Archive for November, 2013

Autumn Squash

Now that tomatoes have lost their summer pizzazz it is time to look to other fresh vegetables to punch up salads. Tossing winter squash with greens may seem odd, but when the squash is roasted, it adds sweetness to salads similar to fresh fruits. Chopped pears add another layer of sweetness and make the salad juicier. Pomegranate seeds and walnuts add crunch;  cayenne pepper is necessary to balance their sweetness.

Sunnie-Holme, Archives of American Gardens.

Squash dangling from an arbor, Sunnie-Holme, Woodbury, Connecticut, early 20th century. Archives of American Gardens.

Peeling winter squash so it can be cubed and roasted is always a bit of a challenge. Smooth-skinned butternut squashes are so appealing to cooks because they are easy to peel with a vegetable peeler. But don’t let ribbed, bumpy and warty skins thwart experimenting with other squashes. Relax and take the time to carefully peel the tough skin. A vegetable peeler is still the best tool; you may have to cut the squash into smaller, more maneuverable pieces to remove the skin from all the nooks and crannies. The abundance of varying flavors is worth the effort.

Don’t take the easy way out and just cut the squash in half and roast it. Cubed, roasted squash can be used in so many different recipes: tossed with pasta, sage, garlic and parmesan cheese; sautéed with onion and served as a winter bruschetta; or combined with pancetta, rosemary and ricotta cheese and used as a pizza topping.
Roasted winter squash makes saying goodbye to summer a little easier! This fresh salad is a perfect way to celebrate the harvest on Thanksgiving.

Autumn Farmer’s Market Salad

Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit October 2008
Makes 6 servings

4 1/2 to 5 cups, 1/2-inch cubes of peeled and seeded winter squash (about 2 pounds, I used Tetsukabuto and Honey Bear Squash, both are orange-fleshed moist squashes.)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon cayenne red pepper

¼ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons orange juice

3 tablespoons walnut oil

1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 bunch arugula (about 6 cups), torn into pieces

1 small head Bibb lettuce (about 4 cups), torn into small pieces

2 Bosc pears, cores removed; cut into bite-size pieces (to prevent browning, put pears in lemon water until it is time to construct the salad)

1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses*
Preheat oven to 450°F. Toss squash, olive oil, and cayenne pepper on large rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Roast 15 minutes. Using spatula, turn squash over. Roast until edges are browned and squash is tender, about 15 minutes longer. Sprinkle with coarse salt and let stand at room temperature while making the salad dressing and putting the greens together.

Whisk orange juice, walnut oil, and lemon juice in large shallow bowl. Season to taste with salt and coarsely ground pepper. Add arugula, Bibb lettuce, pear, walnuts, and pomegranate seeds; toss to coat. Season greens to taste with coarse salt and pepper and then add cooked squash. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses and serve.
* I found the pomegranate molasses at Whole Foods, but it can also be found at groceries specializing in Middle Eastern cookery.

 -Cindy Brown, Manager, Horticulture Collections Management and Education

November 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

“Hunger” Amidst Plenty

"Hunger" by Ghada Amer

Photograph by Eric Long.

Ghada Amer, (1963 – ), born in Egypt, based in New York
Earthwork in “Earth Matters”
Site-specific, 2013

Ghada Amer is one of a selected number of artists invited by the National Museum of African Art to take part in the exhibit Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor by creating an earthwork in the Smithsonian’s gardens. Earthworks are large sculptural works which use earth as material, motif, and/or message. Several of these earthworks have been installed in the Enid A. Haupt Garden in the vicinity of the Sackler and African Art Museums.

Amer works in a variety of genres:  painting, sculpture, film, photography, installation. In much of her work she has appropriated two media that are usually associated with domestic arts or “women’s work”: embroidery and gardening. She therefore uses thread and plants to express messages that are highly political, focusing on a range of themes, including gender roles, women’s sexuality, and human rights. In the work currently on display in the Smithsonian Gardens, Amer has chosen the subject of hunger as her topic. She thus highlights a worldwide problem at the same time that she alludes to a specific issue: the fact that politicians in her native Egypt and elsewhere prey on the hungry by promising food in exchange for votes. Bags of rice and other edibles are therefore bartered for political support.

The current earthwork began with the delineation of large letters spelling the word “Hunger” along a strip of land at the north entrance of the Haupt Garden. Once the letters were outlined as furrows, they were planted with rice. The work has therefore evolved through different stages, reflecting the initial carving of the land and the growth of the ‘crops’ growing in the designated space.

