When winter finally decides it’s done dumping ice and snow on D.C., residents will once again be able to venture outdoors to celebrate nature’s ceasefire. Consider a springtime visit to the National Arboretum, which covers more than 400 acres of federally owned land near Trinidad. While the “living museum” is one of the most beautiful public spaces in D.C., it’s also one of the least-known, due in part to its off-the-tourist-path location and lack of public transit options. While sequestration reduced hours at the Arboretum in May 2013, it appears ready to spring back in 2015.
For the public, no cut stings quite as much as the reduction in days open, from seven to four (Friday through Monday). “It’s been really hard to see all these faces turned away,” says National Arboretum Interpretive Specialist Nancy Luria. For Tom Costello, the new executive director of Friends of the National Arboretum, restoring the hours is priority No. 1. “It’s been a matter of bringing some focus to it,” he says, “and building out the relationships that we should have with the community and the Arboretum.” The hope, says Luria, is to restore the hours by spring, but there’s no guarantee that goal will be reached. But reopening to seven days is “the most important single thing to do,” says Costello.
Each new season at the Arboretum brings the reawakening of different plants—March brings the blooming of Japanese andromeda, daffodils, and woodland wildflowers; April sees the Arboretum’s famed azalea collection come back to life. As visitors head to the Tidal Basin at the end of this month and beginning of April to visit the blooming Yoshino cherry trees, the National Arboretum will again offer a self-guided tour of its 40 types of flowering cherries. April will also feature azalea tours and the annual Garden Fair and Plant Sale.
Local gardening writers and enthusiasts this month launched DC Gardens, a media campaign to highlight and raise awareness about area gardens. “It breaks your heart… to find out how many people don’t know it’s there,” Susan Harris, a retired garden writer, says of the Arboretum. The group is trying to raise $25,000 through Indiegogo for its outreach efforts, which include offering free photos of gardens to publications and publishing monthly garden guides.
At the moment, FONA is working to build financial support for the Arboretum “in a way that we can assure that, once we’re open, we’re not going to close again.” Costello adds, “As we move ahead… you can be assured that we’ll be seeking broad public interest, involvement, and support.” Luria notes that the donation of private funds allows the Arboretum “to do so many more things” than with government funds alone. “I see enormous potential for the Arboretum,” Costello says. “The job is to bring this to the awareness of those people who are and can be enthusiastic about it, but that takes a little time.”
Photos courtesy DC Gardens/dcgardens.com/national-arboretum/