palm House. It is pay-what-you-wish, so not exactly free, but definitely budget friendly. Be sure to get a calendar to keep track of the educational programs and demonstrations offered throughout the year.

Parks: Wheaton Regional Park & Meridian Hill Park

State Parks are another free-of-charge way to get out and see some natural beauty. Some can be extensive, like the Wheaton Regional Park in Maryland, while others can be hidden in plain sight, like the spectacular Italian-inspired Meridian Hill Park in DC. Many have pavilions and picnic areas, so pack a lunch and make a day of it!

Gardens: Longwood Gardens

One of the most impressive gardens on the East Coast, Longwood Gardens is well worth the price of admission. For those who love nature, there is so much to see and do. However, the most famous feature of this garden has to be The Main Fountain built by Pierre S. du Pont. There’s even a behind-the-scenes tour that explains how the 1930’s fountain functions.

Share your favorite outdoor places to visit during the Summer! Thinking of visiting someplace new? Leave a comment.

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