Initially, the viewer could read the word “hunger” spelled out in earth. Then, the stenciled letters were filled in with small tufts of rice plants. Over the summer months, the plants grew very noticeably, and the edible rice began to emerge.  This in turn attracted birds, who saw the grain as a bonus meal. As the plants grew and became bushier, the word was ‘hunger’ became less readable. The letters re-emerged once the crop was harvested. In keeping with the original idea of crop rotation, the letters will be planted with kale, which can survive colder temperatures.  During fall and winter, the letters will become greener and denser.

"Hunger" by Ghada Amer.

“Hunger” planted with kale for the winter months.

In “Hunger,” as in some of her other work, Amer combines medium and message, and urges us to read both the ‘writing on the wall’  and the letters on the earth.

-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian volunteer

November 18, 2013 at 10:00 am 2 comments

The Archives of American Gardens Welcomes a New Collection

Ken Druse Garden Photography Collection

One of thousands of garden images from the Ken Druse Garden Photography Collection at the Archives of American Gardens.

Smithsonian Gardens is pleased to announce the recent acquisition of the Ken Druse Garden Photography Collection.  Druse, a prolific garden writer and photographer, donated his extensive photographic collection of garden and plant images to the Archives of American Gardens.  The collection includes several thousand transparencies and slides documenting over 300 gardens across the United States.  Druse took the images to illustrate many of his books as well as newspaper and magazine articles for publications like House & Garden and The New York Times and postings published on his own blog, Ken Druse Real Dirt.  Among his books are go-to references like Making More Plants: The Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation; The Collector’s Garden; and The Natural Shade Garden.

Given its huge scale and exceptional quality, the Ken Druse Garden Photography Collection is a wonderful and important addition to the Archives of American Gardens.  A multi-year project to make the collection available for research use will involve steps such as rehousing and cataloging the images as well as digitizing select images for inclusion on the Smithsonian’s online catalog at  Please join Smithsonian Gardens and the Archives of American Gardens in celebrating this fantastic acquisition!

-Joyce Connolly, Museum Specialist

November 12, 2013 at 7:30 am 8 comments

Remembering the Medal of Honor Tree on Veterans Day

Medal of Honor Tree planting ceremony at NMAH

Medal of Honor Tree planting ceremony at the National Museum of American History on Veterans Day, 2010.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, “We cannot consecrate-we cannot hallow-this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” In honor of Veterans Day in 2010, Brian Thacker, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor was joined by representatives from the Medal of Honor Foundation, the National Air and Space Museum, and many veteran Smithsonian staff and volunteers to dedicate The Medal of Honor Tree on the grounds of the National Museum of American History (NMAH). Traditionally, red oaks (Quercus rubra) lined the north side of the museum. However, over time many of these trees were lost. To fill in the spaces left by the missing trees, Smithsonian Gardens collected trees from placed of historic significance to the United States such as the Lexington Green, the Trail of Tears, and the Manassas Battlefield. Brett McNish, Supervisory Horticulturist with Smithsonian Gardens, originally had the idea to seek out these historic trees and in conversation with a close friend in the museum community came up with the idea for the Medal of Honor Tree.

Congressional Medal of Honor

The Congressional Medal of Honor.

The tree commemorates recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. This award was created on July 12, 1862 when the bill S.J.R. No. 82 was signed into law by President Lincoln. The law designated that Medals of Honor were to be “presented, in the name of Congress, to such non-commissioned officers and privates as shall most distinguish themselves by their gallantry in action, and other soldier-like qualities.” Following the establishment of the Medal of Honor, soldiers quickly began receiving the medals for their valiant efforts in battle. The largest number of Medal of Honor recipients in one day of battle (120) took place at the Battle of Vicksburg on May 22, 1863. Since its creation, 3,463 service men and women have received the Medal of Honor. A variety of individuals have received the Medal of Honor representing the complex fabric of our nation. Medal of Honor recipients include one woman (Mary Walker), eighty-seven African Americans, forty-one Hispanic-Americans, thirty-three Asian-Americans, and thirty-two American Indians. Since 1918, Medals of Honor can only be given to members of the U.S. Armed Forces. However, exceptions have been made in special circumstances. Sixty-one Canadians, for example, hold the Medal of Honor, many of them from actions in the American Civil War. While the Medal of Honor now must be given to a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, they do not have to be U.S. citizens. The most recent Medal of Honor  was awarded to Captain William D. Swenson on October 15, 2013.

Soil samples collected for the Medal of Honor Tree.

