Most of us begin to think about holiday decorations as it gets closer to Thanksgiving. This is not the case for our Smithsonian Gardens Interiors staff! As soon as the holiday decorations are taken down in January, we’re already making plans for next year’s holiday decorations.
Poinsettia types and numbers have to be decided on by April so that the orders can be placed. Tree, wreath, and garland decorations have to be determined by May so that those supplies can be purchased. The poinsettia plugs arrive and are planted in July (taking a full 4-5 months for us to finish, the poinsettias are our longest growing annual crop in the greenhouse). Only a couple of the holiday trees on display are artificial, but the rest are real and are selected especially for us, coming from a tree farm in Pennsylvania. Sometimes our staff even travels to hand pick the trees.
Next there’s the holiday prep: all of the tags have to be removed from each of the new ornaments, wire hangers need to be attached, some decorations need to be assembled and wired together, bows need to be made, and wreaths and garland need to be decorated.
Some of this prep work starts as early as October. Then there’s the planning, which involves deciding which day to install the decorations, and coordinating with each of the museums to make sure that we will not interfere with what is going on in the museums on that particular day.
Our first tree, the Castle Tree, was installed the week of Thanksgiving. The rest of the decorations will be up this week.
Please take some time to walk around and visit each of our museums and appreciate all of the hard work and planning that goes into the holiday decorations. All of this work would not be possible without the help of our volunteers and other Smithsonian Gardens staff who help with prepping the décor and decorating the trees.
-Alexandra Thompson & Shannon Hill
Happy Holidays from the Smithsonian Gardens Staff!
Smithsonian Gardens’ Green Team had a unique opportunity to visit the Blue Plains Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant (AWTP) owned and operated by Washington, D.C.’s Water and Sewer Authority or DC Water. Serving the District and nearby suburbs, the plant takes in more than 330 million gallons of raw sewage daily.
We had the pleasure of meeting with General Manager George Hawkins before getting a tour of the facility. After just a few minutes spent with Mr. Hawkins you could immediately appreciate not only his vast knowledge but his passion for what he does. He touched upon several aspects of DC Water, from its many large construction projects to its water treatment process to sustainability.
The Washington Aqueduct provides the public water supply system serving Washington, D.C., and parts of nearby suburbs and is run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. DC Water takes wastewater and runs it through cleaning processes using mechanical, chemical and biological methods like screening, aeration, polymer use and bacterial digestion. Once cleaned to EPA standards, this treated water is then put back into the Potomac River and the cycle begins once again.
One way DC Water is becoming more sustainable is with a huge construction project to further the biosolids management program with a Thermal Hydrolysis Process (THP) and digestion facility. Once completed, the project will not only be the largest of its kind in the world, but also save DC Water around $10 million a year in energy costs and cut its usage by a third. (DC Water is currently the largest consumer of electricity in the District.) It will also reduce the amount of carbon emissions by approximately 50,000 metric tons yearly. DC Water hopes to have the process up and running by July 2014.
George Hawkins actively looks for ways for DC Water to be more sustainable instead of simply taking the tried and true (easier) way out. Currently, any excess water generated during a large rain event that the facility can’t handle overflows into the city’s rivers. DC Water’s Clean Rivers Project is a colossal undertaking that will help alleviate that issue; a huge cistern-like cavity is currently being built to gradually treat storm-water that overwhelms the system. George also sees other ways of dealing with excess water, such as a push for individuals and the government on all levels to build bioswales, green roofs and rain gardens to help mitigate the problem.
One way the public can help be more water smart is by drinking more tap water instead of using bottled water. To this end, DC Water is directly involved with a project called TapIt that is also found in other cities. TapIt enables you to locate eateries (via internet search, iPhone app, or restaurants labeled with a TapIt sticker) that will let you bring your own water bottle and fill it for free.
DC Water hopes someday to become net zero for energy consumption meaning it would produce energy equal to or more than its daily needs. With future plans to double the Thermal Hydrolysis Process and digestion facility and talks of installing solar panels, DC Water thinks it can achieve this lofty goal. If everyone uses water more consciously and tries to alleviate polluting through trash and water runoff we can make D.C.’s rivers a major highlight of the city.
