Surrounded by Beauty, Consumed by Joy: My Visit to the U.S. Botanic Garden

If you lean closer to learn
how water climbs into a Flower
You will hear the Moon sing in the Night of Roots.
–Pablo Neruda

Simple pleasures . . . a kind word from a friend, a heart-felt compliment from a loved one, an expression of gratitude from a former student.  Simple pleasures . . .  a glass of ice-cold sweet tea, a plate of coconut shrimp drizzled in orange marmalade, a decadent slice of raspberry cheesecake.  Simple pleasures . . . a thunderstorm at dawn, a cooling breeze in the afternoon heat, a purple-orange sunset over the lake.

And flowers.

Whether those flowers are sitting in a vase on my kitchen counter, growing in the garden at my doorstep, or sprouting in the roadside ditches on my way to work, seeing their riotous colors splashed against a backdrop of emerald green makes me smile with a simple joy and fills me with a deep-breathing tranquility.  One little, yellow daisy slanting toward the morning sun has the power to lift the heaviest of moods; one purple wildflower swaying in the wind has the ability to erase the most troublesome of worries.  If only for mere moments, I am at peace.

Recently I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon with friends at the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C., one of the most beautiful, most peaceful places I have ever visited.  Paradise.  I want to go back (again and again), for the sweet bliss I experienced in that floral sanctuary carried over into the remainder of my trip, boarded the plane home with me, and still awakens whenever I look at the pictures from my visit.  If ever you find yourself exploring the sites in D.C., please add the Botanic Garden to your itinerary; you won’t regret it.  (For more information, visit

Such political notables as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson dreamed of creating a botanic garden in our nation’s capital.  The dream became a reality when the United States Botanic Garden (USBG) was established by Congress in 1820 with the approval of President Monroe.  Originally, five acres were set aside for the establishment of this living plant museum, located on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, but since that time the USBG has grown to include the Conservatory, the Frederick Auguste Bartholdi Park (named for the designer of the Park’s main attraction, the Bartholdi Fountain), the National Garden, and the Production Facility.

One of the oldest botanic gardens in the world, the USBG is home to almost 10,000 living specimens from around the world, some of them over 165 years old.  In addition to housing, cultivating and displaying such a wide variety of plants, it also promotes plant preservation by serving as a repository for endangered species.  And while the USBG offers an extensive collection of attractive displays throughout the year, it also features a variety of rotating floral exhibits.  During our visit, we were fortunate to witness the beauty of the annual exhibit “Orchid Mystique: Nature’s Triumph.”

While we did stroll through Bartholdi Park, most of our visit was spent soaking up the splendor of the Conservatory.  And we simply ran out of time and were unable to explore   the National Garden, which includes a garden of plants native to the region, as well as a First Ladies’ water garden, an elaborate rose garden, and a butterfly garden.  Next time.

In my English-teacher mind, the mesmerizing beauty of flowers and the powerful beauty of words are intertwined.  Perhaps the two became inseparable in me when I was teaching the early Greeks’ mythological explanations for the miracle of such loveliness, a true gift from the gods.  In particular, I loved sharing with them the story of Persephone and Hades:

Hades, the god of the underworld, had seen from afar the beautiful Persephone and had fallen hopelessly in love with her.  Persephone, the goddess of spring and the only daughter of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, was unaware that she had attracted the attentions of the King of the Underworld.  Hades called upon his brother Zeus to help him entice Persephone, so while she was picking flowers in a meadow, Zeus placed before her the most glorious, most fragrant purple blooms she had ever seen.  Unable to resist the desire to fill her basket with such unusual beauty, Persephone reached for the flowers . . . and just then a chasm opened in the earth, and Hades on his horse-drawn chariot grasped her to him, carrying her away to the world of the dead.

From Olympus, Demeter heard her daughter’s cries and flew to the earth, searching for Persephone for nine days before learning the truth of her disappearance; in her grief at such knowledge, Demeter withheld her gifts from the earth and plunged it into frozen devastation.  Finally Zeus intervened, attempting to turn Demeter from her anger and her grief, but to no avail; she would not allow a single seed to sprout until she had been reunited with her daughter.  And so it was that Hades was forced to relinquish his bride instead, but only for four months of the year (which became known as spring); for the other eight months Persephone would reside in the Underworld as his queen.  It was small comfort to Demeter, whose joy at seeing her daughter rise from the dead each spring was always tinged with the sad knowledge of where Persephone had been and where she would be returning.

