Down a Garden Path

Tavish in the garden

A public garden for every season!  Top left:  Spring’s peak azalea bloom at the National Arboretum in Washington, DC. Top right: Summertime Lily Fest at Kenilworth Aquatic Park & Gardens in Washington, DC. Bottom left: Autumn splendor in the Prairie at the Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Bottom right: Winter at the Orland E. White State Arboretum of Virginia in Boyce.


“In the marvelous month of May when all the buds were bursting,
then in my heart did love arise . . . .” — Heinrich Heine


Tavish at River Farm

Tavish at River Farm, home to the American Horticultural Society and–you guessed it–some pretty spiffy gardens!

April showers bring May flowers, and what better time to head into the garden? If not your own, then how about one of the hundreds of botanical gardens and arboreta throughout the country? Truth be told, public gardens are there for you year-round providing a feast for the senses, a tonic for the soul . . . and a great place to go for a long walk with your intrepid pup!

To celebrate public gardens, we’re providing a stroll down a virtual garden path, starting with a horticultural grande dame and then continuing on to a public garden for each of the four seasons, “hand-picked” from Intrepid Pup’s travels over the past year.

Our first stop is River Farm in Alexandria, Virginia. The grounds were once among George Washington’s extensive land holdings, later given to his wife’s niece as a wedding present. Although the property has changed hands many times over the centuries, since 1973 the historic and picturesque 25 acres along the banks of the Potomac River have been the national headquarters for the American Horticultural Society. Leashed dogs are welcome, and during our visit to River Farm, Intrepid Pup Tavish strolled through the same gates as did 28 U.S. presidents! The circa 1819 northeast ceremonial gates to the White House were relocated here in the late 1930s after a renovation project. Tavish explored the meadow and gazed out over the river. He also sized up the largest Osage-orange tree in the United States; at nearly 200 years of age, the famous tree is believed to be a gift from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington. Finally, while we will neither confirm nor deny, it’s highly probable that Tavish photo-bombed some newlyweds’ formal pictures—the Estate House on the grounds is a popular wedding venue.

Onward to our seasonal picks . . .

Dogging the Details

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter means

These excursions register as a “1” on the Intrepid Pup wag-a-meter, because they’re as easy as a walk in the park!

Just get up and go.



Tavish at the U.S. National Arboretum

U.S. National Arboretum: Tavish stands sentinel in the Grove of State Trees (top) with the closest one being Vermont’s sugar maple. (Below) Giving a “stump speech” along the azalea walk.

38°54′30.65″ N,  76°58′18.95″ W
U. S. National Arboretum, Washington, DC
Free admission; leash required

Go for the azaleas, but stay (and plan your return trips) for everything else. Intrepid Pup has previously chronicled the National Arboretum’s iconic azalea bloom—a riot of color which traditionally reaches peak in late April/early May—but spring is many-splendored here. There are bulbs and flowering cherries. Dogwoods and lilacs. Herbs and bonsai trees.

Intrepid Pup Tavish is particularly a sucker for the 30-acre expanse that is the National Grove of State Trees. Because of the District of Columbia’s relatively temperate climes, almost all the official state trees thrive here, even though they were acquired directly from their representative states. Seemingly no trip to the arboretum is complete for Tavish without rolling around in the grove’s long, cool grass.

On our most recent visit, a section of the arboretum was temporarily cordoned off but for the best of reasons:  for the first time in nearly 70 years, a pair of bald eagles had built a nest! There were bird watchers galore craning to get a glimpse so instead we headed up onto the hillside paths that meander through the azalea collection. We took lots of photos, and Tavish’s aptitude for posing drew lots of bemused smiles and questions, not to mention people taking pictures of us taking pictures!

Tavish at Lilyfest

Like stepping into a real-life Monet canvas: Tavish at Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens’ annual Lily Fest

38°54′45.50″N,  76°56′31.24″W
Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens
, Washington, DC
Free admission; leash required

Tell folks you’re heading into these sultry gardens in the middle of a humid Washington, DC summer, and people are bound to think you’re already suffering from heatstroke. But . . . the rewards are the magnificent lotus flowers and water lilies. Kenilworth is the only National Park Service site devoted to the cultivation of aquatic plants—you’ll want to read our earlier post about the site’s unique history.

The freshwater plants bloom in late June and July, and when they do, it’s like being immersed in a Claude Monet painting with sun-dappled greens and bursts of white and pale pink. But a word to the wise: go before the heat of the day, because as soon as the temperatures hit the high 80s/low 90s, the delicate blossoms shut until the next morning. Be sure to bring along plenty of water for you and your pup so you both don’t wilt!

