The Gardens of Mediocrity

In Gardens and Parks on May 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm

After becoming a reader at the Library of Congress (I HAVE A BADGE!), I took a saunter down the Mall, and decided to dive into the US Botanic Gardens. It’s just in front of the capitol, and on such a lovely day, I thought what could be more enjoyable than flowers?!

Epic disappointment, if I’m honest. It’s in some pretty difficult architectural company, I’ll admit, but even the outside of the building appeared quite lacklustre. It’s a beautiful little building, but it’s very obvious that it has seen better days. As I went in, I was ignored by the front desk greeters – just a hello would have been nice as I was about 1ft away, but nothing. Visitor Services fail – always a bad way to start a visit! Anyhoo. I wandered in to the glasshouse, and started to have a look around. The flowers are, of course, beautiful:

It is set out in a series of about 8 thematic rooms (Orchids, The Desert, etc) and you wander through almost constant mists of water, which is quite nice on a warm day (although it is artificially humid throughout) and for a few minutes, it’s nice to wander. However, no one seems to have made an effort with anything in here in a very long time. The interpretation (where there was interpretation at all) was old and out of date, and the place had a grubby, unloved feeling about it. It felt like a slightly exotic but much neglected garden centre. Two rooms were shut completely (in the most picturesque part of the building), and I’m afraid to say I didn’t see a single enthralled face in the whole place. Everyone was mooching, but it felt like this was simply a good place to kill time before your tour of the Capitol or something. It is certainly not worth a special trip.

The worldwide bar for gardens has been set very high by th Eden Project, Kew and the like, and being on the National Mall in DC, the bar is rather astronomical locally as well, so I suppose it was bound to be a disappointment in some ways. However, as the National Garden, surrounded by so many museums and parks that are so very brilliant, I’m amazed this one continues to operate like it does. That said, it’s free to enter (which may be part of the problem) and there are some small building works going on out front, which may suggest that it’s starting to revamp (although there were no signs of that inside). A real shame, as this could be a fantastic events space if nothing else.

One thing that did make me chuckle, however, was this. All the security of the National Mall, but the US Botanic Gardens is flying so far under-the-radar, they can get away with advertising the most deadly poison on earth within easy reach of passing children…


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