Posted by Flower Spy on Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Well, the party is over. We got our cool, new president squared away and it's finally safe again to go back down to D.C. without bumping into 2 million of your closest friends. Today was the perfect day to do just that--it was 70 degrees which is excellent weather for a road trip. I've been in dire need of an early spring flower fix, February is killing me with its unending layers of gray. I require color and life in the form of sprouting bulbs and blossoming plants for some recharging and inspiration. Gray just doesn't cut it.
I took my favorite flower spy in training, Kaylee, so she could get some more exposure to my floral world of fragrance and beauty. More visits with flowers = more chances to fall in love with flowers. Plus she's an orchid lover, and I hear the conservatory is filled with lots of gorgeous varieties right now. We loaded up the spy mobile with granola bars and Gatorade and left for our floral mission down by the nation's Capitol.
We arrived without a hitch and even grabbed a space right out front which were plentiful at that hour. We didn't have much time, the gardens were closing at 5:00pm and we arrived a little before 4:00 pm So we parked in an 'authorized vehicles only' spot and ran in before we could be stopped for blatant disrespect of the D.C. parking authority. Flower spies should get some sort of clearance for their spy missions, I think. We flew inside, grabbed our visitor's guide and proceeded to get bombarded by smells and colors that were attacking us from all sides. It was almost overwhelming, but lucky for us we are professional flower spies, so we just relaxed and breathed it all in deeply. The air was heavy and had 3 distinct smells: perfume, mold and mulch. My favorite odors in the whole world. When the contact buzz wore off we zeroed in on our first orchid and the adventure began.
They were called Nun's Orchids, phaius tankervilliae. I've never seen this variety before. We wondered if they were named after real Nuns. No descriptions on that, but they were planted all around the perimeter of the inside gardens and were very tall. Colorful too, no black and white habits to be seen in the group.
We continued moving at a steady pace as we had little time and lots of spying to do. The next stop was a reflecting pool that I wanted to dive into. It was very Blue Lagoon and sexy. I've seen many like it in Mexico, and they always look more inviting when decorated with flowers. This one was no exception-- the contrasting colors from all the bromeliads and spring bulb plants made it even more alluring.
After Kaylee talked me out of taking my shoes off for a quick dip, we headed down towards the amaryllis section. Even though the holidays are over, amaryllis are still in season. There were some more unusual varieties, like this skinny petaled one. It had a spider-like grace that I found very other-worldly.
While we were gawking, a couple opened a set of glass doors which lead to another section...steam seeped out and we knew we had to follow them. It lead to a mini rain forest which is probably where the mold smell was coming from. Thank God I took my Zyrtec that morning. It was just as lush as I expected, although we didn't spot any tropical critters which disappointed both of us. Not even a bird. Wait, there was one koi fish we saw in a pond. But that was it. These bodacious alocasia leaves more than made up for it.
Next room- The Desert. I used to hate cacti and the like, but after getting a hands on eduction at the Botanical Gardens in San Miguel, Mexico, I understand them more. I look at them differently too. They are certainly stiffer and spikier than the other flowers and plants we saw, but there's something interesting about the severity of their texture. They are teasing plants that dare you to get close, then punish you for touching them. Sounds like some family members I know. Time to get out of that place...
But not before I snap up some shots of the most phallic looking mini cactus plant I've ever seen. I tried to shelter Kaylee from it but it was too late, she was mesmerized and speechless as she stared down at them. I had to explain what 'phallic' meant. Great, can't wait to get that call from her mother.
Onward and upward... we left the desert and entered another section that housed rare botanicals from all over the world. The first one that caught our attention was this big, bad calla lily looking guy known as 'Devils Tongue', amorphophallus konjac. (note the 'phallus' in the suffix). It comes from Indonesia. It stood close to 5' tall and lived up to its name-- it was very creepy but the projectile tongue (its stamen) made us giggle. I adored the deep purple color and shape of the bloom and thought of the quote: "Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face", by Nelson DeMille. How true those words were. A devil in disguise.
Another interesting flower was this tree orchid. We didn't catch the name, it was untagged, but there were several popping out of some lovely trunks covered in Spanish moss. I love to see orchids living in their natural habitat, they are true epiphytes--a big botanical word meaning a plant that grows on a host but takes no nutrients from it, relying instead on nutrients from the air, falling rain, and compost that lies on tree branches. There is true beauty in their symbiotic relationship.
A bit further down we encountered a group of well-known annual plants that weren't so exotic but certainly were pretty. These happy French marigolds made me want to plant them all over my garden. They were so vibrant and golden.
We were speed walking at this point-- we heard the lady's voice on the speaker that said they were closing in 5 minutes. Oddly we noticed a lot of other last minute flower lovers sneaking in. I think the Botanical Gardens are a popular place for government workers to escape to after a long day of politicking. It's also perfect for dates-- I saw some early Valentine's lovebirds lingering in the corners of the tropical room. Good idea for bringing my lovebird next time.
On our way out, we found one more cluster of orchids in a rock garden setting that begged for a picture. I thought we had our fill of orchids by now, but I guess I was wrong. There were phals and cattleyas and dendrobiums all playing together nicely on mossy beds of rock and mulch. The fragrance was so overpowering, we didn't want to leave.
But the speaker lady said the gardens were officially closed, and we had to go. But not before we ducked into the room with the historical descriptions of all of the scented plants-- aka the herb room. We smelled frankincense, jasmine and wasabi and much more. Grabbed this last pic of metal-cut rose hips and then we bid goodbye to D.C.'s most beautiful gardens. It really is a great place to go if you live in the area or are visiting. It's easy to find (100 Maryland Ave., S.W. by Independence Ave.), almost right next to the Capitol. So, if you are like me and are in need of some beautiful, colorful flowers with fragrance--this is the place. By the way, you will not find many flowering trees, but if you wait a month, the Cherry Blossoms will be in full bloom and are out of this world beautiful!
ALL PICTURES BY: THE INTERNATIONAL FLOWER SPY