We timed our visit with the park’s annual Lily Fest cultural event in mid July. As bands played, we wandered the boardwalks. The lotus flowers towered over us, and dragonflies zoomed by in their herky-jerky version of floral connect-the-dots. A pretty surreal way to enjoy this urban oasis!


Nichols Arboretum

(Top) At the Arb’s Washington Heights entrance with the Urban Environmental Education Center in the background. (Bottom) A warm autumn afternoon along the Huron River.

42°16’50.07″N,  83°43’36.55″W
Nichols Arboretum, Ann Arbor, Michigan
Free admission; leash required

Affectionately known as “the Arb,” Nichols Arboretum is managed by the University of Michigan, its undeniable main draw since 1927 being its world-famous peonies. When they peak in late May/early June, there can be as many as 10,000 flowers in 270 varieties—the largest collection in North America. Sadly, we missed this spectacle by about five months, but we discovered that the Arb is beautiful in October, too. We visited on a weekday afternoon when university classes were in session and didn’t have too much difficulty finding free parking near the Washington Heights entrance. Team Tavish had been on the road and visiting with relatives for a couple of days, so this stopover was a chance for Tavish to really stretch his legs and burn off some energy. We passed the dormant peony beds and a whimsical Faerie Garden, heading gently downhill. The trail entered woodland and then skirted the Huron River. Tavish dipped his paws in and was fixated on a large crayfish chilling out in the shallows. Reluctantly Tavish left the river’s edge only to be equally fascinated by the open Prairie section that followed. The tall grasses had turned golden with autumn, and it was hard to believe we were so close to a bustling college campus. We circled back through the shaded Hawthorn Valley, ultimately covering about three miles.

Tavish at Virginia State Arboretum

Tavish exploring the State Arboretum of Virginia.

39° 3’51.72″N,  78° 3’51.67″W
Orland E. White State Arboretum of Virginia, Boyce, Virginia
Free admission; leash required within 200 yards of parking areas and/or any of the public buildings

The University of Virginia manages this 172-acre arboretum as part of the larger, 712-acre Blandy Experimental Farm. Located in the northern Shenandoah Valley, the arboretum is only 60 miles west of the nation’s capital but feels a world away for as little as it resembles metro Washington’s urban sprawl. The gardens originated in 1927 but weren’t dubbed the State Arboretum until 1986.

Four walking loop trails originate from the main parking lot and range in length from 0.75 to 2 miles. Longer still is a 7.5-mile bridle trail that winds throughout Blandy. Unlike many public gardens, dogs are allowed off leash throughout most of the site, provided that they don’t disrupt wildlife or the plantings. Additional caveats are that your dog must be under immediate voice control and be put on a leash when within 200 yards of the parking areas or any of the public buildings. As a dog-friendly locale, pet waste stations are provided.

We visited on a sunny February afternoon just ahead of a stormy cold front. Nothing was in bloom, but the vast grounds still exuded a stark and vaguely haunting beauty. We encountered a few other hearty walkers and dogs as we made our way around. Birds scrabbled over winter berries, and evidence of deer was in abundance. In addition to manicured landscapes were test plots where various studies were underway, including research to create a more disease-resistant chestnut tree. The highlight for Tavish was the open landscape flanking the Wilkins Lane Loop Drive. The scrub grasses—bleached and brittle from winter—put Tavish on high alert, and he bounded in, picking up on scents of upland game that only his nose could.

Outdoors and on the Water

Pohick BayAre you indoors reading this?  If so, take it outside!

Today, June 9th, is officially National Get Outdoors Day (GO!). If you regularly follow Tavish the Intrepid Pup, you already know his affinity for being out and about, and he needs no further invitation to get outside. But the goals of “GO!” are to encourage first-time visitors to public lands and to reconnect youth to nature. “GO!” is one of a growing number of public initiatives in recent years to embrace such themes. Richard Louv’s best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods, sounded the alarm in 2008 about “nature-deficit” and the corollaries with childhood obesity, attention disorders, and more. As we’ve become more plugged in to what’s on a screen than what’s in our backyard, entities as disparate as the U.S. Forest Service (More Kids in the Woods), the NFL (Play60), the National Wildlife Federation (Be Out There), and First Lady Michelle Obama (Let’s Move!) have launched national campaigns to help reverse this trend.

