Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

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A September 11th Memorial Grove

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I chose to ride to a local September 11th memorial.  On past anniversaries of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, the World Trade Center in New York, and United Flight 93 which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I have observed the occasion by riding to memorials to those killed on that day.  I have been to the National 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, as well as The Victims of the Terrorist Attack on The Pentagon Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.  But the anniversary this year falls on a weekend.  So on today’s ride to end the workweek I rode to one of a number of local memorials here in D.C. – the September 11th Memorial Grove, located in Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP).

Within the cemetery, the grove is configured as an alley, originating across from the gravesite of John Phillip Sousa and continuing southward down a hill to the far edge of the cemetery near the Anacostia River. Because the Sousa grave is the most visited area of the cemetery, the grove draws people in and leads them on a short walk through the memorial site.

The purpose of the memorial at Congressional Cemetery is threefold. First, as a cemetery, it was a logical place to memorialize. And the trees were especially fitting for the cemetery, fitting into its memorial tradition of the use of cenotaphs, or empty tombs. The second reason is because the memorial helps in creating a renewed awareness of the cemetery, to bring more people onto the site, thus continuing the tradition of a cemetery as a gathering space. The third reason for placing the memorial grove within the cemetery was to be part of a landscape plan to re-tree the cemetery.

At the entrance to the grove is a maker containing a poem entitled, “Remembrance”.  It reads,

“For those who no longer hear noisy leaves
shimmering in the summer breeze …
For those who might have sought shelter from the
mid-day sun under a nave of gnarled hornbeams …
For those who would grieve in the quiet space
amid a grove of flowering trees …
For those who perished on September 11, 2001.”

The September 11th Memorial Grove at the cemetery is the first of a series of nine memorial groves planned for the city, with one central and eight ward-based neighborhood memorial tree groves created both to remember September 11 and to celebrate the community that surrounds it.  So I guess I know where I can go on the next eight anniversaries of that terrible day.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

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A Titan Arum (Corpse Flower)

In this blog I usually write about the rides I take during my lunch breaks during the workweek.  But sometimes the destination of a ride necessitates going on a weekend.  That was the case for this ride, because I was going to go see a rare and unique amorphophallus titanum, also known as the titan arum, but most commonly referred to as a corpse flower, which is getting ready to bloom at the United States Botanic Garden (USBG), located at 100 Maryland Avenue (MAP) in the southwest area of the Downtown neighborhood in D.C.   It is predicted to bloom sometime between today and Tuesday, and when it happens the bloom will last only 24 to 48 hours before it quickly collapses.  So I didn’t want to wait until next week and possibly miss it.

It is the first bloom of this particular plant, which is six years old.  When it first went on display on July 22nd, the plant was only three and a half feet tall.  But since that time it has grown as much as eight inches in just one day.  In the past 12 days this magnificent specimen has grown an incredible four feet three inches, and is now over seven feet tall.

The blooming of a Titan Arum is rare because does not have an annual or even cyclical blooming process.  The time period between flowerings is unpredictable, and can span from a few years to a few decades.  And there have been only 192 recorded instances of cultivated bloomings since records began.  And because the gigantic flower is native to only the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, it is even more rare to be able to see a bloom in the United States.  The plant is also unique because when it is at peak bloom it possesses an odor that many say smells like the rotting flesh of an animal carcass, with its putrid smell being most potent at night into the early morning.

Some people travel around the world hoping to see one at the moment it flowers.  For botanists and the public, being “in the right place at the right time” to see one of these magnificent plants in bloom can be an once-in-a-lifetime treat. But for me, I was able to see one bloom here at the Botanic Garden in 2013, so this will be the second time I’ve been fortunate enough to see one bloom.  So if you’re able to, I highly recommend a trip to the Botanic Garden to see this natural wonder.  However, if you’re unable to make it here, you can still check it out online at the livestream provided by the USBG.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

UDATE (08/02/2016):  The Corpse Flower bloom began to open this morning, and should be in its full, odiferous bloom by the end of the day.  The Botanic Garden will be extending their hours today until 11:00pm.

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UPDATE (08/05/2016):  The Corpse Flower has collapsed.

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The Peaking of the Cherry Blossoms

The blooming of the Yoshino cherry tree blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin is anticipated by many people in much the same way that small children anticipate the arrival of Santa at Christmastime. The beautiful blooms of the cherry blossom are looked forward to all winter because they are one of the surest and most celebrated signs of spring. But the peak blooming period varies from year to year. In fact, it can vary by over a month. Unseasonably warm or cool temperatures have resulted in peak bloom as early as March 15.  That occurred in 1990.  And they have peaked as late as April 18, as happened in 1958, according to the National Park Service.

