5 “Secret” Gardens in Washington, DC

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I always look forward to seeing beautiful flowers growing all over the city. Mostly, that’s because it means sunshine and warm weather have arrived. It also gives me hope that one day I’ll have a backyard garden full of morning glories, roses, and marigolds of my very own.

Tulips from the floral library on the National Mall.

But since I haven’t gotten around to planting one just yet, I enjoy visiting the many gardens in and around Washington, DC. It’s amazing to be able to visit these floral oases—some in the midst of heavy traffic—and escape the crazy of a city day. They’re also a relaxing place to bring kids and explore nature without too much planning.

Here are a few of my “secret” gardens:

Kenilworth Aquatic Garden

  • 1550 Anacostia Ave NE, Washington, DC 20019
  • Cost: FREE

This is one of my favorite gardens to visit, and not just because it all started with the planting of wild water lilies from my home state of Maine. (Although that is a fun connection!) The Kenilworth Aquatic Garden is a national park is known for its lotuses and lilies, which peak in late July / early August. The park contains gardens, greenhouses, and boardwalk trails! The best time to see the flowers in bloom is early in the morning, so get up with the sun and start your day with a spectacular view of gorgeous lotuses and lilies. And the birding, garden and nature walks are not to be missed.

National Arboretum

  • There are two entrances. Check the website for directions and gate hours.
    • 3501 New York Avenue NE, Washington, DC 20002
    • 24th & R Streets NE, Washington, DC 20002
  • Cost: FREE

The National Arboretum is a special place that combines science, nature, and the appreciation of art and beauty. Essentially a research facility for plants, it also offers a unique experience for kids and families to learn about nature through gardens and special exhibits. Bring a picnic to enjoy in the National Grove of State Trees area, where you can see trees native to all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. 

Netherlands Carillon

  • Parking is available at the US Marine Corps War Memorial.
  • *This garden is not technically in the District, but it’s not to be missed!*
  • Cost: FREE

The Netherlands Carillon is a special memorial that honors the aid of the American people to the Netherlands during World War II. The 50 bells were a gift from the Dutch, and in the spring the carillon is surrounded by a garden full of tulips. This peaceful spot has a stunning view of Washington, DC and the National Mall. Bring the kids for a sunny afternoon picnic.

The Floral Library

Everyone knows that the Tidal Basin gets super crowded when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. One way to break free from the crowd and still get your flower fix is to stumble upon the Floral Library, which is located on the corner of the Tidal Basin closest to the Washington Monument. Here you can see beautiful tulips, daffodils and other flowers—all of which are in bloom around the same time or just after the cherry blossoms. This is a great spot for kids to get up close to smell the flowers and to examine what tiny creatures may live among them.

Enid A. Haupt Garden

  • Part of the Smithsonian Institute
  • Cost: FREE

The Enid A. Haupt Garden is a little oasis in downtown DC offers beautiful flowers to enjoy. Not only is there a large, meticulously manicured garden called the Paterre, there are also more areas to explore. The Moongate Garden showcases a unique water feature (where there are often ducks). And on the opposite side beyond the Paterre is the Fountain Garden where children and adults will be mesmerized!

Other amazing gardens to explore are:

What are your favorite gardens in the Washington, DC area? Comment below and share your secret garden spots that families in the area may enjoy.