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Summer at the U.S. Capitol

View of the U.S. Capitol's East Front from under the north trolley stop trellis.
Overview 

Summer in Washington, D.C. brings heat, humidity and families on vacation. Across the Capitol campus, visitors can find relief in the cool shade of thousands of trees and aquatic inspiration from more than 20 water features.

What can visitors see and do in summer?

Fountains

   

Although the water features maintained by the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) are not designed for humans to recreate in, several crowd-pleasing pools of cool are located near the U.S. Capitol including the Capitol Reflecting Pool, Senate Park fountains, the Neptune Fountain and the U.S Botanic Garden's Bartholdi Fountain.

Two water features offer drinking fountains for the public: the Summerhouse provides three individual drinking fountains and the Olmsted drinking fountain is a unique fountain slightly hidden in the terrace wall that borders Capitol Square, just across from the Grant Memorial.

Several more beautiful water features on the grounds are worth seeking out to enjoy.

Summer Concerts

View west from the U.S. Capitol during sunset and the Labor Day Concert in 2018.

Every year, the NSO performs three starlight holiday concerts – on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, and Labor Day – that are free to the public and performed on the West Front lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Also, each summer a series of military band concerts are offered on weekday evenings on the West Front steps of the U.S. Capitol. This series is a continuation of a more than 130-year-old tradition.

Flowers and Gardens Galore

Every year, the AOC's Capitol Grounds and Arboretum jurisdiction chooses a theme for the grounds' flower bed color palettes. "Bright and Bold Pollinator Plants" is the theme for 2019.

Pollinators are vital to our ecosystem and to many food crops. They include honey bees, bats, beetles, butterflies, some birds as well as flies. Pollinator-friendly landscapes can help curb their decline and numerous pollinator plants can be viewed across the Capitol campus during this year's growing season including Begonias, Calibrachoa, Cannas, Gomphrena, Indiangrass, Little Blue Stem, Petunias, Rudbecka, Salvia, Strawflower and Sweet alyssum.

South of the U.S. Capitol Grounds, on D Street, SE, near the entrance of the Capitol South Metro station, visitors can enjoy a pollinator garden featuring Hibiscus, Zinnias, Marigolds, Purple Coneflower, Salvia, Lantana and Muhly grass. The plants will attract pollinators such as Monarch butterflies, Golden finches, Honey bees, Moths and Lady beetles. Capitol Grounds and Arboretum staff also recently created an edible garden display at this Metro entrance featuring a range of vegetables, flowers, vines and herbs.

The AOC's Library Buildings and Grounds gardeners also plant and maintain vegetable gardens in the tradition of World War I-era "victory gardens," which were gardens planted to increase the American food supply during the war effort. There are three gardens that can be viewed on raised beds outside the Library of Congress buildings: the west side of the James Madison Memorial Building; the Second Street, SE, side of the Thomas Jefferson Building; and the eastern base of the John Adams Building.

The vegetables harvested from these gardens are donated to local food banks.

What does the AOC work on in summer?

Maintenance and Preservation

The smaller of many water features found throughout the U.S. Capitol Grounds are cleaned twice a week in spring, summer and fall to remove particulate matter, maintain water flows and clean stains. AOC gardeners plant, weed and maintain more than 30 acres of landscape beds spanning the U.S. Capitol Grounds.

Throughout summer, Capitol Grounds and Arboretum staff cut, maintain and repair more than 90 acres of turf-grass on the grounds. To facilitate warm season turf rejuvenation, a trial of new Bermuda grass varieties was recently undertaken as part of the AOC's ongoing efforts to promote sustainable turf management.

Tree Care

Trees are a major feature of the U.S. Capitol Grounds and continue to reflect Frederick Law Olmsted's original landscape design, a vision which drives all landscaping decisions on the grounds today. Grounds crews perform crown cleaning and structure pruning of trees and shrubs in summer. For much of the season, tree care focuses on historic tree preservation.

The Capitol Grounds' oldest and most important trees are protected during events and restriction zones; monitored and treated for pests and diseases; stabilized with dynamic cabling; and propagated using culturally or genetically significant germplasm.

Soils throughout the campus become severely compacted due to summer events and increased pedestrian foot traffic. The compaction limits air and water movement through the soil and to the turf, shrubs and trees of our landscape. In an effort to mitigate some damage, grounds crews utilize high pressure air to loosen soil and add organic matter to the critical root zones of our living historic assets.

An Osage orange tree on the U.S. Capitol Grounds and its fruit.

Some trees also require fruit harvesting in late summer, such as the Osage orange trees on the House side of the grounds. Located near busy sidewalks, the Osage orange trees produce especially interesting softball sized fruit that is often heavy and could pose a safety issue to pedestrians. AOC carefully monitors and harvests the fruit prior to dropping.


About the U.S. Capitol Grounds

The U.S. Capitol Grounds are comprised of approximately 286 acres, including the U.S. Capitol, Senate and House office buildings, the Capitol Power Plant and Union Square. The Capitol Grounds and Arboretum jurisdiction of the AOC is responsible for both the day-to-day maintenance of the U.S. Capitol Grounds and the preservation of a significant historic landscape and accredited arboretum originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. In addition, every aspect of caring for the Capitol campus follows rigorous environmentally sustainable practices.

For an easy and on-the-go reference to all that the U.S. Capitol Grounds have to offer, download the Capitol Grounds app to your phone. Explore the interactive map, photos, audio clips, historic details and more. Visit the Apple Store or Google Play to download the app today!