Archive for December, 2012
As the year comes to a close, we wanted to pause for a moment to thank our awesome volunteers for all they do. Volunteers work alongside Smithsonian Gardens’ staff to help plant, care for and display the plants in our gardens. They also interact with the public in our gardens, help prepare educational materials, and work with our archival collections. Last but not least, volunteers have special access to our garden programs, special events, and the chance to meet fellow garden lovers.
This fall we wrapped up another successful season of garden tours and programs. Volunteer interpreters in our gardens this past spring, summer and early fall donned their Smithsonian Gardens’ shirts and headed out to our Haupt and Butterfly Gardens. They interacted with visitors of all ages and interests through storytelling and hands-on activities as well as by fielding all sorts of questions about our gardens.
In the Smithsonian Gardens’ greenhouses, volunteers played an important role this past year in propagating annuals and caring for our award-winning orchid collection, tropical plants and perennials. Outside they assisted with planting bulbs and annuals and maintaining our garden landscapes. Their work helped make our gardens an oasis for our visitors year-round.
This winter, many of our Smithsonian Gardens’ volunteers will escape the cold by staffing our upcoming orchid exhibit in the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit will focus on the importance of orchids to Latin American cultures and traditions. Volunteers will interact with exhibit visitors, answer questions, and encourage people to think about the important roles that plants play in their lives.
All of our Smithsonian Gardens’ volunteers contribute to the excellence of our gardens and programs. We could not do it without them!
If you are interested in volunteering with Smithsonian Gardens, visit our SG volunteer page at http://gardens.si.edu/get-involved/volunteers.html.
For a long time I have been thinking that the Ripley Garden needed something special to replace the birdhouses that have been at the Northern Entry of the garden for many years. The birdhouses have been great—the public loved them and those ‘in the know’ appreciated the nod to Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley (he was an ornithologist). However the birdhouses were looking a bit worn and I was ready for something different. But what could I put there? I wanted it to be unique to the Ripley Garden and have meaning, but what? I had no idea, but was hoping I would know it when I saw it.
There it was – it literally flew over my head – attached to a 200 ft construction crane.
For the past year I have been mesmerized with the entire process of the restoration of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building. I have always loved this historic building and watching the restoration process has been incredibly educational. It seems like every day something fascinating is happening.
I had been watching the various pieces of ornamentation coming down off the rooftop and was totally astounded by not only the size, but the beautiful details and complexity of some of the pieces. For example, the finials for the corner towers soar to over 9’ tall and that doesn’t include the cap that slides over the point!
After working adjacent to this building that I adore for over a decade, I thought I knew it, but I was seeing things that I had never noticed before. I had not realized that there were so many different types on ornamentation on the roof. Amazing! And I also did not realize that they were all made of galvanized sheet metal! Even the sculpture of Columbia which stands atop the North Door is made of metal! I always thought they were carved out of stone.
Bingo. The special piece I was looking for which was beautiful, but also with a story behind it, was a finial off the Arts and Industries Building! This would help tie the Ripley Garden to the museum it nestles up against, and also give me a chance to tell the public about this gorgeous building and the wonderful restoration process that is ongoing. It would be PERFECT!!
Only one problem; the reason the finials were being removed was so they could be sent out for restoration before being returned to the roof. And yes, they would miss one. (Don’t worry, I asked!)
So, I asked one of the restoration specialists what it would cost to create a new one for the garden. (Never hurts to ask you know!) His ballpark estimate of the number of man-hours it would take to replicate the ornate details squelched any further inquiry on my part. It was out of the question due to cost. My dreams of a finial in the garden were fading fast.
However, Pat Ponton, the Smithsonian liaison for the project, told me that there was one piece that would not be going back up and that he might be able to get it for me. He told me that it was lacking the detail of many of the others, and was not a historical piece. Apparently, there had been some construction in the 1970’s on the roof and one of the original finials had to be replaced so something similar, but not as detailed as the original, was created very quickly. This is the piece that Pat was thinking about.
Although it had left the property, through much perseverance Pat was able to retrieve this finial and have it returned to the site. On the morning of June 21st, with the able assistance of Sammy, the Tower Crane operator, and a couple of members of the wonderful Grunley Construction team, the piece of ‘Architectural Salvage’ from the Arts and Industries Building found a new home a little closer to the ground.
There are still a few mysteries behind this piece, including why is it missing the top point, but I am so delighted to have this little piece of history on the ground!
None of this would have happened without the efforts of my new friends who are restoring a historical gem. I am very thankful to the crew working on the Arts and Industries Building who have been so kind to me and careful with the garden.
Thanks to a grant from the Smithsonian’s Collections Care and Preservation Fund and just in time for its 25th anniversary, the Archives of American Gardens (AAG) recently completed a project to digitize nearly 3,500 historic glass lantern slides dating from the 1920s and 1930s in the Garden Club of America Collection. These images are some of the most popular ones in the archives and document a wide range of gardens throughout the U.S., many of which no longer exist.
Glass lantern slides were projected on a screen with a ‘magic lantern’ to illustrate lectures. (You might think of them together as the precursor to the now-rare slide carousel.) No two slides were alike as each was hand-tinted, sometimes with colors that weren’t historically (or botanically) accurate. Given the garden owner’s wishes or the colorist’s artistic license, a batch of flowers may have been transformed from their actual yellow tint to a livelier red with the stroke of a paintbrush. In spite of their fragile nature (and any capricious colors), the glass slides are sometimes the only evidence left of a once opulent and fastidiously maintained garden. Without these handsome artifacts, important components of America’s garden heritage would go missing.
High resolution scans of all of AAG’s glass lantern slides—as well as thousands of other historic and contemporary garden images–are readily available on the Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center at www.siris.si.edu . The images provide an invaluable resource for landscape designers, historians, preservationists, scholars, students and garden enthusiasts engaged in the study and appreciation of gardens and garden design. By capturing the changing uses, trends, fads and popular traditions embodied in gardens, AAG holdings foster a better understanding of gardening’s far-reaching contributions to America’s social and cultural history.
By the time Smithsonian Gardens’ Archives of American Gardens celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2062, who knows what current image format will be considered as fragile—and as valuable in terms of the lost information it holds—as the glass lantern slide?
-Joyce Connolly, Museum Specialist
2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the horticulture division of the Smithsonian Institution. Known as Smithsonian Gardens to the public since 2010, the department was called the Office of Horticulture when it was founded on July 31, 1972. Secretary S. Dillon Ripley, an enthusiastic ornithologist and conservationist, sought to extend the interior exhibits outside the museum walls. Though most of the museums were surrounded by some sort of landscaping, it was not until this time that the grounds were brought together under the umbrella of the Office of Horticulture and a plan was developed to integrate the gardens into the educational mission of the Smithsonian. Secretary Ripley was an innovative thinker, bringing the much-loved and iconic carousel to the mall as well as helping to found the Folklife Festival. The first major project for the Office of Horticulture was establishing the Victorian Garden in time for the 1976 United States Bicentennial. The Victorian Garden parterre became the basis for the Enid A. Haupt Garden, which opened to the public in 1987. The history of the gardens is explored more in depth in A Guide to Smithsonian Gardens, published in 2011.
What started as a small staff and half of a shared green house has now grown to 180 acres of gardens on the mall, 64,000 square feet of greenhouse space, the Archives of American Gardens research collection, and a variety of educational programming. Our gardens showcase modern sculpture, explore the landscapes of past Americans, celebrate the beauty of the Victorian age, highlight exotic and heirloom plants, and create a serene environment in a busy city.
Let’s take a step back in time and explore Smithsonian gardens through the decades:
-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens Contractor