I enjoyed a delightful 7-mile stroll through the National Arboretum today with the local chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club.
Our Leader, Paul Elliott, has authored a book on 60 hikes within 60 miles of DC and he walks the trails here four times a year, to see the variations in every season. While this was supposed to be the winter hike, we saw plenty of signs of spring.
The National Arboretum was born as a federal horticultural research facility. This land was chosen for the many ecosystems here, given the terrain of marshland, hills and meadows. All sorts of plants were transplanted here from around the world and they flourish in the special area they can acclimatize to. The Arboretum opened to the public in the 1950s, I believe it was, and it’s the giant, neighborhood park for some of the surrounding houses.
We completed one loop in the morning, had lunch in the bonzai museum — the promised sunny 60-degree temps never materialized and it was colder than any of us were prepared for — and then set out on another loop. We walked through dwarf conifers, some drooping trees from North Africa, stands of dogwoods and magnolias, varioius Asian gardens and the azalea walkways.
Paul was astounded that a tiny number of azaleas and rhododendron were blooming already, a full 6 weeks or so ahead of schedule. And we still had some winter camelia in bloom, too. We saw tiny irses and crocuses, along with full-grown daffodils, also showing off their colors and a magnolia starting to flower.
We heard all about the Great Azalea Controversy (my emphasis), in which the interim director in late fall announced that the thousands of azalea bushes would be cut down because they had lost the grant that paid for maintaining them. Since the azaleas are a main late-spring attraction, there was an uproar and some anonymous donor gave money to hold off the axes for at least another year, and a new director was announced.
A columnist then wrote a very witty — but sad — reflection on how this donor came to the rescue of the azaleas but — and she checked with several agencies — no one was saving inner-city educational programs, needle exchange program that is credited with saving the lives of many people in this city with the highest HIV infection rate in the country, or other human services already cut or threatened to be.
We concluded the walk at the most unlikely site of 22 huge Greek columns rising out of a field. They were brought here after being taken down from the US Capitol during renovations. I hear people rent out the space for big parties, and I can imagine what a great setting that would be.