Once an English teacher, always an English teacher.  I leave you with a poem and a few of my photos from the United States Botanic Garden, along with accompanying quotes I found to be appropriate.  May peace (and beauty and joy) be with you.

Song of the Flower XXIII
by Khalil Gibran

I am a kind word uttered and repeated
By the voice of Nature;
I am a star fallen from the
Blue tent upon the green carpet.
I am the daughter of the elements
With whom Winter conceived;
To whom Spring gave birth; I was
Reared in the lap of Summer and I
Slept in the bed of Autumn.

At dawn I unite with the breeze
To announce the coming of light;
At eventide I join the birds
In bidding the light farewell.

The plains are decorated with
My beautiful colors, and the air
Is scented with my fragrance.

As I embrace Slumber the eyes of
Night watch over me, and as I
Awaken I stare at the sun, which is
The only eye of the day.

I drink dew for wine, and hearken to
The voices of the birds, and dance
To the rhythmic swaying of the grass.

I am the lover’s gift; I am the wedding wreath;
I am the memory of a moment of happiness;
I am the last gift of the living to the dead;
I am a part of joy and a part of sorrow.

But I look up high to see only the light,
And never look down to see my shadow.
This is wisdom which man must learn.

NOTE: To see a larger version of any picture, simply click on it.  And please remember that all photos are copyrighted and can’t be used without my permission (I’m bossy like that).


“I must have flowers, always, and always.”–Claude Monet


“To see a world in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”–William Blake

bot11“Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair.”–Susan Polis Schutz

bot14“In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends.”
–Kakuzo Okakura, The Book of Tea

bot21I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
~Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Afternoon on a Hill”

bot20“Just living is not enough.  One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
–Hans Christian Anderson

botanic17“Flowers … are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty
outvalues all the utilities of the world.”–Ralph Waldo Emerson

bot28“Give me odorous at sunrise a garden of beautiful flowers
where I can walk undisturbed.”–Walt Whitman

wildflowers 008I didn’t want to pose for this picture, but after I saw it, I was glad I did because the joy I was feeling was so apparent. A memory preserved.  (Photo by Jamie Adams)

About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
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10 Responses to Surrounded by Beauty, Consumed by Joy: My Visit to the U.S. Botanic Garden

  1. Jamie Adams says:

    Great post! I have not read Khalil Gibran’s work! A new poet to discover! Thank you. And I’ve always loved the story of Persephone. My favorite picture is the sixth one… And yes, I remember you were reluctant to pose for the photograph. I am glad you did because now you have a wonderful reminder!

    • RayEtta says:

      Several years ago a friend in California sent me a copy of works of Khalil Gibran’s work. I read the whole thing. It is different but worth reading, there is a lot of beauty to it.

      • I’ve not read his entire works–just bits and pieces–and I agree with your assessment; he has much to offer if you can be open to his way of thinking. I think Jamie will find him to be interesting and thought-provoking!

  2. Thank you, Jamie … and I’m glad I could introduce you to a new poet (although, I have to warn you that Gibran appeals to the hippie chick in me, so he may be a little “out there” for you!), and I’m thrilled that you remembered the story of Persephone. The sixth picture, with its tiny white flowers, is very simple and soft compared to all the other vibrance; I can see why it would be appealing. And thanks again for MY photo in “my” happy place …

  3. Wonderful images – both in the photos and the poetry. Thanks!

  4. Kip Light says:

    Thanks, once again, for sharing your thoughts and the wonderful poetry and pictures. If not for your blog, I’m pretty sure I would never have seen some of those flowers (I really need to get out more, lol).

    • Thank you, Kip. With retirement just around the corner now, I’m hoping I will have time to do even more sharing in the days ahead. And if not for my trip to the Botanic Garden, I would never have seen most of those flowers, either.

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