Author Archive

Preparing Your Trees for Winter

Japanese coral bark maple

Japanese coral bark maple (Acer ) in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, next to the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building.

As we gaze around at the beautiful autumn colors that our trees are showing us, we’re trying not to think about the arrival of the cold and snowy weather of winter.  However, arrive it will, and now is the time to prepare your trees for those coming winter months.  Although all trees are potentially susceptible to winter injury, young and/or thin-barked, and broadleaf evergreen trees require the most preparation.

Excessively cold temperatures, wind, and quick temperature changes can cause drying, browning, and death of evergreen foliage.  This problem is most prevalent on broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendrons, laurels, boxwoods, and hollies.  To help prevent this damage, construct a barrier of heavy burlap, like a fence, to block drying winds from their prevailing direction.  If the entirety of the plant is exposed, loosely wrap it in burlap.  In either case, be sure to leave the top of the plant exposed so light and air penetration can still occur.  In addition, it is important to keep watering your trees up until the time of the first hard frost.  A 4-6 inch layer of mulch over the root zone will also help the soil retain warmth and moisture.  (Remember not to pile the mulch up against the trunk of the tree.)

Kean Hall Garden wrapped in burlap for winter.

The boxwoods in the Kean Hall Garden in Livingston, New Jersey wrapped up in burlap for the winter, 1955. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Garden Club of American Collection.

Another issue of concern, which is also caused by rapidly fluctuating temperatures, is sunscald.  This occurs when the sun has warmed the trunk of the tree, and then that trunk is rapidly cooled upon sudden shading from a cloud, etc.  This condition results in elongated, dried and cracked areas of dead bark.  This can be prevented by wrapping the trunk with commercial tree wrap (available at most home and garden centers) or other light-colored material.  This will reflect sunlight and keep the bark at a more consistent temperature.  The wrap should be placed on the tree in the fall and removed in the spring, after the last frost.

Broadleaf evergreen foliage damage and frost cracks are influenced by many factors, including plant species, location, drainage, natural protection, and how well established a plant is in the landscape.  There is no specific temperature at which damage occurs, but if the forecast calls for temperatures below the average seasonal low (29-33°F for Washington, D.C.), it is best to utilize the protection methods outlined above.

Tree branches can be prone to breakage from heaving snow and ice loads and by strong winds.  Weakly attached, overextended and broken limbs should be pruned.  Trees with an upright form, such as juniper, arborvitae, and clump birch, can be wrapped in burlap, or held together by wrapping the branches collectively with twine or rope.  Any wrapping material should be removed in the spring.

When natural food sources grow scarce in the winter, rodents may feed on the young bark and cambial tissue of trees.  Plastic tree guards or a cylinder of ¼” wire mesh placed around the trunks of young trees will help prevent this damage.  Be sure to remove these guards once the spring has come so the tree does not wind up growing into them.

Trees possess an extraordinary ability to withstand severe winter weather, with some being more hearty than others.  However, with proper care and attention, your trees should come through the winter ready to show off their new flowers and foliage for spring.

-Greg Huse, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist & Tree Collection Manager

November 19, 2014 at 7:27 am Leave a comment

The Great Auk

The Great Auk (Pinguinus impennis), now displayed in sculpture on the southeast corner of the Enid A. Haupt Garden, was a flightless bird that fell prey to exploitation. A fast and facile swimmer and diver, the auk was characterized by its stubby wings, high-contrast black and white feathers, tall body, clumsy waddle, and large ribbed beak.  It was initially found in dense colonies in the subarctic Atlantic, along the coasts of Canada, the United States, Iceland and Norway. But human predation caused its numbers to dwindle over the course of several centuries.

The Great Auk

A hand coloured lithograph of Pinguinus impennis from John Gould’s The Birds of Great Britain, Vol. 5 (1873). Image courtesy of the Natural History Museum of London via eol.

The sculpture is part of The Lost Bird Project, which seeks to create awareness about our fragile bird species. The creation of artist Todd McGrain, the project has been sponsored by the Smithsonian and other organizations. Four birds will remain in the Haupt Garden until spring 2015; a fifth bird is in the garden of the National Museum of Natural History, on the corner of 12th Street and Constitution Avenue.

Great auks spent most of their lives in the sea, seeking out land only during the spring breeding season. Their breeding sites were limited: the only suitable areas were those with reefs or rocky ledges, where the birds could waddle ashore to lay their eggs.  Because the birds tended to concentrate in a few coastal areas, they were an easy target for hunters. Indeed, they were subjected to large-scale massacres, hunters killing them for their meat, oil, and feathers. The latter were used for clothes and pillows, the comforts of humans and profits of businesses taking precedence over the survival of the bird.