Now, I’m fortunate in that I live in the D.C. area and can see them whenever they arrive. But if you live outside of the area and want to see this springtime spectacular, how do you know when the best time to plan to travel here is? Well, much like the weather, you have to rely on predictions for when the peak of the blooming process will occur.

The point at which the cherry blossoms are at their peak is the date on which 70 percent of the area’s Yoshino cherry blossoms are open. But leading up to this, there are several developmental stages that precede full bloom which the trees go through to reach that point. Many amateur cherry blossom watchers eagerly monitor these stages to try and predict when the peak will be. However, responsibility for the official prediction falls to the National Park Service’s Chief Horticulturalist for the National Capital Region, Robert DeFeo. Each year in early March, Mr. DeFeo announces when peak bloom is most likely to occur around the Tidal Basin. He reads nature’s clues at each stage of the process, meticulously follows the weather forecasts, and then ventures out on a limb with an educated guess.

A brief walk through the stages of the process may be helpful in understanding what Mr. DeFeo and others consider in making their predictions. The first sign of their imminent arrival are when green buds emerge on the trees’ branches. This occurs even before the leaves begin to appear on the trees. In the second stage, florets begin to appear, and then extend themselves from the buds. This occurs anywhere between 12 and 17 days before peak bloom. The third stage in the process is referred to as peduncle elongation. But this is not as complexly scientific as the name makes it sound. Peduncle elongation simply means that the small stalk connecting each bloom to the tree’s branch grows. When this occurs, the blooms are almost certain to blossom in at least five days, but not more than ten days. The next-to-last stage in the blooming process is when the blossoms begin to get puffy, signaling that there are just four to six days to peak bloom. And then, finally, the peak bloom stage arrives.

However, demonstrating how inexact and subject to change the predictions are for when D.C.’s cherry blossoms will reach their peak, this year’s original prediction, issued on March 2nd and predicting the peak to occur between March 31st and April 3rd, had to be revised. Cooler temperatures than what had been previously forecast resulted in the prediction being revised less than a week after it was originally made. The revised forecast is now for this year’s peak bloom to occur between last Thursday (March 18th), and this Wednesday (March 23rd). That meant today should have been right in the middle of the cherry blossoms peak bloom time.

So on today’s lunchtime bike ride I decided to ride to the Tidal Basin to enjoy the spring spectacle. But I ended up feeling like someone who took an umbrella with me because I listened to a weatherman’s prediction for thunderstorms, but then I didn’t see a drop of rain. The cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin are nowhere near their peak. They are making steady process. But they seem to be taking their time.

The National Park Service has narrowed its most recent prediction, estimating the peak to occur this Wednesday or Thursday.  But from what I observed today, I’d estimate that the majority of the blooms are in the peduncle elongation stage, with peak bloom still potentially ten days away.  With warmer weather arriving soon, and then rain predicted for this weekend, I guess this year we will have to just wait and see what happens.

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Stages of Development
1 – Green Buds   2 – Florets Visible   3 – Peduncle Elongation
4 – Puffy White   5 – Peak Bloom

[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size, high resolution photos]

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Temperatures warm enough to shed winter jackets, the Washington Nationals playing in Space Coast Stadium in Viera, Florida, and setting the clocks ahead like we did this past weekend are all signs that springtime in our nation’s capital is on the horizon.  Another sure sign of spring’s imminent arrival is when the dark spindly trees lining The Tidal Basin begin sprouting their green buds, hinting of the florets that will soon become the world-famous pale pink or white cherry blossoms that annually attract so many visitors to the city during the first weeks of spring.

I look forward to the coming days when I will be fortunate enough to be able to watch the blooming process unfold.  It is expected that the blooms will peak this year between this Friday (March 18th) and next Wednesday (March 23rd), which because of recent unseasonably warm weather is earlier than initially thought.  So although the National Cherry Blossom Festival doesn’t begin until a week from today (March 20th) and runs through April 18th, this coming weekend will be the ideal time to experience this year’s phenomenon.

So whether you for opt for an outing to the Tidal Basin and National Mall area, the tree-lined streets of East Potomac Park and Hains Point, or the diversity and variety of species of cherry trees at the National Arboretum, don’t put it off for very long.  Because the visual splendor of these delicate cherry blooms is given to us, unfortunately, for only a brief time, leading many to say that they are symbolic and serve to remind us of the beauty and brevity of life itself.

