Recently, friends of mine, owners of a townhouse in the northwest quadrant of Washington, D.C., invited me down for a visit. Because they temporarily had no tenant in the first floor, they were inviting folks to stay down there and travel in the city. I immediately accepted.
Their small property includes a three-story brick house packed with antiques. These friends are gardeners. They both like bonsai, a Japanese art form in which miniature plants are grown in pots. Besides those, one specializes in perennials. The other likes exotic flowers from around the world - especially orchids. They both agree that their goal is to only plant flowers that come back year after year. The problem area is the front that faces south and gets extremely hot. The brick house and asphalt road absorb even more heat. It's hard to find perennials to survive in that habitat. So far, they have peonies, a huge holly bush, irises, roses, oregano and sage.
Since both of these guys work, I was not looking forward to navigating the bus and subway systems by myself. One of them, a nurse serving elderly people, was free because his client was in the hospital. I had a guide for three days. The other, in the real estate business, took a day off just to be with me. What a time we had.
Insects carry pollen from one orchid to another.
Photo by Ann Beebe
On the first day we visited the United States Botanical Garden, which is located on the National Mall. This treasure was first established by Congress in 1820. Its conservatory underwent a four-year renovation that ended in 2001.
After taking a plant taxonomy class at SUNY Fredonia, the approximately 4,000 annual, tropical and subtropical plants were just what the doctor ordered for me. Comfortable shoes were a necessity. Exhibits and educational programs are offered, and the gardens, indoors and out, are interesting and beautiful. It would be easy to spend at least a week there. The cost was reasonable: $0. That's true of any of the museums related to the Smithsonian.
Many orchids were on display. One of my friends has a lot at home. Orchids have a Greek myth which gave them their name. In that story, Orchis was a nymph and satyr's son. During a festival, he drank too much and tried to rape a priestess of Dionysios. Bad idea. He was punished by being torn apart, but his loving father prayed for him. He didn't quite get what he wished. Instead of restoring him, he was changed into a flower. Thus the creation of the label of the flower orchid.
Orchids are very helpful to mankind. Some of them (the genus vanilla) are used for baking. Others give those great perfume aromas, and there are those that are eaten by Australian natives. The ancient aborigines found them where bandicoots, small Australian marsupials, dug up the roots for food. The people then could smell them in the ground. Plants, evolving from those ancient ones, are found in Australia today.
My other friend surprised me by taking a day off. He drove us to the United States National Arboretum, a section of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Its mission is to develop improved plants and technology. This is done with research, educational programs, garden displays and conservation. We spent about an hour studying bonsai. Then, we wandered around in the arboretum. This was well worth the visit, even if you didn't get out of the car, to see the woodland wildflowers, flowering shrubs, peonies, roses and daylilies. All of the seasons are lovely, and you don't even need to get out of the car to enjoy the views.
You can find the state tree from where you live in the National Grove of State Trees.
Here's a quiz:
1. Name one state with the white oak as its state tree.
2. Only one state has the burr oak as its state tree. Which state is it?
3. Which state has the Ohio Buckeye as its state tree. Hee. Hee. Do you feel better now, if you didn't know the answers to the first two questions? You can look for the answers at the end of this article.
Are you trying to live life simply?
Try just eating, sleeping and birding.
Most importantly, help save our environment for the birds and native wildflowers.
Answers to question 1. Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, 2. Iowa 3. It's not Pennyslvania.