Formal gardens are carefully manicured, clearly man-made park spaces. They don't make any attempt to mimic nature, and they're not home to ballfields or blacktops. Instead, they're strolling spaces designed specifically to appeal to humans' sense of beauty. The Washington region is blessed with some of the best formal gardens in North America. Here are 12 of them.
1. Franciscan Monsastery
Brookland's Franciscan Monastery is a soaring cathedral-like building, with a lovely colonnade-enclosed garden in the front. Its rarely-crowded rose-lined walkways are ideal for a quiet contemplative stroll.
2. Brookside Gardens
This Montgomery County public park near Wheaton surely has the best tulip collection in the Washington area.
3. Bishop's Garden at National Cathedral
Most visitors to National Cathedral focus on the building itself, and for good reason. But the grounds are a delight too, in particular Bishop's Garden. It was designed by the famed Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., but in a much more formal style than the usual idealized-nature Olmstedian fare.
4. Hillwood Estate
The former home of Marjorie Merriweather Post is now a decorative arts museum, with fabulous gardens that feel like a slice of Europe. Unlike most other gardens on this list, Hillwood does require an entry fee.
5. US Botanic Garden grounds
The main event at the US Botanic Garden is the greenhouse conservatory building, but the grounds offer a mix of formal and informal outdoor gardens too. Don't miss the Bartholdi Fountain, across the street south of Independence Avenue.
6. National Arboretum Herb Garden
The US National Arboretum is a sprawling naturalist park, famous for its informal wooded groves and its stand of US Capitol columns. It does have a small formal herb garden, near the main R Street entrance.
7. Mount Vernon's Upper Garden
8. Haupt Garden at the Smithsonian Castle
This garden on the Independence Avenue side of Smithsonian Castle is by far the most ornately landscaped part of the National Mall. Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed over a proposal to bulldoze it.
9. Tudor Place
This oft-overlooked corner of Georgetown is an easy and wonderful respite from the bustle of Wisconsin Avenue.
10. Oatlands Plantation garden
11. Bon Air Park Rose Garden
Arlington's only formal garden is about a mile west of Ballston, next to Four Mile Run.
12. Dumbarton Oaks
For a spot that's frequently cited along Versailles on short-lists of best gardens in the entire world, shockingly few Washingtonians even know Dumbarton Oaks exists, much less have visited it. This breathtaking garden where Georgetown backs up against Rock Creek Park is an absolute must-see that's well worth the limited hours and entry fee.
While it may be true that as spring becomes summer, peak flower-blooming season is behind us, these gardens are all still marvelous places to stroll. What's your favorite? And did I miss any other good ones locally?