Monday, January 12, 2015

Late Summer in Fern Valley (And the Capitol Columns)

As a distraction from the current frigid weather in the Washington D.C. metro area, I'm returning to photographs I took of Fern Valley, the U.S. National Arboretum's native plant collection, in August of last year.

In late summer, the shady forest that comprises the largest part of this garden is a peaceful reprieve from the heat.  August may not be as popular among visitors as the spring, when ephemeral wildflowers are blooming, but the woods are lush and verdant, offering a wide array of shades of green and leafy textures. There are some late summer flowers under the canopy too.

Lacy Maiden Hair Fern 
The waxy leaves of Nyssa sylvatica turn early to a brilliant red

The distinctive, rustic benches, bridges, and other structures in Fern Valley were designed and built by David Robinson, whose work also appears in Manhattan's Central Park and at Wave Hill, a public garden in the Bronx.

A branch of a Nyssa coloring before the rest of the tree 

Phlox blooming

Most of the plants grown in Fern Valley are straight species, but there is a newer section that includes cultivars like this Lobelia, which might be 'Fried Green Tomatoes,' a variety that has deep burgundy foliage.

The amazingly intricate passion flower.  Yes, it's hardy in Washington D.C. 

At the edge of the woods, a path leads to the meadow, a tangle of tall grasses and blooms on display from about the middle of summer until late fall.

The columns, which once stood at the east portico of the U.S. Capitol building, only a few miles away, offer a dramatic backdrop to many views within the Arboretum, including this one.  They have become an Arboretum icon and probably are one of the most photographed features. But how could they not be? They are the quintessential temple on a hill, like an ancient relic from an earlier civilization.

British landscape designer, Russel Page, sited the columns on a rise at the edge of the Ellipse, a 20-acre open field, and this prominent position makes them a nexus between several important Arboretum collections at the perimeter of the Ellipse -- the Herb Garden, Fern Valley, the Bonsai Museum, the Azalea Collection, and the Grove of State Trees.  And you will see the columns, at some point, as you visit each of these areas.  Here's a map of the grounds.

It is wonderful to be immersed in the wildness of the  meadow and then look up to find this immense classical structure in the distance.

I think this is the seed head of Adropogon gerardii, Big Bluestem.

There are big swaths of yellow composites in the meadow, which may include several species of Silphium, such as laciniata, mollis, and perfoliatum, as well as some Rudbeckia.  They are a show-stopping sea of yellow, which is usually alive with insects, and, if there's any breeze, it can be mesmerizing to watch the tall stems sway to and fro, and to listen to the soft rustling of their movement.

Then, if you need a rest from all that intense color and heat, you can slip back into the shade of tall Tulip poplars, Beech, and Hickories