Just across Independence Avenue from the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory is a favorite “secret” garden of many Washingtonians. Bartholdi Gardens demonstrate a variety of sustainable features such as rain gardens, reuse of onsite materials, native plants, and locally-sourced furniture. Through the use of sustainable design and practices, gardeners and homeowners can make a positive impact on the environment and their community.
Part of the U.S. Botanic Garden campus since 1932 when it was created, Bartholdi Fountain and Gardens is a two-acre garden that showcases innovative plant combinations in a variety of styles and design themes.
In warm weather, enjoy the centerpiece of the Gardens, the Fountain of Light and Water, commonly called the Bartholdi Fountain in homage to its creator Frederic Auguste Bartholdi. The surrounding garden was renamed in Bartholdi’s honor in 1985. The cast-iron fountain weighs more than 15 tons and stands 30 feet tall. The lights surrounding its basin are illuminated at night.
Bartholdi Gardens is a refuge from the stresses of the city. A variety of benches, tables, and chairs offer shade in the summer and sheltered sunlight in the winter. The Kitchen Garden shows food cultivation in an urban environment. Be it a large backyard or a small patch of ground, a balcony, or just a sunny apartment window, edible plants can be grown to use for home cooking.
Originally, the beds in the garden were geometrically arranged and planted in formal classical style to feature the fountain and to accommodate public gatherings. Bartholdi Fountain and Gardens were redesigned in 2016 as a Sustainable SITES Initiative™ pilot project, to include different garden styles and plant options that all can be achieved using SITES guidelines. Each demonstration area is a synergistic solution for dynamic and holistic systems that can be translated for the home gardener, helping improve garden design and maintenance practices nationwide.
Bartholdi Fountain and Gardens Photos
Bartholdi Fountain and Gardens was redesigned in 2016 as a Sustainable SITES Initiative (SITES) pilot project, to include different garden styles and plant options that all can be achieved using SITES guidelines. Each demonstration area is a synergistic solution for dynamic and holistic systems that can be translated for the home gardener, helping improve garden design and maintenance practices nationwide.
Bartholdi Gardens achieved SITES Gold certification for its sustainability strategies, and was the first project in Washington, D.C. to be certified under SITES version 2. SITES is the most comprehensive system for designing, developing and maintaining sustainable land. It serves as a guide for sustainable landscaping and land development in a similar way to the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED green building program. The USBG led the development of SITES along with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin and the American Society of Landscape Architects.
The SITES Renovation focused on the key areas of water, soil, plants, materials, and human health:
Water: Ten rain gardens capture 100 percent of rainfall on the site and allow it to soak into the ground, diverting runoff from D.C.’s combined sewer system. The rain gardens can accept up to 4,000 cubic feet of water in a 24-hour storm event – equivalent to 256 bathtubs of water. The project also used permeable paving and reduced the amount of impervious surface.
Plants: The gardens showcase plants native to the Mid-Atlantic region and a collection of edible plants in permanent and seasonal plantings in a new kitchen garden. The project team was able to save multiple large trees and shrubs on site; other plants were reused on Capitol Hill and in D.C. Public Schools.
Soil: Topsoil was removed and saved off-site, then returned to the Gardens for the new plantings. In areas where plants were saved, the soil was also protected from compaction.
Materials: Existing concrete sidewalks were crushed and used as the base layer under new sidewalks. Previous stone walls were disassembled and their stones were reused in the new walls for the raised kitchen garden. Flagstone from previous pathways was also salvaged to create new paths. The Gardens’ locally sourced seating and tables were built from white oaks that had fallen naturally during a storm.
Human Health: Additional seating, a water fountain, and bicycle parking were added. The creation of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial across Washington Avenue presented an opportunity to collaborate with the National Park Service, and educational and therapeutic programs for veterans and active-duty soldiers were developed for the space.
The story of the SITES renovation is shared through interpretive signage throughout the Gardens, providing inspiration for how to apply these principles at home. A Field Journal, an interactive booklet for young visitors, focuses on the Gardens’ plants and sustainability. It can be picked up free-of-charge at the Conservatory’s Information Desk. Check Programs & Events for tours and other programming at Bartholdi Fountain and Gardens.
Since the U.S. Botanic Garden’s creation 200 years ago, one of the Garden’s primary functions has been growing and demonstrating plants to tell the story of agriculture and economic plants to the public.