GARDEN FANATIC: Trees lend stature to nation’s capitol

As our 44th president, Barack Obama, delivered his inaugural address, he gazed from the steps of the Capitol toward the Washington Memorial and beyond. His view of the crowd below him was framed by three impossibly large trees — a gingko, Caucasian elm and a bur oak. Past the Reflecting Pool, the naked branches of magnificent American elms framed the Mall symmetrically.

The landscape of trees, architecture, water and humanity were not designed by accident. Although it is true that Washington D.C. celebrates our legacy and is devoted to monuments and museums, these symbols are only a part of our American story. As stated by writer, Janine Guglielmino, “You will find that Washington’s most ‘monumental’ legacy, if you will, is its trees.”

Our capital city has a long history of tree planting. George Washington and other city founders understood both the humanizing and symbolic value of trees. Indeed, Washington D.C. is known as the City of Trees, and its tree-filled avenues and parks are a model to the premise and potential of urban forests.

As noted by Guglielmino, “Trees give our nation’s capital stability it might not otherwise experience. After all, administrations come and go, but the city’s trees remain one of its most defining characteristics. (You might even say that trees are among the few nonpartisan city residents.)”


The elms that flank the National Mall are an essential element of the Smithsonian museums. These magnificent trees include the Jefferson elm in front of the Freer Gallery of Art. The Jefferson elm is thought to be a hybrid or sport, as it comes into leaf sooner, with the onset of warmer weather, and holds its leaves longer, with the return of fall, than its relatives on the Mall.

This special tree is also a survivor, as it withstood the Dutch elm disease that ravaged the landscape decades ago.

Restoration efforts, led by the McMillan Commission, included the replanting of elms on the Mall, from the Capitol to the Washington Monument.

The cheer that emanated with the departure of former President Bush’s helicopter over the Capitol was not lost on anyone.


Certainly stung by the greater crowds drawn for Obama, I would like to believe Bush took comfort in the beautiful landscape below him, and the opportunity for a new beginning for not only himself, but all Americans.

See you next time.

STEVE KAWARATANI is happily married to award winning writer Catharine Cooper, and has four dogs. He can be reached at (949) 497-8168, or e-mail to