Smithsonian Gardens Turns 40!

December 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm 1 comment

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:

THEN: The side of the Freer Gallery of Art, circa 1976. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

NOW: The side of the Freer Gallery of Art, 2012.

THEN: Peacock in the Courtyard of the Freer Gallery of Art, circa 1923. Peacocks lived in the courtyard during the 1920’s as a nod to James McNeill Whistler’s famous Peacock Room inside the gallery. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

NOW: Courtyard of the Freer Gallery of Art (sans peacocks), 2010. Photographer: Eric Long.

NOW: Courtyard of the Freer Gallery of Art (sans peacocks), 2010. Photographer: Eric Long.

THEN: Topiary dinosaur on the National Museum of Natural History grounds, 1990. Photographer: Dane A. Penland. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

THEN: Topiary dinosaur on the National Museum of Natural History grounds, 1990. Photographer: Dane A. Penland. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

NOW: The Urban Bird Habitat at the National Museum of Natural History, 2012. The garden attracts birds to the museum grounds year round. Notice that dinosaurs still have a presence!

NOW: The Urban Bird Habitat at the National Museum of Natural History, 2012. The garden attracts birds to the museum grounds year round. Notice that dinosaurs still have a presence!

THEN: The South Yard of the Smithsonian Castle, 1910. This is now the location of the Enid A. Haupt Garden. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

THEN: The South Yard of the Smithsonian Castle, 1910. This is now the location of the Enid A. Haupt Garden. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

THEN: The Victorian Garden, 1976. The parking lot on the left side of the photograph has since been removed and the gardens extended. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

NOW: The Enid A. Haupt Garden, 2012. The garden opened to the public on May 22, 1987.

NOW: The Enid A. Haupt Garden, 2012. The garden opened to the public on May 22, 1987.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

Entry filed under: Collections, Education, Garden History. Tags: , .

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