(Note: Click here or on the above photo to enlarge it and see the photo in such detail that you’ll be able to see both antennae of a small bug peaking over the branch above the buds.)

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Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge

On this three-day Columbus Day holiday weekend I ventured to the outer areas of the D.C. metro area, where I visited the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located approximately 25 miles due south of the city, at 13950 Dawson Beach Road (MAP), where the Occoquan River meets the Potomac River in Woodbridge, Virginia .

Up until the 1940’s, the site was a popular tourist spot known as Dawson Beach. Then in 1950 the U.S. Army purchased the site. Named Harry Diamond Laboratories, the Army initially used the area for a radio transmitting station. In the 1970s, the base’s mission shifted to top secret research. Electromagnetic pulse testing and sight lines for security kept the vegetation low, primarily in grasslands. The base was eventually closed in the 1990s, and ownership of the 644-acre site was transferred to the Department of the Interior’s United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

Originally referred to as the Marumsco National Wildlife Refuge, the refuge was officially established in 1998 and renamed the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.   Today it consists of a mix of wetlands, native grasslands and forest areas that provide a diversity of habitats for wide variety of species. The wetland habitats cover about half of the refuge and include wet meadows, bottomland hardwoods, open freshwater marsh, and tidally influenced marshes and streams. Upland meadows and mature forest comprised mostly of oak, hickory and beech trees are interspersed among the wetlands.

The unusual number and interspersion of habitats provides visitors an opportunity to view a wide variety of wildlife species and habitats in a relatively small area. The plant diversity of this refuge is outstanding in that over 650 plant species are known to be present. The refuge also boasts being able to documented over 220 different types of birds which are either native to the area or are migratory birds passing through, many of which are uncommon or rare in the region.

The refuge has approximately four miles of old roads are reserved for foot traffic, overlapping among three circular routes. It also has two miles of roads which are reserved for motor vehicle and bicycle access. Information is posted at the visitor contact station and at trail heads.

The highlights for me included seeing white tailed deer, a red fox, a turkey, more than a dozen rabbits, wood ducks, migratory geese, painted turtles and a nesting bald eagle.  As much as I enjoyed seeing all of the wildlife, it made me sorry that I only had my cell phone with which to take photographs. On my next visit I will definitely be taking along a good camera.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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The Bartholdi Fountain

Of all the monuments, statues, memorials, and other interesting places and events in D.C., some of my favorite destinations on my lunchtime D.C. bike rides, especially during the warm months of summer, are public fountains. And there are many of them in the National Capitol City from which to choose. One of the most famous is officially named “Fountain of Light and Water,” but is more commonly referred to as the Bartholdi Fountain.  Located at the corner of Independence Avenue and First Street (MAP) in The United States Botanic Garden in southwest D.C., it was the destination for this ride.

The fountain is referred to as The Bartholdi Fountain because it was created by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the French sculptor who is best known for designing the Statue of Liberty. The fountain is based on Classical and Renaissance sculpture, and is composed of a series of basins, supported by sculptures of classical figures. The fountain was cast in Paris by A. Durenne Foundry, and the cast iron is coated with bronze. Standing in the center of a circular marble pool, the fountain weighs 30,440 pounds, stands 30 feet high, and has three caryatid figures 11 feet in height.

The three-level fountain is topped by a mural crown resembling a crenellated city wall. Water spills from the crown over three youthful tritons playfully holding seaweed and splashes into the upper basin. Twelve lamps surround the basin. The crown appears to be held by caryatid figures depicting nereids, or sea nymphs, standing on a triangular pedestal with an ornamental design of seas shells and coral. Three reptiles are positioned at the pedestal’s corners, and spout water while supporting the fountain’s lower vasque. Water spouts from a crown at the top, cascades down into the smaller vasque, and then down into the larger vasque before spilling into the main basin.

The cast-iron fountain was made for the first official World’s Fair in the United States, also known as the Centennial Exposition, which was held in Philadelphia in 1876 to celebrate the 100th birthday of the United States. After the conclusion of the Centennial Exposition, Bartholdi offered the statue for sale for $12,000. However, he could not find a buyer. The following year, at the suggestion of Frederick Law Olmsted, the famous landscape architect who designed the Capitol Building grounds, the U.S. Congress offered him $6,000 for the fountain, half his original asking price. Bartholdi begrudgingly agreed, and in 1877 the fountain was placed at the base of Capitol Hill on what used to be Botanic Garden grounds. It was removed and placed in storage in 1926 in order to facilitate completion of The George Gordon Meade Memorial, and for landscaping improvements around the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial. Then in 1932, the sculpture was placed at its current location in the United States Botanic Garden, within the grounds of the United States Capitol Building.

