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US National Arboretum


National Herb Garden: Plants for People

Rotating images of Herb garden

You may have thought that herbs are just for cooking.  Not so–an herb is any plant that serves a purpose other than providing food, wood, or beauty.  Herbs give us dyes for cloth, essential oils for fragrances, medicines, and even insecticides.  And herbs are not just annual or perennial plants–many of our most important herbal products come from trees and shrubs.  Every plant in the National Herb Garden, including all of the trees, is an herb.

The National Herb Garden began as a gift to the people of the United States from the Herb Society of America.  Members of the society also lobbied successfully for matching funds from Congress, and the National Herb Garden was constructed and dedicated in 1980 as a result.  It is the largest designed herb garden in the nation that includes annual, perennial, and woody herbal plants.

The Entrance Garden highlights seasonally changing beds with plants as exotic as tropical passion flowers or as commonplace as pansies.  In this part of the garden, the plantings change from year to year.  A circular plaza just inside the entrance is set off by a small pool and fountain; here the National Capitol Columns beckon you to traverse the meadow to get a closer look.  Nestled between two arbors is the Knot Garden where dwarf versions of Japanese holly, juniper, and arborvitae are woven into a graceful geometric design.  Beyond the grapevine-covered arbors, the Antique and Heritage Rose Garden is home to more than 100 varieties and species of roses that are important in the long history of rose cultivation and hybridization.  The heart of the National Herb Garden is the ten Theme Gardens where a wide variety of plants are brought together to illustrate the ways that herbs help us and their importance in different cultures.  The Dye Garden, Medicinal Garden, Culinary Garden, Fragrance Garden, Industrial Garden, and Beverage Garden feature the different ways in which herbs are important in our daily lives.  The Native American Garden, Colonial Garden, Asian Garden, and Dioscorides Garden depict the herbs that are important to different cultures and different historical periods.

Extensive collections of rosemary, lavender, scented geraniums, and salvias highlight the diversity of flavors, scents, and colors available in herbs.  Subtropical and tropical potted herbal plants adorn terraces and walkways during the growing season.  More than 50 varieties of peppers, some as hot as habaneros and others as mild as a sweet pepper grow in a single bed with fruits that provide a kaleidoscope of color in autumn.

The National Herb Garden is a captivating place to visit any time of the year.  Spring brings exuberance that peaks with the full bloom of the roses in May.  Summer heat urges plants in the Theme Gardens to maturity and invites you to touch textured leaves and sniff exotic aromas.  Autumn's shorter days bring the salvias into bloom and cover peppers with fiery-colored fruit.  The National Herb Garden is well designed with broad paths and gentle inclines that allow everyone to access the wealth of useful plants growing here.  Plan to spend at least an hour wandering around.  The National Bonsai & Penjing Museum and the Administration Building with its surrounding aquatic garden are just across Meadow Road. 

Please be sure to also visit our online National Herb Garden Virtual Tour.

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Last Updated   April 16, 2009 2:53 PM
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