Elizabeth A.S. Brooke

Crafting, traveling and everything in between.


U.S. National Arboretum

On our first full day in D.C., we started out with a visit to the U.S. National Arboretum, which is in the NE quadrant of D.C. There is plenty of parking or you can ride the Metro. The grounds are open Friday-Monday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free and pups are allowed.

We walked around the majority of the 446 acre park. It was pretty cool. I really liked how many of the gardens weren’t overly formal and many areas were allowed to grow naturally. The sky looked like rain most of the morning, but the drops held off until the very last leg of our trip. The overcast morning was a welcome change from our hot, muggy day at Harpers Ferry.

There are several gardens throughout the park, but we chose to only visit a few. We made it to the National Capital Columns, Fern Valley Native Plant Collection, Washington Youth Garden, the Asian Collections, the Gotelli Collection of Dwarf and Slow Growing Conifers and the Conifer Collection and the National Herb Garden. We also walked by the Dogwood Collection, the Holly Magnolia Collection and some research gardens. There are more gardens, including the State Tree Collection and the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum (dogs aren’t allowed in the bonsai garden and museum), so there is tons more to see.

Besides education, the park also participates in research. The research gardens were comparing native and non-native plants’ susceptibility to pest damage. The hypothesis is that native plants would attract more native insect predators to help control pest damage. It would be interesting to learn the results! Other research plants included crepe myrtles.

One of two research gardens comparing native to non-native plants.

One of two research gardens comparing native to non-native plants.

Though the whole park was amazing, the herb and youth gardens were my favorites! I’ll share more about each of the gardens and pics in upcoming posts.

James F. Hoffman Memorial Prairie Gardens, Olney, Illinois

On our visit to Olney, Illinois, we visited the James F. Hoffman Memorial Prairie Gardens, which is located at the Olney Central College.

It’s a garden full of native prairie grasses and plants. On the day we visited there were tons of butterflies, dragonflies and other insects flying around. Here’s some photos for you:


The White Squirrel

There are several posts I haven’t gotten to share with you over the past several months. I probably won’t post all of them, but will most photos and updates from some of my favorite trips over the past year. School has kept me away and very busy.  And, understandingly, my blogs have become a low priority.

Several months ago, we went to visit Chris’ family and one of the places we went to visit was Olney, Ill., a place where Chris lived and worked for a couple of years.
One of the sole purposes of going there was to see the famed white squirrels.
We found the squirrels as soon as we drove into a local park.
Chris said the local community college does a squirrel count every year. There were less than 100 the last time Chris heard.
We met a couple from Colorado who also came to see the white squirrels. They said there were a colony of black squirrels in Kansas. We’ll have to find our way there sometime to snap some photos of them.

Krohn Conservatory, Cincinnati, Ohio

We’ve visited the Krohn Conservatory before and it’s a great place to go, especially if it’s not too pleasant outside for outdoor activities. The beautiful Art Deco Krohn building houses exotic and gorgeous plants. Besides my favorite Orchid House, there are rooms dedicated to palms, tropical and desert plants.

For this visit we were there to visit the Butterflies of Brazil exhibit. Each spring, the Krohn features butterflies for a few months. It was really cool walking among hundreds of fluttering butterflies.

One butterfly landed on Chris’ arm as soon as we walked into the room.

Lots of kiddies had flat foam pieces they used to soak up water from the room’s fountain. They used the soaked foam to attract butterflies.

This girl was a pro! She had more than one butterfly on her foam at any given time.
She even had one of the larger butterflies hanging out on her arm.

Our visit would have been more enjoyable, however, if some parents controlled their kids better. There were a few boys running in between peoples’ legs, leaning across and shoving people out of the way in attempts to capture butterflies. One boy constantly invaded my personal space … even though I was sitting down! He also nearly stepped on many of the butterflies.

Though it was really cool and somewhat fun, my face hurt a lot from clenching my jaws and I had a pounding headache. I left wishing we’d learned about the adults only Happy Hour scheduled for later that day. Though we’d already had dinner plans, I would have loved watching the butterflies while listening to jazz.

It’s too bad that a few bad apples ruined the whole bunch. Just to be clear, most of the kids were well-behaved.

Though the room felt like chaos, Chris was able to get some great shots. Here’s some more:

Krohn Conservatory is an excellent place to stop if you’re ever in or near Cincinnati.