There’s no doubt that Tavish’s own need for exercise and activity has helped members of Team Tavish maintain healthier lifestyles. And while Tavish’s exploits have gotten him outdoors in more than a dozen different states, it’s important to point out that connecting to nature needn’t be complicated nor involve expensive travel plans to far-flung locales. So in that spirit, we’re highlighting below a simple, low-cost excursion that took us to a regional park for an all-new outdoor experience for Tavish. In other words, if you can’t replicate this exact itinerary, we’re pretty sure you can do something similar in most parts of the country. So, hurry outside and enjoy!

Dogging the Details

38°40′25.27″ N, 77°9′55.13″ W
Pohick Bay Regional Park, Lorton, Virginia

Click to see what 2 on the Wag-A-Meter meansTavish has been on several boats (car ferries, tour boats, etc.) over the years, but he’d never been on anything of the “personal watercraft” variety… until his visit to Pohick Bay Regional Park. The park is one of 24 administered by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. Its other claim to fame is that it’s the terminus of the Occoquan Water Trail, an extraordinary 40-mile route along two tributary waterways of the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition to having woodland hiking paths, a marina, and expansive picnic areas, Pohick Bay Regional Park seasonally offers boat rentals for really reasonable hourly and day rates. If you don’t own a boat, it’s a great way to test out paddle boards, pedal boats, canoes, kayaks, sailboats and jon boats. Better yet, at this particular park you can bring your dog along on the rental! Intrepid Pup has an affinity for the water—ocean, stream, pond, you name it!—but he’s ultimately more of an enthusiastic splasher/wader than an active swimmer. At 45 lbs, a freaked out Tavish scrambling around on a canoe or sit-upon kayak offshore could be problematic. So since we didn’t quite know how he’d react to being out on the water, we opted for the stability of a jon boat. It’s essentially a sturdy, flat-bottomed metal rowboat with a low center of gravity (read: clunky tub really hard to capsize). Turns out we needn’t have worried as Tavish was more than happy to situate himself as close to the edge as possible to take in the scenery while one of us rowed (see photo above).

Clearly this was one outing where we expended way more energy than the Intrepid Pup did, but we got a good workout, saw several osprey and herons, and—perhaps most importantly—happily confirmed that boating with Tavish was something we could do again. We’d dearly love to get the Intrepid Pup out in a kayak, and the top choice (although it’s not among the rentals at Pohick Bay) to try would be Perception Kayaks’ new recreational model, the Prodigy 13.5. Its over-sized cockpit and a second removable half-seat are specifically designed with a “small companion” (be it a child or a dog) in mind. Brilliant!

The combination of a low boat rental rate and a high degree of fun earns this excursion a “2” on the Intrepid Pup’s Wag-a-Meter. Key things bring along for yourself include a snack, water, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. For your dog, keep plenty of water aboard. Tavish’s short coat makes him especially susceptible to sunburn and/or overheating, so we had lots of water available for him to drink out of his collapsible travel bowl, and we made sure we didn’t stay out too long in the heat of day. One final note: Tavish wears a life vest when he’s on the water. Intrepid or no, it’s a wise move and potential life saver for humans and dogs alike.

Thanks, Teddy!

Tavish at Roosevelt Island If you’re as big a fan of America’s national parks as Tavish the Intrepid Pup, then National Park Week is like having Christmas, a birthday, and the 4th of July all rolled into one. In 2012 National Park Week runs from April 21 through April 29. Jointly promoted by the National Park Service (NPS) and the National Park Foundation—the parks’ official charity—National Park Week collectively celebrates the 84 million acres preserved as “America’s best idea” by offering free admission to all 397 national park sites throughout the country. To be fair, more than 250 of these are free year-round, but in going fee free system-wide for a week, cost simply can’t be an excuse for not visiting a national park. So, in the spirit of Intrepid Pup:  “Come! Adventures Await.”©

Throughout the week, Intrepid Pup will highlight various NPS sites he’s visited recently, so check back often! In the meantime, we’re starting with the Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial because, seriously, where better to step off National Park Week than the place dedicated to the guy who first made the environment and national parks central to domestic policy?

