Friendship Garden

The Friendship Garden is the first garden that visitors see when they enter the R Street Gate. It surrounds Arbor House, which was once a caretaker’s residence but is now home to the Friends of the National Arboretum and the National Bonsai Foundation. Appropriately, the Friendship Garden is perhaps the garden that homeowners can most easily relate to. The Arbor House looks like a suburban residence, and the gardens demonstrate the ideals of low-input landscaping: a diversity of beautiful plants with limited inputs of pesticides, fertilizer, water, and maintenance.

The design of the garden is the brainchild of renowned landscape architects Wolfgang Oehme and James van Sweden. It is a great example of their body of work known as The New American Garden, a movement that did much to popularize the use of ornamental grasses in landscapes in America. Ornamental grasses, hosts of daffodils and other spring bulbs, and a generous helping of evergreens give this garden interest in all seasons. Much of the garden requires no special care beyond regular weeding, watering, mulching, and the annual ritual of cutting back spent foliage.

An ornate structure known as the Garden House is sited in the shade of large white oaks in the back yard of the Arbor House. It was designed by Lethbridge and Associates and funded by the National Council of State Garden Clubs and is used for tool and equipment storage. Maintenance of the Friendship Garden is supported in part by the National Capital Area Federation of Garden Clubs.

Two pieces of garden sculpture can be seen in the Friendship Garden. John Cavanaugh’s sculpture Demeter, depicting the Greek goddess of agriculture, is nestled among grasses and heavenly bamboo along the walk to the entrance to Arbor House. To the rear of the garden, in an open space to the fore of the National Boxwood Collection, you can see Beverly Pepper’s abstract sculpture Split Ritual.


Although the Friendship Garden is as small as any suburban yard, you’ll want to budget fifteen minutes to a half hour to savor all the detail this landscape has to offer. Benches and seating areas are available for you to pause and be inspired to make your garden more environmentally friendly. Wide brick paths make the Friendship Garden easily accessible to all our visitors.