-Matt Fleming, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist
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.
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
Ghada Amer, (1963 – ), born in Egypt, based in New York
Earthwork in “Earth Matters”
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.
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
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 www.siris.si.edu. Please join Smithsonian Gardens and the Archives of American Gardens in celebrating this fantastic acquisition!
-Joyce Connolly, Museum Specialist
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Spiders, moths, ghosts, and vampires, oh my! Orchids might not normally comes to mind when you think of Halloween, but these fascinating members of the Orchidaceae family have adopted (and adapted) all sorts of creepy-crawly characteristics as strategies to survive. Some are on the list just because of their spooky names or association with human traditions. Smithsonian Gardens has a large collection of almost 8,000 orchids at our greenhouse facilities in Suitland, Maryland. The orchids come out to play once a year for a winter exhibit on the National Mall co-hosted with the United States Botanic Garden.
#10 Brassavola nodosa
Also known as the the “Lady of the Night” or ”Flor de la Noche,” Brassavola nodosa has ghostly white flowers that emit strong a nocturnal fragrance to attract night-pollinating moths.
#9 Mediocalcar decoratum
Mediocalcar deocatum is more cute than creepy, with blooms that resemble Halloween candy corn!
#8 Brassia gireoudiana
Brassia species orchids and hybrids are also known as “spider orchids” due to their Arachnid-like looks. The orchids use visual mimicry to trick spider-parasitizing wasps into spreading their pollen. The wasp mistakes the orchid for a spider and attempts to lay its eggs there on the lip of the flower, taking pollen without even knowing it as it flies off to the next orchid. If it was a real spider, the wasp larvae would devour the spider as their first meal!
#7 Myrmecophila tibicinis
Myrmecophila tibicinis is literally the ant lover (its name means “ant lover”). Its hollow pseudobulbs provide a home for stinging ants. The ants secrete formic acid, which feeds the plant, and act as plant bodyguards in the dry season when thirsty animals are looking for a drink from a nice succulent bulb.
#6 Laelia anceps
This beautiful orchid is native to Mexico and traditionally used to decorate graveyards on for Day of
the Dead (Día de Muertos) festivities.
#5 Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis
Bulbo phalaenopsis is a smelly, carrion fly-pollinated orchid whose fragrance, according to an old taxonomic text, is said to be like the stench of 1,000 dead elephants rotting in the sun.
#4 Aeranthes antennophora
A genus mostly from Madagascar that’s believed to be pollinated by bats looking for moths to eat, which the flowers resemble.
#3 Dendrophylax lindenii
Made famous by the book The Orchid Thief, the Ghost Orchid is a rare orchid found in Florida, Cuba, and some islands in the Caribbean. We have a couple of examples of this leafless epiphyte in our greenhouses.
#2 Bulbophyllum medusae
Named for the most famous female Gorgon of Greek mythology, Bulbophyllum medusae has many bizarre umbels of flowers like a head of snakes.
#1 Dracula vampira
Dracula vampira takes the #1 spooky spot. You might want to bring garlic with you when seeking out this striking pleurothallid orchid with sharply pendant, black striped flowers and a lip like a mushroom.
Here at Smithsonian Gardens we are celebrating American Archives Month throughout October. In August 2013, we participated in the first of a series of pilot projects, funded by the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office, to create high resolution images of archival, museum and library collection items at a rapid speed. The pilot project included a week-long open house for Smithsonian staff, fellows, interns, volunteers and contractors, to showcase the rapid digitizating of over 900 historic glass-plate negatives from the Thomas Sears Collection at the Archives of American Gardens. The open house demonstrated all stages of digitizating a glass-plate negative collection, from moving each fragile plate in a custom carrier, capturing it, and performing quality control on the resulting image, to making the digitized output accessible to the public online. The overall process involved an outside contractor performing the image capture and image processing and two staff members from the Archives of American Gardens prepping the images, handling the glass-plate negatives, ingesting the images into the Smithsonian’s Digital Asset Management System and linking them to pre-existing catalog records in the Smithsonian’s online catalog, SIRIS.
