One of DC’s best kept secrets is the Under the Arbor program. The Units of the Herb Society of America in the mid-Atlantic area host demonstrations at the National Herb Garden in the U.S. National Arboretum. These are on designated Saturdays, 1:00 to 4:00 pm, free and open to the public. Plenty of parking and visitors can also roam the entire Arboretum and/or check out the National Herb Garden. Sometimes one Unit will host the event and sometimes it is a multi-Unit event with many tables and demonstrations. Volunteers drive up to the Arboretum for the day from other states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the DC metro area to set up the tables, complete with displays, handouts, and often freebies to take home. They love to educate the visitors about herbs and answer questions.
The first Under the Arbor this year was held on June 10. Several Units gathered to present “Well Contained Herbs.” The Potomac Unit had a table literally under the arbor in the National Herb Garden, with information on fire cider, ginger, and rose beads. Folks could sample the fire cider and pick up informational flyers. Nearby was the Pennsylvania Heartland Herb Society discussing scented geraniums and showcasing a strawberry jar full of scented geraniums and large plastic containers planted with several culinary herbs. The Philadelphia Unit talked about Wardian cases which are glass cases used to transport plants on ships in the 19th Century. They had many glass jam jars for visitors to start seeds by adding a little bit of soil and water, and a seed. Next to them a Potomac Unit member was filling a strawberry jar with herbs and giving away ginger rhizomes while another member from Virginia Beach, a member at large, demonstrated thematic containers of tomatoes and herbs.
The next Under the Arbor event will be on June 24 and theme is tussie mussies. Tussie mussies are small herbal bouquets that were very popular in Victorian times. Often the herbs were gathered with a bit of lace and ribbon and a small holder to make it easy to hold. While they provided a nice scent, the plants were chosen for their special meanings. The Philadelphia Unit will demonstrate how to make tussie mussies, explain the symbolism of the herbs, and visitors may be able to take one home.
On September 16, the theme is ginger, which is the herb of the year for 2023, and lemon scented herbs. The South Jersey Unit will take the lead in showcasing ginger and other units may participate with ginger delicacies. Volunteers will explain the many lemon-scented herbs.
On October 7, most of the mid Atlantic Units will attend for the annual Chile Celebration. Visitors love this event because they get to taste very hot chiles, as well as fudge made with chiles, and other delicacies. Don’t worry, the volunteers will bring milk and bread if it gets too hot! In addition to learning everything there is to know about the genus Capsicum, visitors can view the Herb Gardens’ chile border which is planted every year by staff.
Under the Arbor programs are planned and conducted by the National Herb Garden committee. The committee is comprised of representatives from the Herb Society’s mid-Atlantic units, members at large, and with the support of the National Herb Garden’s curator and gardener.
Make sure you visit one or all of these Under the Arbor events this year!