CHERRY BLOSSOMS at the Tidal Basin in Washington DC? Crowds give me hives. If you’re equally averse to screaming children and hordes of selfie-takers backing up over your flip-flops, may I suggest Stanton Park* on Capitol Hill, which is ringed with trees in full flower. You can even snag a bench or lie in the grass and day-dream without being trampled by a tourist.
The trees are particularly spectacular this year, and longer-lasting than usual thanks to the early warm snap that brought out the blooms last weekend, followed by a wintry blast that put us back into our minks but is preserving the blossoms just like putting them in a florist’s refrigerator.
Cherry trees are not all that’s in bloom right now. I’ve never been into orchids; they remind me of little old ladies, teenage girls headed for the prom, and glam staging devices for real estate agents trying to wring an extra hundred thou out of a listing.
That said. The orchid show on view till the end of the month in the utterly peaceful Kogod Courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery is enough to twist my mind.
There are itty-bitty specimens whose curious faces poke up amid greenery, cascades of blooms dripping from towering vases, waves of color—from purest white to muted purples and greens to LOOK AT ME shrieks of shocking pink and mad combinations—like fantastical butterflies.
There are four large sections, one in each corner, divided by variety and habitat and arranged with a brilliant eye to naturalistic design—meaning, within a garden, not stationed on the credenza.
Let me tell you, I was in full lust. While usually most captivated by bombast, I was completely enchanted by a collection of wee paphiopedilums, or slipper orchids, which here resemble candy-colored alien sprites nestled in moss and set amid palm leaves. Could I do something like this near my little pond?
While orchid flowers can last for several months, when the bloom is spent you have a pretty ugly plant with a stick in the middle for as much as a year—and in my experience, forever. How many people do you know nurturing a few droopy leaves in plastic pots lined forlornly along a kitchen window?
A friend who recently passed away had 20 such pots lined up along a wall. She died before they rebloomed. Is there anything sadder? Well, yes, I suppose. But you get the picture.
You can toss orchids out, of course, and buy new ones. Trader Joe’s often has them for around $15 in various sizes and sometimes charming combinations of hues. You can buy seeds of the more exotic sorts pretty cheaply—around $8 for 100. I wish you health and long life. Buying the unusual and exotic can rapidly escalate from $50. A single Shenzhen Nongke Orchid, which happened not to be on display, rings in at about $200,000.
The gorgeous show, the 24th annual annual exhibit by the US Botanic Garden and the Smithsonian, which was almost too much to take in, made me thirsty. Warning! A small bottle of water is $4 at the kiosk. Out on the sidewalk you’ll probably fall over a vendor offering the same for a buck. Save the difference, buy an orchid.
LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” is turning into an equal-opportunity flower lover.
Orchids: Amazing Adaptations. A joint collaboration of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Gardens and the US Botanic Garden. Free, through April 28, 2019.
* Stanton Park is just a 10-minute walk from Washington’s Union Station and the US Capitol. If you stroll along Massachusetts Avenue NE to get there, a number of restaurants sport delightful outdoor cafes. Bistro Cacao is a particular favorite for weekend brunch. Despite being in eyeshot of the Capitol dome, a meal on the tented patio feels like a little vacation.