A Holiday Visit to the US Botanic Garden

I’m so pleased to be publishing my very first Live. Snap. Write. post today!

Jenni wrote a wonderful introduction to the site, describing what we’re doing here and how this all came to be. (Check it out here!) And I found myself thinking about one specific line from that post when I was putting together my post today:

“Live. Snap. Write. is a place to share things that move us — experiences, places, various art forms, both extraordinary and the seemingly unremarkable.”

This particular line hit me because, when I went downtown last weekend (Washington, D.C.), to the US Botanic Garden, I wasn’t at all expecting to be “moved.” I just desperately needed a change of scene! As did my ex-husband and our two kids. Rainy, gloomy, not to mention unseasonably warm weather had been operating like a wet blanket on our holiday spirit. We were, all of us, feeling a little deflated…a little low. We needed…something.

And then I chanced to read that the Botanic Garden had a holiday exhibit – something that included replicas of various buildings/monuments on the National Mall, as well as a train component. The novelty of that sounded promising. We decided to give it a go.


Actually, once the words “train exhibit” were heard by this guy, we pretty much HAD to go. (You don’t miss a train exhibit if you’re a Henry. 🙂 )

I was hoping for some distraction…and maybe a little bit of metaphorical fresh air.

And I got those things. But I also got more than that.


So, it was another in a string of dreary days – that Botanic Garden morning.

But even the gray gloom of the day took on some charm when it manifested in low-lying clouds that obscured the top of the Capitol’s dome.
And the iron gates of the Botanic Garden, wide open and welcoming, made us happy!

We didn’t expect any glorious profusion of vegetation – not outside anyway. (Not in December.) But we thought the paths would still be nice to walk.

And they were.

There was actually more to admire than we expected. (That’s the Native American Museum in the distance, by the way.)
Winter berries, of course.

And then the other, quieter, bits of winter vegetation. It was very pleasant to wander around – looking at things, taking pictures, exploring.

There are benches scattered here and there – nice for taking the occasional breather.
And there were even some flowers to smell in the rose garden! I don’t know if this is normal or if it’s due to the unseasonably warm weather. I’m guessing the latter – but I’m not sure. Regardless, it was a nice surprise!
Here’s a color shot of one of the roses. So pretty!


We meandered our way eventually to the entrance of the exhibit.

The building – an elegant structure, set into those grounds – was “dressed” for the holiday season:


To our surprise, there was a line to get in (we haven’t ever encountered that at the Botanic Garden before.)

Patiently waiting. 🙂

The line actually moved pretty fast. And once inside, we got to distract ourselves with the big wall display. It was about bees and pollination…

…complete with some very cool bee pictures.

It was in looking at the inside holiday decorations – along with feeling the cheerfulness of the staff and the general happy excitement of the crowd – that I, for the first time in the entire holiday season, actually started feeling in the holiday mood! (I really wasn’t expecting that.)


For a boy dying to see some trains, the wait, bees and pretty decorations notwithstanding, was harder than for the rest of us…
…but we finally made it!

And it would have been worth a much longer and more tedious wait, I have to say. It was a really nice exhibit!

Everything was modeled utilizing plant materials – and actual pieces of plants (twigs, moss, leaves, etc.) So much intricate detail! So much color! So much charm!


My son loved the trains best (of course,) and both of my kids loved the creatures. My daughter’s favorite part was the little bee vignettes at the end. (They were pretty cute!) :


When we reached the end of “Pollination Station” (otherwise known as the train exhibit), we still had the replicas of the National Mall buildings to look forward to. But we decided to take the long way there…

…and tour the site for a bit.

And this was a good choice! It was crowded – but not so much that you couldn’t enjoy yourself or take time to pause and investigate (or take photos!)

They had an activity for kids (the pamphlet for which was offered by a staffer) that guided kids to scavenge for particular plants, and then get a stamp on the pamphlet when they found them. My kids (9 & 6) are at a great age for this sort of thing. They had a good time with it. (This image is my son at one of the stamping stations.)

For my part, I had forgotten how interesting the Botanic Garden is! It’s fun to see things…

…like vanilla!…

…that you don’t normally get a chance to see in their natural state.

As well as things like desert plants that don’t grow around here. My kids are fascinated with cactus.

More from the desert room:

It’s fun too to go from the desert to the tropics with just a few steps!

We saw lemons…

…and coffee beans too (though I didn’t get a photo of those.) Limes too, I recall. And bananas.

So many interesting (and pretty!) things!

One of the last rooms we entered was the one that contained the big Christmas tree – one of the largest in Washington, D.C., apparently.

