An Herb Lover’s Guide to Botanic Gardens

Beautiful gardens around the nation

| August/September 1999

 Whether herbs are old friends or a new person, public gardens offer a sublime setting for an educational summer stroll. Here are a few of our favorite spots:

U.S. National Aboretum

This may be the nation’s largest public garden, but that doesn’t mean the folks at the National Herb Garden (NHG) are resting on their laurels. The NHG was the brainchild of the Herb Society of America, which spent fifteen years between 1965 and 1980 raising funds and working with the government to create it. The 21/2-acre site is located at the U.S. National Arboretum, a 444-acre research and educational center operated by the U.S. ­Depart­ment of Agriculture in the northeast section of Washington, D.C. Our mission is to conduct research and to grow, display, and teach about useful plants,” explains NHG curator Jim Adams. “Herbs are a great way to do that.”

The NHG’s Entrance Garden is dominated by a 25-by-50-foot knot made up of dwarf evergreens—cultivars of ­arborvitae, spruce, and holly. Roses in existence before 1867 (when the first hybrid tea was introduced) form the basis of the Historic Rose Garden.

The Herb Garden comprises ten specialty gardens, including a Dioscorides Garden (herbs used by the Greek physician Dioscorides about a.d. 60), a dye garden, a colonial garden, a Native American garden, an industrial garden (plants that are sources of fuel, oil, pesticides, fibers, and other products for modern industry), an Oriental garden, a beverage garden, a culinary garden, a medicinal garden, and a fragrance garden. The garden’s collection of chile peppers (eighty cultivars), salvias (some seventy varieties), oreganos, thymes, and rosemaries is especially notable.

Adams calls the NHG “the best in the world. It’s a wonderful marriage of beauty and teaching tool.”

U.S. National Arboretum, 3501 New York Ave., N.E., Washington, DC 20002; (202) 245-2726. Open daily except Christmas, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Zone 7.

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