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) became the the youngest man to ascend to the U.S. presidency, taking over when President McKinley’s term ended prematurely with an assassin’s bullet. While Roosevelt can’t lay claim to designating Yellowstone the country’s first national park (President Grant had that honor in 1872) or even to establishing the National Park Service (President Wilson got the credit in 1916), he arguably did more to shape the tenor of American resource conservation than any president before or since. During Roosevelt’s 1901-1909 tenure as the 26th president of the United States, he created five national parks and established the U.S. Forest Service. With the passage of the 1906 Antiquities Act he provided the precedent and legislative vehicle for presidents to protect historically significant sites as National Monuments…of which he then personally authorized 18. All told, among national forests, parks, game preserves, bird reservations and national monuments Roosevelt amassed a legacy of preserving a staggering 230 million acres of public land.

To visit Roosevelt Island today is to step onto a sylvan oasis. Wedged between Virginia and the District of Columbia’s banks of the Potomac River, this 88-acre dollop has had a schizophrenic past:  Inhabited by 16th-century Native Americans. Overtaken by various colonials in the 18th century. Owned by George Mason (author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights) and later by his son in the early 19th century for entertaining high society in a summer house built upon its ridge. Utilized by the 1st U.S. Colored Troops as a Civil War mustering ground in 1863. Cherished as a safe haven for escaped and freed slaves fleeing the South between May 1864 and June 1865.

The Roosevelt connection didn’t come until the 1930s, when the Theodore Roosevelt Association acquired the island and promptly transferred title to the National Park Service. Initial efforts to create the only capital-area memorial to Roosevelt involved the Civilian Conservation Corps removing invasive vegetation and planting nearly 20,000 native trees. Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. (1870-1957) was enlisted to come up with an overall design. Various issues hampered progress, including World War II, and the project wasn’t resumed until the 1960s. Though Olmsted had passed away in the intervening years, many of his original ideas like a Memorial Plaza and foot trails survived the final plan put forth by Eric Gugler (1889-1974). Paul Manship (1885-1966)—perhaps better remembered for his Prometheus Fountain in New York City’s Rockefeller Center—designed the 17-foot bronze statue of Roosevelt ultimately dedicated on the site in 1967.

In Tavish’s visits to the island, we invariably begin at the expansive Memorial Plaza where Roosevelt stands at the far end, backed by a 30-foot granite shaft, right arm raised above his head as if he were in the midst of an animated speech. Four 21-foot granite tablets bear Roosevelt quotations under the headings of Nature,  Manhood, Youth, and The State. Three trails (Swamp, Woods, and Upland) radiate from the plaza; none are longer than 1.3 miles. Except for a traffic helicopter’s shadow raking through the tree canopy or the dull roar of a Dc-9 following the river southward on its final approach to Ronald Reagan-Washington National Airport, you’d never believe you’re so close to the city. Don’t go expecting dazzling waterfront views; for most of the year, heavy foliage occludes shoreline panoramas of the Kennedy Center, the Watergate and Georgetown. The Potomac River is tidal but it’s fresh water that infiltrates the marshland skirting the Swamp Trail’s boardwalk. On our most recent jaunt yesterday, yellow irises were in bloom. Low tide had temporarily marooned minnows in the shallows. We spotted numerous marsh birds and encountered three deer grazing on green tendrils mere feet from the boardwalk. Two salamanders basking in the sun skittered away when we approached.

Roosevelt Island is one of five NPS sites—if you don’t count his visage on Mount Rushmore—specifically honoring our 26th President. (Intrepid Pup bonus points if you can name the others! Answers are below.*) In hiking the island,  Roosevelt’s foresight for preserving parkland is readily appreciated. As one of his quotations chiseled in the nearby stone states:

“The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets
which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.”

Thanks, Teddy!

Dogging the Details

38°53′50.70″N, 77°3′50.22″W
 Theodore Roosevelt Island National Memorial, Virginia

Click to see what a "1" on the Wag-a-meter means By car, one can only reach the parking lot for Roosevelt Island from the northbound lanes of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. The  lot serves as a trailhead for runners and cyclists on more far-flung journeys along the Mount Vernon and Potomac Heritage Trails. Though most who park here likely never cross the pedestrian bridge onto the island, the grounds nonetheless attract a fair share of walkers and joggers. Dogs are permitted on the island but must be on a 6-foot leash at all times. As always, pick up after your dog. Trash receptacles are understandably sparse along the island’s trails but are abundant in the parking area.

Be aware that low-lying areas of the island flood easily, and sections of trail are seasonally boggy or otherwise closed. Consult the bulletin board on the island side of the pedestrian bridge for current trail info.  Bear right and make the first left uphill to view the Memorial Plaza; otherwise stay right to embark on the Swamp Trail that encircles the island. The Island scores a “1” on the Intrepid Pup Wag-a-Meter for its easy hiking.