Since the bike rides I write about in this blog take place during my lunchtime breaks at work, I did not visit the fountain at night. But if you are in the city after dark, I highly recommend a visit because to really appreciate the beauty of the Bartholdi Fountain, you’ll need to see it when the cascade of water is illuniated after the sun sets.  Originally designed and fitted with gas lamps, it was one of the first monuments in D.C. to be lit at night. Other than the fact that the lamps were later converted to electricity in 1915, the Barholdi Fountain remains the same popular evening destination that it has been since the 1880s.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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German-American Friendship Garden

The German-American Friendship Garden, where I went on this lunchtime bike ride, is located on a direct line of sight between the White House and The Washington Monument on the National Mall, at 1600 Constitution Avenue (MAP) between 15th and 17th Streets in northwest D.C. The ornamental garden’s design, developed by landscape architect Wolfgang Oehme, features plants indigenous to both Germany and the United States, and contains benches on which visitors can rest while enjoying the gardens.

The garden was commissioned in 1982 after a visit to D.C. by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. After the Chancellor’s visit, President Ronald Reagan created a Presidential commission to design and construct a garden to commemorate the tricentennial anniversary of the first German immigration to America, and celebrate 300 years of friendship between the United States and Germany. Later, the garden was dedicated at a ceremony in November of 1988, which was attended by both President Reagan and Chancellor Kohl during their last meeting together.

During his speech at the dedication ceremony President Reagan stated, “In a few months, I’ll be leaving the White House, but the garden, and all it represents, will remain, to be nurtured and sustained by the friendship between Germans and Americans.” Chancellor Kohl agreed in his response, calling the garden a symbol “of friendship and of solidarity which will have validity for the future.”

Eventually, the garden was in need of extensive restoration, so in 2013 an initiative was jointly launched by the German Embassy, the National Park Service, and the Association of German-American Societies of Greater Washington D.C.  Subsequently, new flower beds and other native plants were planted and revitalized in the fall of that year.  A new irrigation system was also installed, and the central square panel of the garden’s plaza was restored in keeping with Oehme’s original design.

The garden has been the site of annual celebrations on German-American Day, a holiday in the United States which began in 1883. The custom, observed each year on October 6th, died out during World War I as a result of the anti-German sentiment that prevailed at the time, but was revived during Reagan’s presidency in 1983 on the 100th anniversary of the first celebration.

Today, the German-American Friendship Garden’s ideal location in one of the city’s most well-travelled tourist areas provides it with an estimated seven million visitors passing by each year.  Unfortunately, most overlook the garden as they walk by it on their way to another destination.  So my recommendation is to make the garden a specific  destination so you don’t also miss out on all that it has to offer.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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The Annual Cherry Blossoms

I wrote last year in this blog about The Cherry Blossoms Around The Tidal Basin and along the Potomac River, but the spectacle of the thousands of trees at peak bloom is something that not only can but should be enjoyed every year. Unfortunately, the duration of the visual splendor of these delicate blooms is available for only a brief time, leading many to say that they are symbolic and serve to remind us of the beauty and brevity of life. Sadly, this year’s blossoms peaked earlier this week and are now gone. The wind and rain of the past few days have caused the trees to lose their blooms, forcing us to wait until next year to again experience the annual spectacle. However, in the meantime, I hope you will enjoy these photos (you can click on the photos to enlarge them and see them in their full size) which I took during my lunchtime bike rides during the past week.  As you do, think about the bright white and pink flowers which seem to be illuminated by the sunlight. Try to imagine their subtle yet sweet fragrance in the early morning hours as you watch the sun rise on the other side of The Washington Monument. Picture yourself sitting on one of the many park benches next to the twisted and gnarled trunk of one of the trees, while petals from the fleeting blossoms fall all around you.  Think about walking under the trees’ low hanging limbs while you traverse the waterside walkway surrounding the Tidal Basin.  And imagine the feel of a gentle breeze as you enjoy the rows of trees lining the trails and roads along the river.  Try to imagine these things and you’ll probably understand why I enjoy riding my bike around the city to enjoy the cherry trees, as well as all of the other attractions and experiences this area has to offer.

