top of page

Chesapeake Native Plants: Road Trip!

Washington D.C., One Day, Three Destinations: U.S. Botanical Garden, the National Cathedral and Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens.

Pitcher Plants in Full Bloom at the U.S. Botanical Garden
Pitcher Plants in Full Bloom at the U.S. Botanical Garden

The Chesapeake region is awash with gardens featuring native plants and Washington D.C. has more than its share! Washington D.C. is a gardener's paradise filled with community gardens, formal gardens and parks galore. To see it all, you could spend several days or more. If your focus is native plants, here is one busy day’s itinerary!

United States Botanical Garden

The Nation's botanical garden in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol features native plants. The U.S. Botanical Garden in a very urban setting has everything from the original conservatory opened in 1850 to gardens featuring the native flora of the mid-Atlantic. Many of the native plants are large mature plants which can be very informative to see. There are also many unusual plants such as the stand of pitcher plants above and unusual cultivars like a weeping native persimmon. Another plus - almost all of the plants are labeled. The outdoor gardens currently open at 7:30 am. An early morning visit is a great way to start the day. Please check hours before you go as they do change.

native hay scented ferns and rock
Hay Scented Ferns along a Smithsonian Path

Smithsonian Museum

This is not one of the three stops but if time allows, walking in between the Smithsonian Museums on the National Mall is a great way to see a range of garden styles. This Garden Map will help you find your way. A favorite is the Urban Bird Habitat.

The National Cathedral

zizia as ground cover in full bloom golden alexanders
Path through the Olmstead Woods

Head north a few miles to the National Cathedral gardens. Located between downtown and the third stop, the Cathedral is known for the Bishops Garden, a small formal garden of mostly ornamentals worth a visit year round. Lesser known are the shaded paths through the Olmstead Woods where native trees and ground covers abound. On a hot day, those paths are the perfect place to be midday. Open City Café, a locally owned breakfast, lunch and coffee spot, located in the Cathedral’s Herb Cottage is a bonus!

Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens

For the afternoon, head north two miles to Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens set amid a residential neighborhood in northwest D.C. near Rock Creek Park. The museum includes an estate home and what until recently were mostly ornamental gardens on the 25 acre estate. Several years ago, the Hillwood Horticulture Team began to focus on native plants.

New Native Garden at Hillwood garden path and seating
New Native Garden at Hillwood

You will find many native perennial flowers growing in the exuberant cutting garden as well as an entirely new native plant garden below the parking deck. It sounds like an odd location but it just goes to show a garden can be a destination no matter where it is! As you walk through Hillwood's ornamental gardens, you will see many native perennials and shrubs added as well as along the more informal woodland paths. Hillwood also has a café for coffee or a light bite to eat. There is an admission charge: $15 for adults, $10 for students and $5 for children. Hillwood is currently open 10 to 5 every day except Monday.

A Word About Rock Creek Park

Virginia Bluebells in Spring Rock Creek Park
Virginia Bluebells in Spring Rock Creek Park

So many garden professionals tell us to observe native plants in their natural habitats to see where they best grow. Rock Creek Park, a linear park running from the Maryland suburbs north of Washington D.C., south through the middle of D.C. and down to the Potomac River, features many biking, hiking and walking trails. If you visit D.C. in late March or early April, the swaths of Virginia bluebells and spring beauties are stunning. Likewise in fall, the same stretch is brimming with reds, yellows and golds of native trees and shrubs. A walk along Beach Drive or your path of choice is a great way to see natives in their native habitat!


If you have more time and depending on how and where you are arriving from, there are several native plant nurseries within an hour or so of the D.C. city line you may want to visit. The closest is a backyard nursery -- Wildflower Native Plant Nursery in Bethesda, Maryland open Wednesday through Sunday by appointment. You can read more here. If you want to take in more of the Maryland countryside, head out to Bona Terra Nursery in Friendship, Maryland and open by appointment. You can read more here. If you are drawn to Virginia, the drive to Watermark Woods Nursery in Hamilton will take you to a glorious setting among the woods of the Virginia countryside. They are open Tuesday through Saturday and please check the hours before heading out!

Please consider this a sampler of D.C. gardens! You could literally spend days visiting all of the gardens in D.C, and the metro area. Others to consider include Dumbarton Oaks, Kenilworth Gardens the

U.S. Arboretum (Fern Valley), the Smithsonian's Anacostia Museum native plant garden and more. This is a useful compendium of all things garden in D.C.

Happy travels.


We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

bottom of page