*The other four Roosevelt-related NPS sites are Roosevelt National Park (North Dakota), the Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site (New York City), Sagamore Hill National Historic Site (Oyster Bay, NY), and the Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site (Buffalo, NY).

The Road to Freedom

Tavish at the Freedmen's Memorial

It’s April 16th. In the District of Columbia, kids have the day off from the school, and DC government offices are closed. A parade has concluded, but the street festival will continue, culminating in a fireworks display just a few hours from now. What’s the occasion? DC Emancipation Day: widely celebrated for years but only officially made a DC public holiday by Mayor Anthony Williams in 2005.

While Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1863, is what always makes the cut to be on virtually any timeline of the American Civil War, the fact of the matter is that the emancipation of slaves really began 8 1/2 months earlier. Presented with the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act—first introduced by Massachusetts senator Henry Wilson in December 1861—President Lincoln signed it into law on April 16, 1862. The stroke of his pen granted instant freedom to 3,100 slaves in the nation’s capital and ended the abhorrent anomaly that slaves could be bought and sold within sight of the very bastions of a federal government simultaneously struggling to save a divided nation at war. The “compensated” portion of the Act entailed the government remunerating slave owners loyal to the Union with up to $300 for each slave; the government ultimately paid out nearly $1 million through a process managed by a three-person Emancipation Commission. In addition, former slaves were offered a $100 incentive should they opt to emigrate from the country, namely to Liberia or Haiti.

Lincoln must have had some satisfaction in enacting the legislation, since he had long believed gradual, compensated emancipation to be viable option in trying to run the gauntlet between outright abolition and the all-important preservation of the Union. Yet, interestingly, the compensation factor so prevalent in the DC act did not carry over to the more sweeping Emancipation Proclamation.

While the Freedmen’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln (pictured here during the Intrepid Pup’s recent visit) was actually erected in response to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, it’s equally relevant to remember it on today’s 150th anniversary of the DC Emancipation. Blocks from the Capitol Building in a park that was once the site of a Civil War hospital, the monument rises, a pedestal topped with a sculpture grouping designed by Thomas Ball (1819-1911). It depicts a newly-emancipated male slave kneeling before Abraham Lincoln. At the base, in capital letters, is the single word: EMANCIPATION. The memorial has been roundly criticized as reinforcing notions of paternalism, supplication and subservience. Indeed, the monument presents an image jarring to 21st-century sensibilities. As a run-up to this year’s 150th anniversary DC Emancipation festivities, the Washington Post just ran an article that included the Freedmen’s Memorial; one reader who’d grown up a stone’s throw from the park responded online, “I never liked that statue. Even as a child, I always thought they should be shaking hands.” But it’s also important to place the memorial within its historical context. As the plaque affixed to the rear of the monument reads:

Freedom’s Memorial
In grateful memory of Abraham Lincoln

This monument was erected by the Western Sanitary Commission of Saint Louis MO:
with funds contributed solely by emancipated citizens of the United States declared free by his proclamation January 1st A.D. 1863.
The first contribution of five dollars was made by Charlotte Scott a freed woman of Virginia being her first earnings in freedom and consecrated by her suggestion and request on the day she heard of President Lincoln’s death to build a monument to his memory.

The monument was dedicated on April 14, 1876, the 11th anniversary of Lincoln’s assassination. Frederick Douglass gave the keynote address before a reported crowd of 25,000. It’s clear from his remarks that he thought of the statue much more as a memorial to Lincoln than as a monument to the act of emancipation, and privately he, too, apparently expressed disappointment at how the figures were portrayed. Then, as now, public art encourages exploration and invites discussion.

Dogging the Details

38°53′23.26″N,  76°59′24.76″W
Freedmen’s Memorial Monument to Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Park, Washington, DC

wag-a-meter set at 2As noted in an earlier Intrepid Pup posting related to Lincoln Park, the site of this statue is exceptionally dog-friendly (earning it a “2” on the Intrepid Pup Wag-a-Meter), with many people using it as a de facto dog park. It’s important to mention, however, that this is not an officially-designated city dog park. Rather, it’s maintained by the National Park Service, and the expected rules of conduct apply (e.g. keep your dog under your personal control and clean up).

The park is located at 12th Street and Massachusetts Avenue, NE and an easy walk due east from the U.S. Capitol. If arriving by car on a weekday, it’s not difficult to find free 2-hour parking nearby along the residential side streets.