 Great Auk sculpture by Todd McGrain

The Great Auk sculpture by Todd McGrain on display in the Enid A. Haupt Garden.

The last two Great auks were killed in 1844, although there were reports of a single bird remaining in 1852. The remains of the last two confirmed birds are preserved in formaldehyde in a museum in Denmark, a sad reminder of the bird’s demise.

The Great auk inspired Ogden Nash’s A Caution to Everybody:

 

          Consider the auk;

Becoming extinct because he forgot how to fly, and could only walk.

Consider man, who may well become extinct

Because he forgot how to walk and learned how to fly before he thinked.

 

-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian Gardens Volunteer

 

November 12, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

A DAMS Good Internship at Smithsonian Gardens

scanning in the reference room

Jessica scanning in the Archives of American Gardens reference room at the Smithsonian Gardens offices.

Did you know Smithsonian Gardens does a lot more than just plant and maintain all the beautiful gardens around the Smithsonian properties? I know I didn’t!  That is until I became an Archives of American Gardens intern at Smithsonian Gardens. My name is Jessica Brode, and I am a graduate student at George Washington University beginning my final year in the Masters in Museum Studies program.

Before coming to Smithsonian Gardens, I interned with various institutions across the country and abroad. After moving to D.C. I began to specialize in collections management work within museums, mainly assisting in digitization efforts with museums like the Smithsonian’s American History and Natural History Museums. I applied to Smithsonian Gardens after a chance encounter demonstrated that there were opportunities to use my skills there.

Coming in as an Archives of American Gardens intern, I was able to really put my skills to use for Smithsonian Gardens while learning new skills along the way. The Archives of American Gardens (AAG) currently documents over 8,500 gardens throughout the United States, with images ranging from the 1870s to the present.  AAG maintains records on historic and contemporary gardens and gardening trends and contains over 150,000 images.

Hershey Rode Gardens, Archives of American Gardens

The Hershey Rose Gardens is just one of the garden history topics Jessica explored during her internship. (Hershey Rose Gardens in Hershey, Pennsylvania, c. 1936. Archives of American Gardens, J. Horace McFarland Collection.)

I learned the Horizon cataloging system utilized by the AAG and cataloged often throughout my internship.  I was given the opportunity to research and write several exciting blog posts about gardening topics I would have never even thought of, including the Hershey Rose Garden, World Fairs’ gardens, and floral clocks.

The best part of my internship was the ability to take a project further than I ever thought I could.  Smithsonian Gardens uses a system called a Digital Asset Management System (or DAMS) in order to track digital images of its gardens and events.  I was given the opportunity to rename and reorganize the Smithsonian Gardens folder structure so that images could be filed by garden and year, making it more intuitive for a user to search numerous images.  The new re-organization of images will enable staff to easily create slideshows of the best garden images for each of its gardens to make them readily available to the public through the Collections Search Center and SIRIS.  It was really exciting to see how my skills could be used to help share garden history with the public!

I am really excited that I had the opportunity to spend the summer with Smithsonian Gardens, and even more excited to see what else is ahead.  My internship has been extended so that I can continue my work at the Archives of American Gardens this coming fall and spring, and I am really looking forward to continuing some of the work I began, and starting new projects as well.

-Jessica Brode, Archives of American Gardens intern

November 4, 2014 at 6:30 am 1 comment

Spooky Plants Week

BOO! In honor of Halloween, we are celebrating another #SpookyPlantsWeek.  Here’s our round-up of the weird, creepy, gross, scary, and wonderful plants that we featured on Facebook this week. All can be found growing in our gardens at the Smithsonian museums or in our greenhouses in Maryland.

Tacca chantrieri plant

Tacca chantrieri, also known as the bat flower, is a member of the yam family and native to Southeast Asia. It has unusual black flowers and long whiskers. The “spooky” part about this plant (the name kind of gives it away) is that it looks like a bat. So it’s perfect for Halloween, and the fact that it’s blooming this time of the year makes it even more special. See it on display inside the Ripley Center kiosk entrance.

Brassavola nodosa  orchid

Also known as the “Lady of the Night” or “Flor de la Noche,” Brassavola nodosa has ghostly white flowers that emit a heady, nocturnal fragrance to attract night-pollinating moths. We have a few of these ethereal plants in the Orchid Collection at our greenhouses.

Cliff banana plant

The National Zoo has megafauna, but we have megaflora! Watch out, the Ensete superbum looks hungry . . . lucky for us, the plant only looks like it might be carnivorous. This herbaceous banana is native to India and more commonly known as the cliff banana. The plant may reach ten to twelve feet while blooming. This banana, unlike many others, does not produce suckers and only reproduces by seed. Our cliff banana caused many visitors to the Enid A. Haupt Garden to do a double-take all summer long.