If I had a different lens and if there were WAY fewer people milling around, MAYBE I could have gotten a good shot of the tree in its entirety. As it was, the only shot I really liked was this one of the top half that came out all blurry and abstract. (One of those happy accidents!!)
My daughter and I liked the little houses and flowers all around the base of it.
My son was happy to see James (of Thomas the Tank Engine renown) chugging around.

From there, we moved into the last exhibit – the one with the replicas. I was particularly interested to see this one.

And it was excellent! Really worth viewing. There was so much detail to the structures. It was so much fun to look at – and really interesting to study.

Not to mention, the space where it was set was just gorgeous. The flowers…the greenery…the light. What a nice place to spend some time!
Here’s the replica of the Supreme Court building.
The Lincoln Memorial…
…complete with a miniature Abraham Lincoln!
The White House.
A detail shot of the White House. I love that railing! The detail around the windows, too.
An unfortunately blurred shot of the Washington Monument. (I love that they set it against water, just like the Reflecting Pool in real life!)
Detail shot of the Washington Monument.
This looks like the Native American Museum to me – but I’m not 100% certain of that. (It’s a pretty great construction though, whatever it is! I think those are shelf mushrooms on the roof. Very cool!)
The Library of Congress.
And of course, the Botanic Garden itself…
…flanked by topiary bears!
My favorite replica was the Capitol…partly due to the setting, I’m sure. (What a beautiful display!)
But honestly? I think this topiary bird was my favorite part of all. I don’t know why! I just really liked this guy. A Japanese gentleman shared my enthusiasm; we had a nice bonding moment, laughing at ourselves while we took pictures. Nobody else but us seemed to be paying him (the bird) any attention!!


Finally, we’d seen everything.

We lingered a little on our way out…

…studying the sculpture out front (or running around and through the sculpture out front, depending on who you were 🙂 )…
…and admiring the geometry of the fountain (dry for December) on the other side of the building.
What a perfect way to spend a rainy post-holiday morning!!


It’s funny how cloudy skies can turn from depressingly gloomy to cheerfully cozy – without the slightest physical change in the weather or the light.

Maybe it’s your attitude that makes the difference?

A little bit, I’m sure.

But honestly? I think it’s a lot more to do with the act of rousing yourself to improve your circumstances. It comes down to taking initiative…to acting for yourself. To remembering that a little bit of adventure – sometimes just a little – can be all you need. A little bit of adventure can sometimes be all it takes to make you remember that the world is an interesting and beautiful place – just waiting to be explored!

And when you can remember that, even the dreariest skies can seem full of promise.

That’s a good truth to be reminded of at the cusp of a new year, I think. I’m going to try to carry that with me through 2016 :).


[words & photography by Maggie Carlise]



14 Comments Add yours

  1. We’re glad you discovered one of Washington’s best treasures! We’ve been there many times (and blogged about it, too). There’s always so much to see, so many things to photograph and learn about – that we always return. Some of the museums are really terrific but draining. This one is rejuvenating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maggie Carlise says:

      I agree (about the rejuvenation part, specifically!) I wonder if it’s the plants or the light – just tapping into that need we all have to connect with nature. Whatever it is, I love this place!! Thanks for reading! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ari Novy says:

    I can’t tell you how happy the staff of the U.S. Botanic Garden was to read this. You’ve perfectly encapsulated why we do what we do and rejuvenated our spirits in the process. We are so grateful for the opportunity to provide amazing experiences with plants to the public and so delighted to have hit the mark with your family.

    Thank you,

    Ari Novy
    Executive Director
    U.S. Botanic Garden

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Maggie Carlise says:

      I’m so thrilled my post made its way to you! It gives me a chance to thank you, and all the Botanic Garden staff, for creating such a wonderful exhibit. It truly brightened our holiday this year!

      Thank you for everything you do!! 🙂


  3. bikurgurl says:

    Beautiful photography! What a treat!


    1. Maggie Carlise says:

      Oh! I missed this comment before – and your wonderful compliment! I’m so sorry. Thank you so much!!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. bikurgurl says:

        No worries — so enjoying your beautiful blog!


      2. Maggie Carlise says:

        Thank you so much!! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I was just there in Dec. Great shots.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Maggie Carlise says:

      Thanks!! 🙂


  5. Mark says:

    Wow… great post and pics 🙂
    The Botanical Garden in DC was probably my favorite place to visit while I lived there. They always had different exhibits and it was always a very relaxing and feeling good spot to visit.

    It was great to read and see about it once more.


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