The U.S. Botanic Gardens

The United States Botanic Gardens (USBG) is located on the grounds of the United States Capitol near Garfield circle in Washington, D.C. The grounds are supervised by the Architect of the Capitol, who is responsible for maintaining all of the grounds of the US capitol. The Botanic Gardens are open every day of the year, including federal holidays. The USBG are the oldest operating gardens in the United States. 

The creation of a botanic garden was first suggested by the Columbia Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences in Washington, D.C. in 1816. In 1820, President James Monroe set aside 5 acres for a national greenhouse. The president and founder of the Columbian Institute, Dr. Edward Cutbush, was one of the biggest crusaders for a botanic garden repository,  a place where “various seeds and plants could be cultivated, and, as they multiplied, distributed to other parts of the Union."

The plot of land was swampy land, and was located next to the Smithsonian Museum and eighty feet from the steps of the Capitol. The land was originally owned by David Burnes. The botanic garden was one of the greatest accomplishments of the Columbian Institute. In 1823, the swampy tract of land was drained and leveled, and an elliptical pond with an island was added, along with four graveled walks. Trees and shrubbery was planted, and the garden was maintained based upon the scanty fund received until the society disbanded in 1837. The grounds were extended in 1824, and they were enclosed in 1825. The Columbian Institute was unable to raise enough funding to build a greenhouse or lecture hall, even though the members were prominent citizens and even presidents. They did however; launch an effort to collect seeds and plants. They launched a public letter to foreign dignitaries to solicit seeds and plants, and it worked really well as plants from all over the world made their way to the institute. 

However in 16 years, by 1836, no improvements had been made. The land had returned to a stagnant and malarial swamp, so Congress issued $5000.00 for improvements. Those funds were used to drain the site and erect a fountain. Financial woes plagued the institute still, and they ceased operations in 1837. However when the Wilkes Expedition to the South Seas brought back new plant specimens, the Institute was re-established in 1842. The site of the US Botanical Gardens is actually the very tract of land were the Columbian Institution was, established in 1850. It would be in 1867 that Congress granted funding to build the first greenhouses, with the main conservatory being constructed at 30 feet long and a dome that was 60 feet high. This is also the site of the Bartholdi Fountain, designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the designer of the Statue of Liberty. The fountain was placed in storage for a period of years in order to create the tribute to General Meade, the hero of Gettysburg. 

In 1933, the main building of the gardens was moved to its present location on the National Mall. There is a conservatory located outside of the grounds as well. The National Garden features many horticultural feats, like the Rose Garden, Butterfly Garden, Lawn Terrace, First Ladies Water Garden, the Regional Garden, and an amphitheatre. There are also living laboratories for environmental, horticultural and botanical education. There are over 10,000 living species in the Botanic Garden, with many being over 165 years old. The wonderful thing about visiting the gardens is that they are free and open every day of the year!