Actaea pachypoda fruit

Found in the Urban Bird Habitat: Actaea pachypoda ‘Misty Blue.’ It is also called white baneberry or doll’s eyes because the fruits look like a cluster of eyes on red stems watching your every move in the garden. Some birds find the fruit to be a tasty treat, but beware, they are poisonous to humans. (Image courtesy of the National Museum of Natural History Collections.)

Solanum quitoense (naranjilla)

Solanum quitoense, known as naranjilla (”little orange”) is scary in looks only. Spines and purple hairs along the stems give this member of the nightshade family an otherworldly appearance that would be more at home in the Addams Family garden rather than the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden at the Smithsonian. If you can get past the strange looks of the hairy, orange fruit, a fresh glass of naranjilla juice is a sweet treat.

 

October 31, 2014 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

Pumpkin Season

With Halloween just around the corner and Thanksgiving on our minds already, we are celebrating the season of the pumpkin here at Smithsonian Gardens.

Marshall Garden, 1920. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens.

In the Archives of American Gardens, we have a beautiful glass lantern slide of pumpkins growing in a garden. Marshall Garden, Millbrook, New York, 1920. Smithsonian Institution, Archives of American Gardens, Lois Poinier Collection.

Will you carve a pumpkin for Halloween? Jack-o’-lanterns as we know them today are rooted in European traditions. In Ireland and Scotland, people used turnips and potatoes to make scary faces that would frighten evil spirits. When immigrants from these countries came to America they began using pumpkins, a native fruit.

The modern-day pumpkin pie evolved from early recipes that arrived in the America from England and France. Pumpkins (called “pompons” in French) were stuffed with sweet fillings or were served in a pie crust along with apples. By the mid-nineteenth century the custard-style pumpkin pie (with a bottom crust and no top crust) was a familiar “Yankee” delicacy. This excerpt from the “The Pumpkin” by John Greenleaf Whittier (1850) pretty much sums up how we feel about this gorgeous gourd:

Then thanks for thy present!— none sweeter or better
E’er smoked from an oven or circled a platter!
Fairer hands never wrought at a pastry more fine,
Brighter eyes never watched o’er its baking than thine!
And the prayer, which my mouth is too full to express,
Swells my heart that thy shadow may never be less,
That the days of thy lot may be lengthened below,
And the fame of thy worth like a pumpkin-vine grow,
And thy life be as sweet, and its last sunset sky
Golden-tinted and fair as thy own pumpkin-pie!

Over the years we have grown a variety of heirloom pumpkins in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History. This year keep an eye out for the ‘Long Island Cheese,’ pumpkin. Canned pumpkin has been a popular and convenient alternative to fresh pumpkin since the 1920s. For those who have the time to make a pie from scratch this season, Rebecca Sullivan, Fellow in Food History at the National Museum of American History, has a delicious recipe to share with you:

Pumpkin pie

Pumpkin pie with nut topping. Rebecca Sullivan, photographer.

Recipe for Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients:
-Filling:
2 cups pumpkin puree (steam 1 ¼ lbs. peeled pumpkin until soft, then puree)
3 eggs
1 ½ cups thickened cream
1 cup brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
Zest of 1 orange

-Pastry:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons plain flour
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
¼ lb. unsalted butter (1 stick), chilled, cubed
1 egg

-Pecan, gingersnap layer and nut topping:
¼ cup pecans, toasted and ground
¼ cup crushed gingersnap cookies
½ cup almonds or in-season nuts
2 tablespoons maple syrup

-Maple cream:
1 cup light cream
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup

Directions:

  • Starting with the pastry, place the flour and confectioner’s sugar in a food processor and pulse for a few seconds. Add butter and process until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the egg and process until the mixture forms a ball. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Once chilled, roll pastry out on a lightly floured workbench and use to line a lightly greased 9-inch pie pan. Place back in the fridge for 30 minutes to chill further. Next make the pecan gingersnap layer by toasting the pecans in the oven for 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool and then place the pecans, along with the gingersnap cookies, in a food processor and process until finely ground. Press this mixture evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of the unbaked pie crust. Cover and return the pastry to the refrigerator while you make the pumpkin filling.
  • Line the pan with baking paper, place the almonds and a drizzle of maple syrup on top of the baking paper and blind-bake for 10 minutes. Take out of the oven and set the nuts aside for later. Increase oven temperature to 420°F. Place pumpkin puree, eggs, cream, sugar and spices in a processor and whiz until smooth. Pour into the tart shell, then bake for 10 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300°F and bake for a further 30 minutes. Take out of the oven and sprinkle the nuts on top of the pie, then return to the oven for a remaining 10 minutes. The pie should be just firm when cooked.
  • Cool, and then make the maple cream by pouring the cream into a small bowl and mixing with a hand mixer. As the cream starts to thicken, slowly drizzle in the maple syrup and mix until the consistency you desire. Serve the pie in slices with the whipped maple cream.