Francis Beidler Forest, Harleyville, S.C.

On our way home from our Charleston trip we visited the Francis Beidler Forest, an Audubon Center in Harleyville, S.C. It is an hour from both Columbia and Charleston.

The 1,800-acre forest sits within the 45,000-acre Four Holes Swamp.

We walked along the park’s boardwalk and some of its dirt trails, though most were flooded due to the day’s rain.

We didn’t see much wildlife, but we could hear it, especially pileated woodpeckers.

Our walk along the boardwalk was serene, peaceful. It was a great rest stop along the way home.

Here’s some pics from our visit:

This is a shot looking up a tree trunk of a tree that you can climb into.

Conagree National Park, Hopkins, S.C.

Another stop we made on our trip to Charleston, S.C., was at Conagree National Park, Hopkins, S.C., not too far from Columbia.

The wooded trails were quite wet so we only walked on it long enough for Sidney to relieve herself and stretch our legs.

We then hopped onto the 2.4-mile boardwalk loop trail and explored the various habitats and read the interpretive signs.

Pups aren’t supposed to be on the boardwalk trail, by the way. That’s something to consider when you start off because there is no where for you to get off on the boardwalk as it takes you over lakes, swamps and very wet areas.

Here’s the park’s descriptions of the boardwalk trail, divided into the Elevated Boardwalk and Low Boardwalk:

  • The Elevated Boardwalk is about six feet above the ground and travels through old-growth forest. The trail ends at Weston Lake, an old channel of the Conagree River.
  • The Low Boardwalk passes through bald cypress and water tupelo forest.
We heard lots of birds, including woodpeckers, but didn’t see much else. Though the ground and boardwalk were still pretty wet, it was still a lovely walk and one that was much drier than the visit earlier in the day at Cypress Gardens.

One complaint I have is there was an interpretive sign that called a tree a pawpaw, but it was most definitely not a pawpaw. We’ve got a small grove of pawpaws in our yard, so we knew that was not correct. We’re pretty sure it was a chestnut oak.

The park’s site has a calendar of events. It might be cool to visit during a guided walk or other event.

Besides trails, you can also canoe/kayak, camp and fish. Check out a complete list of things to do here.


Cypress Gardens, Monck’s Corner, S.C.

I mentioned Cypress Gardens in an earlier post. This was probably my most favorite place during our trip to Charleston, S.C. It’s hard to believe this is a Berkeley County Parks and Recreation park!

There are 3.5 miles of trails, boat rides, a butterfly house, the Swamparium and lots of wildlife.

We were able to get in a boat ride before the sky opened up and dumped buckets of rain. You can take a free, self-guided boat ride or wait for a park employee to take you on a tour (cost $5). We opted to go it alone. Here’s some of what we saw:

There were lots of lily pads.
Our boat.
This guy was resting close to the boat house. (Look to the left of the pillar.)
We had to paddle or float under two foot bridges.
We got within about six feet of this lazy gator. Close enough to scare him off the log. Oops!

It was amazing paddling around in the water, especially when we could get up close and personal with some alligators. There was a photography club there the same time we were, and one lady asked to snap some photos of us in the boat. We tried to hold the boat steady as she snapped some photos of us from the side of the pond.

A friend used to live near Charleston and told us how snakes are known to fall out of the trees into boats at the park. Aaaggghhh! Luckily, I think, we were in the area much too soon for a snake attack. We also only saw a few gators and they were lazily laying on logs or at the foot of cypresses and other trees.

After the boat ride, it started raining and we dashed into the butterfly house, where we hung out until the rain slowed down and we could make it back to the visitor center/gift shop and then the car.

In the butterfly house we saw:

The resident wood duck, The Prince. He rules the butterfly house and what he says goes.
Butterflies and flowers

Cocoons, or chrysalis  

Most of the winged beauties were hanging out at the top of the building and we couldn’t see them that well.

David Davis, butterfly house director, talked with us about the plants, showed us the cocoon house and gave me some seeds for a Mexican flower vine that the butterflies love.

David Davis greets The Prince, who is sitting on top of the bee hive.

Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for kids. Sidney had to stay in the car while we explored the park, but pets are allowed November-February.

This park most definitely should be on your To-Do list if you’re ever in or near Charleston.

I really wanted to walk around the gardens, but the rain wasn’t going to let up so we drove on up the road to our next stop — Conagree National Park, near Columbia, S.C.