Soil samples from 16 battlefields relating to 11 different wars collected for the Medal of Honor Tree planting.

To dedicate the Medal of Honor Tree, consecrated ground from 16 battlefields relating to 11 different wars that the United States was involved in were collected and added to the soil at the base of the tree. McNish discussed the immense task of collecting soil samples from these battlefields: “My goal was to get at least one soil sample from every war the US fought. Then it came down to what was possible to obtain. I think I came close to getting most of them. It took me about six months to get everything.” The process of collecting the soil involved many helping hands from the USDA, Department of State, Department of Defense, the American Battle Monuments Commission, and others, along with “a hefty FedEx bill” McNish noted. He created little collection kits made out of heat-resistant plastic containers.

U.S. Ambassador, Honorable Kathleen Stephens collects soil from the Pusan Area of the Republic of Korea

U.S. Ambassador, Honorable Kathleen Stephens, collects soil from the Pusan Area of the Republic of Korea, Courtesy of Brett McNish.

A number of interesting stories grew out of the soil collection project. The soil collected from Luxembourg was from General George Patton’s grave at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial. The soil from Iwo Jima had its own history; it had been previously been collected by a Marine who visited the island on a pilgrimage. The soil then made its way to numerous veterans who took a little of it for themselves. McNish received the remaining soil from a retired Air Force officer in an airport VIP lounge. Then U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, Honorable Kathleen Stephens, collected Korean War soil from the Pusan Perimeter, an area that witnessed some of the first fighting of the Korean War. Soil from Haiti was collected by a group of Smithsonian curators working on post-earthquake relief for Musée National d’Haiti (the National Museum of Haiti). Because of difficulties mail, obtaining soil from Afghanistan was very difficult. The soil went through numerous hands before it was finally spread under the tree by an SI employee who had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Since its planting in 2010, the Medal of Honor Tree at NMAH is decorated every Veterans Dhistoay with a large red, white, and blue ribbon with a yellow center to highlight its significance in remembering the sacrifices of our nation’s service men and women.

-Mattea Sanders, Smithsonian Gardens intern

November 8, 2013 at 3:23 pm 3 comments

Urban Trees – More Than Just Beautiful

Trees along Constitution Ave.

Street and garden trees along Constitution Avenue at the National Museum of Natural History create a cool, green tunnel for pedestrians.

When people walk through the landscapes of Smithsonian Gardens, they often take pleasure in the beauty and majesty of the trees that are found throughout.  The large spreading canopies, colorful spring and summer blooms, and brilliant autumn colors make for a feast for the eyes.  Although we take great pride in the appearance of the trees here at Smithsonian Gardens, we also manage them for the numerous benefits that they provide, many of which are often not recognized.

Urban trees provide myriad contributions to the areas where they grow.  Some of those benefits include:

  • Storm water runoff and flooding reduction.  It has been found that trees absorb the first 30% of most precipitation events through their leaf systems, and up to another 30% can be absorbed and held by their root systems.
  • Traffic calming.  Research shows that tree lined streets have fewer and less severe traffic accidents than those with no trees.
  • Reduction of air pollution.  Tree crowns capture and trap air pollutants, including automobile exhaust gasses and particulate matter.  The severity of asthma and other negative health impacts are reduced in the presence of trees.
  • Carbon sequestration.  Trees absorb and retain carbon, thereby contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gasses.  A US Forest Service study found that the average annual carbon sequestration of urban areas in the U.S. is approximately 26 million tons totaling a $2 billion value.
  • Lowering of air temperatures.  Urban areas can become extremely hot, as all of the concrete, asphalt and other hardscapes absorb heat throughout the day.  In areas with trees, air temperatures can be reduced by 3-10°F, and properly shaded neighborhoods can realize energy cost savings of up to 35%.
  • Improve your health.  The findings of one study show that areas that have many trees can lower blood pressure, have a calming effect on teens and adults with ADHD, and contribute to overall emotional and psychological health.
  • Add to property values.  Realtor based estimates of street tree versus non-street tree comparable streets show a $15,000-$20,000 increase in home or business value.
Trees around the Smithsonian Castle

Trees in front of the Smithsonian Castle soften the hard lines of its architecture while helping to cool the building during the hot summer months.

So, the next time you’re enjoying the trees here at Smithsonian Gardens, remember all of the wonderful and helpful things they’re doing for us!

-Greg Huse, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist and Tree Collection Manager

November 5, 2013 at 9:05 am 1 comment

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