The 8×10 negatives, which had previously been digitized in the 1990s on a video disc at 640 pixels on the image’s longest side, were obviously pixelated in SIRIS. New scans of the negatives created by the vendor through rapid capture were digitized with an 80 megapixel camera. The quality of the new scans, measured at roughly 10,000 pixels on the longest side, ensures that the Archives will likely never have to scan the glass plates again. Rapid capture is not new, but the tools to measure the quality that can be achieved through rapid digitization are. For any large scale digitization projects of like materials, the Archives of American Gardens hopes to secure funding to digitize archival images through the rapid capture process instead of its current method of digitizing on a flatbed scanner.
To put it into concrete terms, the time that it takes to scan one image on a flatbed scanner is roughly 12 to 15 minutes. To digitize one image using rapid capture, it takes less than one minute. Rapid capture has opened our eyes to a highly efficient method that enables an entire collection to be digitized in a quantifiable time frame. The piece of the puzzle that remains to be addressed is the time-intensive process of cataloging that is needed to make the collections readily searchable online.
Background on Thomas Sears
Thomas Sears graduated with a degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University’s Lawrence Scientific School in 1906, where he also studied photography. He worked for Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects in the 1910s out of their Brookline, Massachusetts office before establishing his own landscape design office.
A set of images scanned during the rapid capture digitization project included the Edgewood estate in Baltimore, Maryland, photographed by Thomas Sears and designed by Sears and Wendell of Philadelphia.
Learn more about the Thomas Sears Collection.
Click here to learn more about the Archives of American Gardens.
-Kelly Crawford, Museum Specialist
As parents, teachers, and students wrap up the first couple of months of the new school year. Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist Christine Price-Abelow thought it would be fun to highlight a few plants with names linked to education. Keep an eye out for these plants growing in the museum gardens on your next class field trip!
1. Chinese Scholar-tree (Sophora japonica)
Chinese Scholar-tree is also known as the Japanese Pagodatree. In its native country of China the Scholar–tree was often planted near Buddhist shrines, hence the name. However it is commonly used as a city or street tree in the United States. It has a moderate to fast growth rate and usually reaches a height of 40-60’ with a nice rounded crown. Sophora trees have a compound leaf which casts a light shade and they are very tolerant to heat, drought and pollution. They produce creamy white flowers in mid-July followed by a pod type fruit. This “educational” tree can be found on the west side of the National Air and Space Museum near the McDonald’s trailer and seating area.
2. Princeton Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’)
The next time you visit Smithsonian Gardens and the National Mall, be sure to look up at the large towering trees shading the walkways. A large percentage of this tree canopy is made up of American elms, specifically the ‘Princeton’ American Elm. As you know, most plant cultivars are named for people and places and the ever popular Princeton elm is no exception. The Princeton elm was first introduced in 1922 by William Flemer of Princeton Nurseries located near Princeton, New Jersey. The Princeton elm was originally selected for its resistance to Dutch elm disease and aesthetic beauty. There are many examples of the Princeton elm planted throughout the U.S. and they can be genetically linked to a 200+ year old American elm tree formerly growing at Princeton Cemetery near Princeton University.
American elms have a beautiful yellow fall color and make excellent shade trees. They are fast growing and reach a height of about 80’ with a spread of 50-60’. The Princeton cultivar is known for its disease resistance and large dark green leaves. They are also a great choice for urban landscapes. Plant your own piece of history!
Smithsonian Gardens is using Ulmus Americana ‘Princeton’ as a street tree and in the tree box planters surrounding the museums.
3. Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)
In keeping with our “Back to School” theme, our next featured plant is the pencil cactus. Though often referred to as a cactus, this plant is actually a succulent and a member of the Euphorbia family. The pencil cactus is native to Africa and India, therefore it is grown as a seasonal tropical plant or a houseplant in the Washington, D.C. area. This euphorbia’s distinctive round, rod-shaped branches that resemble the familiar school implement give the plant its nickname. They are very easy to grow and can be propagated by cuttings.
*A note of caution, you should always wear gloves when working around this plant; it exudes a milky, latex-type sap that can cause an allergic skin reaction for some people.
This plant can be found growing in a large container in the Ripley Garden.
-Christine Abelow-Price, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist