Even the professionals need a jolt of design inspiration once in a while.

When Shelley Russell, landscape designer at Level Green Landscaping, needs design inspiration, she heads to one of her favorite area botanical gardens or arboretums.

“It’s always good to get out and see how plants are actually growing, get ideas for new plants and discover different plant combinations,” Russell says.

“If a client wants a magnolia, I can think back to which ones I loved at the national arboretum.”

Russell uses her camera or smart phone to snap photos as she strolls. Bonus: at most of these public gardens, the plants are labeled. So you’ll know exactly what to hunt down.

Here’s a look at some of Russell’s favorite DC-area spots for design inspiration:

Washington DC:

Washington DC landscape design inspiration

Dumbarton Oaks

The rose garden alone is reason to visit this historic estate in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington D.C.

About 900 roses flourish here, featuring pinks, reds, and whites in the southern end to oranges and yellows in the northern part of the garden.

Lots of inviting nooks, terraces and bloom-strewn paths beckon.

“I love to go there in spring, when the cherry trees are blooming,” Russell says. “The wisteria is also amazing!”

U.S. National Arboretum

There’s a bit of everything here: aquatic plants, an Asian collection, native plants, flowering trees, a conifer collection, a bonsai museum, the National Grove of State Trees, and the National Herb Garden.

Visitors come here from all over to marvel at one of Washington’s premier spring attractions: thousands of azaleas covering the flanks of Mount Hamilton in a blaze of color.

The Friendship Garden is great inspiration if you’re interested in environmentally friendly gardening. You’ll see a diversity of beautiful plants grown with limited use of pesticides, fertilizer, water and maintenance.

Don’t miss the Magnolia Collection in early spring, when thousands of pink, white and purple blossoms explode.

“It’s stunning when the magnolia trees are blooming,” Russell says.

United States Botanic Garden 

The garden’s conservatory features collections of plants from subtropical, tropical and arid regions. See orchids, medicinal plants, endangered varieties and even Jurassic plants that dinosaurs munched.

Wander through a rose garden where the blooms are all tended organically.

Get ready to jot down ideas to take home —the gardens suggest interesting plants and innovative designs at a scale suitable for your home landscape.

Northern Virginia:

Northern Virginia landscape design inspiration

Green Spring Gardens Park in Alexandria

“This is a really cool park with lots of natives to see,” Russell says. The park has a wooded stream valley with ponds, a naturalistic native plant garden, more than 20 thematic demonstration gardens and a greenhouse. Stumped by a garden problem? Check out the horticultural reference library.

Lots of take-home ideas here — the gardens focuses on practical landscaping techniques that are appropriate for the Washington metro area.

They offer classes, too, in everything from water features to smartphone nature photography to how to arrange roses.  

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna

Native plants are hot, and  the gardens has created three distinct native plant collections to inspire you. Check out native wildflowers, ferns and grasses.

Stroll among lakes, forests and meandering walking trails with majestic views of the Piedmont hills.

Raining? Don’t stay home. The Atrium offers a lush indoor tropical garden. You can even host your next meeting or event here.

Snowing? Check out the annual Winter Walk of Lights, a spectacular holiday light show featuring dozens of illuminated displays. 

River Farm in Alexandria

River Farm is the headquarters of the American Horticultural Society, so you know the plants here will be great.

Situated on 25 landscaped acres overlooking the Potomac River, it’s an idyllic escape featuring creative children’s gardens, a beautiful four-acre meadow and colorful flower displays.

The Wildlife Garden features a small pond, home to frogs, goldfish and turtles. Surrounding the pond are plants that provide food and shelter for birds, including blueberries, northern bayberries, grasses, junipers and hollies.

Stumped by all your shade? The Garden Calm is planted with shrubs, trees and perennials that prefer full or part shade. 

Bring the kids! River Farm’s popular Children’s Garden is made up of more than a dozen small, themed gardens designed to stimulate children’s interest in plants and nature.


Virginia landscape design inspiration

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Richmond

“This is a little bit farther away, but definitely worth a visit for design inspiration,” Russell says. “I try to go at least once a year."

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden offers year-round beauty on a historic property with more than 50 acres of spectacular gardens, dining and shopping. More than a dozen themed gardens include a conservatory, children’s garden, rose garden, Asian Valley and cherry tree walk.

It was voted the fourth most beautiful botanical garden in the U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler in 2017.

Inspired? Time To Call Level Green

Once your mind is overflowing with great garden design ideas, you’ll be anxious to bring them to life.

That’s where Russell and her design genius comes in, to help you create the perfect plan.

She has some pretty great ideas, too.

If you’re not already a Level Green Landscaping client, we’d love to add you to our growing list of happy customers.

Our focus is on commercial properties like offices, mixed-use sites, HOAs, municipalities and institutions in Maryland, Washington DC and parts of Virginia.

Contact us at 202-544-0968. You can also request a free consultation online to meet with us one-on-one.

We’d love to hear from you.

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