Monthly Archives: December 2016

Find the hidden beautiful gardens on Washington

Japanese cherry trees are the stars of spring in Washington, DC, when thousands of visitors flock to the Tidal Basin to stroll beneath billowy branches of pink and white blooms. But it’s not all about the cherries. Washingtonians have long prided themselves on their spring gardens, a tradition that stems back to colonial days, when homegrown fruits and vegetables – and a handful of decorative blooms for your windowsill – were a necessity of life. For those looking to soak in natural beauty without the crowds, here are some of Washington’s most inviting spring gardens.

 

Dumbarton Oaks

Famous landscape architect Beatrix Farrand designed this botanical panorama in northern Georgetown. At Dumbarton Oaks, each sweet-smelling garden is more beautiful than the next. Be sure to check the website (www.doaks.org) before your visit to see what’s in bloom, but must-sees include the Orangery, where the climbing ficus dates from the 1860s; the rose garden, arranged by color; the Prunus Walk with its flowering plums; and the Pebble Garden, best viewed from the terrace above to take in the intricate, swirling neo-baroque designs of grey and white stones. It’s a shame that picnicking isn’t permitted on the grounds.

 

River Farm

Did George Washington ever wander past the centuries-old Osage orange tree that dominates River Farm’s Garden Calm? It’s possible. The first president owned these 25 park-like acres along the Potomac River just south of DC, and the story goes that the tree was a gift from Thomas Jefferson to the Washington family. Among the pocket gardens here, you’ll find a grove of Franklin trees (extinct in the wild), an orchard of pear, apple and plum trees, and an azalea garden with a rainbow of different species. The American Horticultural Society (www.ahsgardening.org)  now resides in the restored estate house and hosts such popular events as the Spring Garden Market in April.

 

Hillwood Estate and Gardens

The 13 acres of magnificent floral gardens surrounding cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post’s gracious manse give visitors a taste of how the one percent might live. Each formal garden is designed as an outdoor “room,” with a progression leading from the rose garden, to the French parterre, to the Friendship Walk and so on. The gardens put on a spectacular, ever-changing show throughout the year, though spring is naturally the most breathtaking. Join a seasonal tour, or take in the blooms from the café terrace.

 

US National Arboretum

Some of the best cherry trees beyond the Tidal Basin reside at the US National Arboretum, where 446 acres of gardens offer a full dose of spring and very few tourists. Pick up a brochure at the arboretum and go on a self-guided tour to discover such diverse varieties as the early flowering “Dream Catcher,” the mid-season flowering “Pendula” (aka the weeping cherry), and the Yoshino, cultivated from cuttings from the original Tidal Basin beauties. Take the 40-minute tram tour for an overview.

Best accessed from rocky headlands

Sydney is famous for its surf beaches but there are many secluded hideaway beaches dotted all around the harbour. Some are more popular than others, depending on their accessibility, but our top tips are the diminutive Lady Martins Beach at Point Piper, not far from central Sydney and tucked between the salubrious suburbs of Double Bay and Rose Bay.

On the northern side of city, head for Balmoral Beach near Mosman. It is an excellent beach for families, with a netted enclosed swimming area and large shady Moreton Bay fig trees to escape the heat. Lastly, look for Collins Beach at Manly, a long circuitous walk from the Manly ferry pier, where you may well find yourself alone for a good part of the day.

 

Autumn sun

This may surprise many first-time travellers to Sydney, but autumn (March to May) is a perhaps the best time to hit the beach. Sydney is blessed with a fairly temperate climate so it can stay sunny and reasonably warm right into late May (the beginning of the Australian winter). It takes some months for the ocean to cool down to the same temperature as the land which means the sea can still be surprisingly warm even if days are not baking hot.

 

Rise and shine

You can beat the heat, and the summer hordes, by heading down to the Sydney’s most iconic surf spot, Bondi Beach, early in the morning. There’s nothing like watching the sun rise over the ocean, and you’ll be sharing the experience with locals surfing, running, and doing their early morning sun salutations. Bondi gets busier as the day wears on – by midday traffic can clog the main routes down to the shoreline. Book an early lunch at Icebergs, which overlooks the iconic ocean pool, then make your escape.

 

Go south

If you do hit Bondi in peak hour, you can also head south to Bronte and Coogee via a cliff-side walking path (unfortunately you won’t be the only one doing this walk!). Beyond Bondi there are further ocean pools for the less confident swimmers to take a paddle where you’re protected from sharks as well as the swell. You’ll still be swimming with the same breath-taking views of sandstone headlands, sea birds and the occasional band of whales ploughing their migration routes along the Pacific.