October 22, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

The Carolina Parakeet

The Carolina Parakeet, one of the bird sculptures currently on display in the Enid A. Haupt Garden, was distinguished by its beautiful plumage and its very long tail. Although it was initially found in vast areas of the United States, its numbers began dwindling in the 19th century. The last parakeet was sighted in 1904, and the bird was declared extinct in 1939.

The sculpture is part of The Lost Bird Project, which seeks to create awareness about our fragile bird species. The creation of artist Todd McGrain, the project has been sponsored by the Smithsonian and other organizations. Four birds will remain in the Haupt Garden until spring 2015; a fifth bird is in the garden of the National Museum of Natural History.

The Carolina Parakeet Sculpture

The Carolina parakeet sculpture in the Enid A. Haupt Garden by artist Todd McGrain.

The Carolina parakeet was found in forested areas and swampy regions of the United States, stretching from the southeastern United States to the Great Plains and west to the Mid-Atlantic region. A small bird, it weighed a mere ten ounces. It was distinguished by its colorful feathers, which ranged from yellow and orange to several shades of green. Due to urbanization, its habitats began to contract in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Even in 1831, John James Audubon commented that, along the Mississippi, the number of Carolina parakeets was less than half those that existed a mere fifteen years earlier.

The demise of the parakeet was the result of several trends or causes which operated individually and collectively; these can be summarized as deforestation, decoration, displacement, and disease.

Deforestation robbed the birds of food and nesting sites, thereby killing or displacing many flocks. Moreover, habitat destruction made hunting more effective because it concentrated the birds, making them more vulnerable to hunters. Farmers and those who had small orchards saw the birds as pests. Many parakeets fell prey to hunters trying to protect their crops. When one bird was wounded, it would cry in distress, a call that summoned others of the flock. Entire flocks were shot as the birds rallied around a wounded bird.

Carolina Parakeet by Audubon

Plate 26 of Birds of America (1827-1838) by John James Audubon depicting the Carolina Parrot. (via eol.)

The birds were also vulnerable to tastes in fashion: the parakeet’s beautiful feathers were used to decorate hats. In 1886, Frank Chapman, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York noted that, walking around Manhattan, he had spotted feathers from some 40 native species of birds decorating woman’s hats. The feather trade was a lucrative business, with hunters receiving twice the price of gold for an ounce of the coveted plumes. Although Congress enacted legislation to prohibit interstate commerce in certain types of feathers, the laws had too many loopholes to curtail the trade. By 1898 the prevailing fashion had had such an impact that environmentalists and ornithologists attempted to shame women for wearing hats with feathers. One New York Times article titled “Murderous Millinery” stressed that women invited public stigma “by exhibiting themselves . . . in the relics of murdered innocence.” The Audubon Society also urged “bird hat boycotts,” suggesting that women instead wear environmentally-correct “audubonnets” bedecked with ribbons and other non-feathered ornaments.

Another contributory cause of the Carolina parakeets declining numbers may have been the importation of honeybees, which evicted the birds from the cavities in hollow trees where they nested. Finally, some scientists have hypothesized that exotic poultry diseases may have decimated the parakeet population that had survived other threats and were in protected habitats. Whatever the reason or reasons, today Carolina parakeets can be appreciated only in museums and ornithological collections, where they are mounted specimens rather than part of a gregarious flock.

-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian Gardens volunteer

The Lost Bird Project is a companion exhibit to “Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America” on view at the Smithsonian Institution Libraries through October 2015.

October 14, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

In Pursuit of Primary Sources (National History Day Part II)

As a continuation to the National History Day post, we wanted to offer ways to find credible primary sources for any research projects. There is an infinite amount of information available to students today, but it is also infinitely important to know how to search for credible sources. Resources are available both online and in-person if you know where to look.

Collage of Archives of American Gardens primary sources.

The Archives of American Gardens is just one place to look for primary sources related to gardens, parks, and cultural landscapes. Landscape design plans, postcards, and photos can all provide rich primary source material for research.

If your student is looking for something available online these are great starting points:

However, not everything in an institution is available online. If your student has the ability to do so, visiting an archive is a great way to find primary and secondary sources. Local courthouses and city offices hold historical records such as property deeds or census records and registries. Art museums and galleries are also a great source. There may be local colleges or universities in your area with historical collections waiting to be explored. Don’t forget to look for historical societies, churches, and of course libraries which all may have primary sources about your area. All it takes is a phone call or e-mail stating your interest to find out what material is available to you!

-Catherine Bell, Archives of American Gardens intern

October 6, 2014 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

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