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Green Acre #81: US Botanic Garden Hits the Road

INSIDE THE US BOTANIC GARDEN, the scintillating glass house of flowers at the foot of the US Capitol in Washington DC, gigantic Christmas trees are trimmed with twists of gold ribbon, white lights and red balls that match the red of the poinsettias that nestle amid the palms and dangle overhead in the soaring Garden Court, the conservatory’s grand entrance.

“Is it time for McDonald’s yet?” Alice Wender asks her granddaughters, Jaclyn, 2, and Ryann, 3. The girls just giggle and hug and tumble, blocking the narrow aisle to other strollers with toddlers and babies and moms and nannies. Alice sighs: It’s 1 in the afternoon, she’s had them since 6:45 this morning, and there’s miles to go before Mom picks them up to go home. “Okay, then. One more trip around the trains.”

Which is what they’re here for. This year’s East Gallery exhibit, called “Roadside Attractions,” features replicas of 41 wonderful and wonderfully odd sights to be seen between New York State and Hawaii. There’s Minnesota’s Jolly Green Giant, LA’s Hollywood sign, New Mexico’s “world’s largest chili pepper” and Alabama’s stirring monument to the Boll Weevil, which I saw more than once thanks to my Baby’s Personal Prince Pete’s stint with the National Guard. The statue is in, um, bustling downtown Enterprise, Alabama, where he was stationed, a town that has an annual costumed pet contest that my granddog Tallula would have won if it hadn’t been rigged. Just saying.

The attractions are set amid fabulous foliage and flowers and rendered in acorn caps, pinecone scales and cinnamon sticks, among wisps and pokes of other plant materials. Most of these, I might note, are available in your backyard—or, at a stretch, in the park around the corner. Why, with just a little Super Glue and a pint of amber shellac, you could build your own Mount Rushmore (yes, it’s here too), maybe in your own lifetime.    

Chugging you from point to point through the exhibit are G-gauge model trains that roll over and under, around and through the vignettes. Toot! Cool.

“Both girls got excited when they walked in and saw the trains overhead,” says Alice. “Jaclyn actually screamed with excitement looking everywhere.” Thomas the Tank Engine, plucked from a storybook, was a particular favorite. Both were enchanted by the child-gauge tunnel where worlds are contained in windows that line the way. “It was too low for me,” Alice said. “I have no idea what was in there.” Neither do I.

Meanwhile, back in the Garden Court, the annual exhibit of Washington’s landmarks, also created from plant stuffs, has grown again to include a meticulously detailed replica of the African American Museum, which joins the Smithsonian Castle, the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials, the Washington Monument and the US Capitol.

If you take a side trip to the tropics, the jungle within the glass centerpiece of the building, there in the mist is a plant-based pirate ship bobbing in a miniature sea.

The show, which is free, will run through New Year’s Day. But be warned. Weekends are a madhouse, and the closer you get to Christmas school breaks, the crazier weekdays will become, with lines twisting outdoors and lots of jostling within. Visiting this past Monday afternoon, it was practically a private wonderland. Play hooky—just go now.

For more information hours, exhibits and live concerts (klezmer music, anyone?) go to www.usbg.com.   

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” sometimes wanders beyond her garden to take in botanical sights elsewhere. To read earlier columns, type Green Acre into the Search box at the top of the page.


2 thoughts on “Green Acre #81: US Botanic Garden Hits the Road

  1. Maggie Hall says:

    I went a couple of weeks ago – but now seeing it through Stephanie Cavanaugh’s eyes, I’ve re-lived the experience and enjoyed it even more!

  2. Michele P Pagan says:

    We always tried really hard to get to see this exhibit every year, because it is truly so delightful. And the USBG, itself, is one of the reasons why we loved living on Capitol Hill: we could walk to this marvelous place, any time we wished!

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