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The Ice Skating Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

The Ice Skating Rink at the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden

The circular reflecting pool at the center of the National Gallery of Art’s Sculpture Garden is transformed during the cold winter months each year into an outdoor ice skating rink. It has become an extremely popular winter destination, particularly for skating enthusiasts. And although I am not an ice skater myself, it was also my destination, at least for this lunchtime bike ride.

Ice skating has been a popular activity on the National Mall for well over a hundred years, with unofficial skating sites located at the Tidal Basin and The Reflecting Pool in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. However, the actual ice skating rink did not open until 1974. And it did not open in its current form until 1999. Because the ice rink had been operating at the site since for more than twenty years, it was included in the National Gallery of Art’s plans for the Sculpture Garden when it was conceived in 1996.

In its current location as part of the Sculpture Garden, visitors have the opportunity to skate while surrounded not only by the grand architecture of national museums and monuments, but by large outdoor sculptures and exhibits displayed by the National Gallery of Art. These sculptures include works by world-renowned artists, such as “Four-Sided Pyramid” by Sol LeWitt and Claes Oldenburg’s “Typewriter Eraser, Scale X“, to name just a couple. In all, there are nineteen works of modern and contemporary sculpture on the richly landscaped grounds surrounding the ice rink.

The ice rink can accommodate more than two hundred skaters, with a music system that brings vibrant sound to visitors on and off the ice. And at night, lighting further contributes to the festive atmosphere. This year, the gallery’s guest services will offer both skating and ice hockey lessons, for which students can register individually or with a group. There is also a snack shop named the Pavilion Café, which offers a panoramic view of the Sculpture Garden and ice rink in addition to a variety of food and beverages.

Located just off the National Mall at 700 Constitution Avenue (MAP) in downtown, D.C., the ice rink opened in mid-November and will remain open through March 16, 2015, weather permitting. The rink is open Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. On Sunday, it’s open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. The ice-skating rink will close at 5:00 p.m. Christmas Eve, and will be closed on December 25 and January 1. Admission for a two hour session costs $8 for adults. And if you don’t have your own skates, they can be rented for an additional $3. A season pass that covers unlimited access to the ice rink is also available for $195.

Whether you’re an avid skater or have never tried it before, I highly recommend visiting the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice Skating Rink at least once this winter. Who knows, you may enjoy it so much that, like many other people already have, you’ll want to make it an annual winter tradition.

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The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America

I rode aimlessly around D.C. on this ride, taking routes that I hadn’t taken before in an attempt to find something new that I didn’t know about.  And I did.  I found a monastery, named The Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America.  It’s located at 1400 Quincy Street (MAP) in northeast D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood.  Also known as the Monastery of Mount St. Sepulchre, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, and has been a place of worship and pilgrimage for thousands of visitors since the monastery and church’s dedication over a century ago.

Founded by Franciscan friars, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America is one of D.C.’s little-known and often overlooked gems, with a stunning neo-Byzantine style church with Romanesque influences at its center.  Known as the Memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre and designed by the Italian architect and engineer Aristide Leonori, the cornerstone was laid in 1898 and construction was completed the following year.  The floor plan of the church is based on the five-fold Crusader Cross of Jerusalem, and it is intended to resemble Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.  The Church was consecrated in September 1924, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of its dedication.

Greeting visitors as they enter through the main gate is a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi, who was born Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone in 1226.  Saint Francis was an Italian Catholic friar and preacher.  He founded the men’s Franciscan Order of which this monastery is affiliated, as well as the women’s Order of St. Clare, and the lay Third Order of Saint Francis.  Saint Francis is one of the most venerated religious figures in the history of Christianity.

Surrounding the church is the Rosary Portico, with 15 chapels commemorating the lives of Jesus and Mary. Each chapel contains artistic ceramic plaques bearing the Angelic Greeting, also known as the Hail Mary traditional Catholic prayer, in nearly 200 ancient and modern languages. The façade of the portico is decorated with early Christian symbols from the Catacombs, and is intended to be reminiscent of the cloister of the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in Rome and the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls.

Attached to the rear of the church is the monastery, built in the neo-Romanesque style. The meticulously landscaped monastery grounds contain replicas of shrines in the Holy Land, a labyrinth, as well as a greenhouse. In the early days of the monastery, the grounds were the site of a small farm, and also included a barn, grain silo, tool sheds and other outbuildings.  Today the grounds of the monastery contain beautiful gardens with more than 1,000 roses, as well as other flowers and plants.

I was able to park my bike and walk around the grounds of the monastery for a while.  It is a very beautiful and peaceful place, a true oasis within the city.  It was an enjoyable ride and experience, and I intend to go back again sometime soon.

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