You may have lived for decades somewhere in or near Washington D.C. and never strolled some of the 450 verdant acres that make up the U.S. National Arboretum, the largest green space in the District and one of the world’s loveliest gardens. 

I only had some vague idea about where it was and, in fact, I would describe it as a good bit off the beaten track.  Whether a tourist or a resident (or both!), you would be unlikely to stumble across it.  You really have to mean to find it.

Smack dab on ugly New York Avenue is the main entrance to a wooded wonderland of trees, flowering shrubs, and gardens. 

Find fern valleys, conifer forests, and a childrens’ garden. Clip-clop across arched bridges, take a break under a spreading evergreen on a gnarled wood bench, hear your own breathing against the babble of a creek.

Walk meandering pathways and forget that you are not miles from traffic and pollution—even though a certain walk leads to the edge of the dismally sad Anacostia carrying a flotilla of discarded water bottles and dirty flotsam.

Ten miles of gravel walks wind past 80,000 tagged plants and trees: dogwoods, magnolias, tulip poplars, cedar, redwood, birch.  You may not care about the names, come for the green breathing:  asters, camellias, verbena, the aptly named, but still pretty “bladdernut.” Read the tags or not; you will be charmed and calmed by your surroundings.

And save some gazing for the 22 Corinthian columns that appear, mirage-like, between the branches. Removed from the East Building of the Capitol and restored in 1958, the columns are un-ruined ruins, standing like artful sentries on a rise in the arboretum grounds.

From Andrew Jackson to Dwight D. Eisenhower, these pillars were the backdrop at ceremonies and inaugurations.  Now they stand in a sort of ghostly splendor.

Finish your afternoon with a picnic near the Asian bonsai museum and koi pond.

(A better thing, by far, to find in the water than an old plastic water bottle.)