Posts filed under ‘Education’
On March 11, 2013, Smithsonian Gardens received accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), a designation that confers a high mark of distinction for a museum. Accreditation signifies excellence to the general public as well as to the greater museum community, the public garden community, and other cultural organizations.
Smithsonian Gardens (SG) began the accreditation process in 2007 by undertaking an Institutional Assessment through AAM’s Museum Assessment Program (MAP). The assessment provided an overview of Smithsonian Gardens’ entire management and operational practices and involved three distinct phases—self-study, peer review, and implementation. Using the outcomes of the MAP assessment, Smithsonian Gardens launched an intensive strategic planning process which resulted in an organizational name change (it had formerly been known as Horticulture Services Division) and a refined mission.
Armed with SG’s FY2010-2015 Strategic Plan http://www.gardens.si.edu/about-us/docs/SmithsonianGardens-Plan.pdf , Smithsonian Gardens undertook the AAM accreditation process in 2010. To earn accreditation a museum first must conduct a year of self-study and then host a site visit by a two-person team of peers. AAM’s Accreditation Commission, an autonomous body of museum professionals, considers both the self-study and site visit report to determine whether a museum should receive accreditation.
Of the nation’s 17,500 museums, only 1,000 are currently accredited, and only 3% of the latter are public gardens. In the D.C. metro area only two other public gardens have attained accreditation status: the United States Botanic Garden (www.usbg.gov) and Green Spring Gardens (www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/greenspring).
Accreditation recognizes high standards in individual museums and ensures that museums uphold their public trust obligations. Developed and sustained by museum professionals for over 40 years, AAM’s museum accreditation program is the field’s primary vehicle for quality assurance, self-regulation and public accountability.
AAM’s Characteristics of Excellence are the standards by which all museums can and should strive to achieve in ways appropriate to their resources. To best serve their communities, it is essential that museums be committed to institutional improvement and maintaining the highest standards in collections stewardship, governance, institutional planning, ethics, education and interpretation, and risk management. AAM accreditation signifies excellence and accountability to the entire museum community, to outside agencies and to the museum-going public.
For more information about the American Alliance of Museums and its Accreditation Program, including a complete list of accredited museums, please visit www.aam-us.org .
This year, Smithsonian Gardens is pleased to be hosting its second annual Arbor Day Tree Planting Celebration! Although we have a great diversity of tree species here at the Smithsonian, we are always looking to add more to diversify our collection. There are many wonderful exotic, non-invasive species that are well-suited to the growing environment in the Washington, DC area. However, we are currently concentrating on adding more native tree species. This year, we have chosen two different natives to plant.
Carolina Silverbell (Halesia tetraptera)
Carolina Silverbell is a native hardwood understory tree that is typically found along slopes and streams in ravines in hardwood forests. They favor north and east-facing aspects with moist, well-drained acidic loam soils. They thrive in full and partial shade and have a core range in the southern Appalachian Mountains, but stretch as far as eastern Oklahoma, northern Florida, and southern Illinois. This tree typically grows to be 30-40 feet, but can grow as high as 80 feet. Its primary feature is beautifully bell-shaped white flowers that hang in clusters and are borne in the spring.
White Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
The White Fringe Tree is another native hardwood tree that is found in its natural range which stretches from southern New Jersey to Florida, west to Texas. The species is very variable, and no two trees seem to be alike in all characteristics. The Fringe Tree can grow in a variety of conditions, and is cold hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. As with the Carolina Silverbell, this tree’s most striking feature is the flowers. Six to eight-inch fleecy white, fragrant flowers appear in May and June and make this a beautiful addition to the landscape.
On Arbor Day, Friday April 26, we will be having two tree plantings. The White Fringe Tree will be planted at the Anacostia Community Museum, and the Carolina Silverbell will be planted at the National Museum of Air and Space, on the south side of the building adjacent to the observatory. The Smithsonian Gardens’ Arborist and other horticulture staff will be on hand at the Air and Space event to demonstrate proper tree planting techniques and to answer questions. The planting will take place at noon. We hope you can join us!
-Greg Huse, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist
We think our Smithsonian Gardens volunteers are awesome! From helping out in the Archives of American Gardens and greenhouses to volunteering as interpreters in our exhibits and gardens, volunteers help sustain some of our most important projects and serve as terrific ambassadors to our visitors.
This winter, over forty volunteers signed up to share their enthusiasm for orchids with visitors to our Orchids of Latin America exhibit. Their knowledge, love for all things orchid, and great people skills mean that those who come to see the exhibit have the opportunity to ask questions and learn more about the beautiful plants on display. If you have yet to visit the exhibit, make some time to stop by the National Museum of Natural History’s special exhibition gallery to see the beautiful display and say “hi” to the volunteers working there.
Although the orchid exhibit ends April 21st, many of our volunteer interpreters are staying on with Smithsonian Gardens to interact with the public in the gardens this spring through fall. If you are interested in meeting great people and sharing your love of plants with visitorsfrom around the world, think about joining us out in the gardens. We are always excited to welcome new volunteers and interpreters to our team! For more information or to volunteer, visit the web or send us an email.
-Alison Kootstra, Education & Outreach Intern
On October 1st, Smithsonian Gardens’ Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History (NMAH) was the pre-dinner reception site for attendees to an Outstanding in the Field (OITF) event which benefited NMAH’s upcoming exhibit, Food: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000.
Joe Brunetti of Smithsonian Gardens gave opening remarks and was ‘Host Farmer’ for the program. Organic produce from the Victory Garden was provided to the OITF chef to use in the main event, dinner on NMAH’s rooftop. Joe and his SG colleague Erin Clark gave tours of the Victory Garden and answered gardening questions from some of the 150 attendees. Outstanding in the Field’s mission is to re-connect diners to the land and the origins of their food, and to honor the local farmers and food artisans who cultivate it.
The beauty of this event went beyond just lapping up the good food. Some of the magic arose from the conversations with complete strangers, the handshakes welcoming each other, and the cohesive celebration for the nourishment on the table. Even though attendees came from all parts of the country, we were all coming together with the same passion for land, food and drink. This movement of reconnecting to our land is happening on many different fronts. People are interested in where their food is coming from, how it is being grown, and who it is supporting. It seems a simple idea, but an idea we have removed ourselves so far from. With the increasing number of farmers’ markets and the re-evolving lifestyle of being a locavore, we can hold our glass up high and say ‘cheers.’
In the words of Julia Child, ‘Bon appétit’!
-Joe Brunetti, Horticulturist, Victory Heirloom Gardens at the National Museum of American History
Working in collaboration with Richard E. Gies, lead volunteer of the Longwood Gardens Bluebird Project, Smithsonian Gardens established an Eastern Bluebird Habitat trail around the perimeter of the Greenhouse facility in Suitland MD.
A native songbird, the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) is a member of the thrush family (Turdidae). They eat insects and berries and require open grassy areas and meadows with low groundcover for feeding. These beautiful birds breed in all eastern states from Maine to Florida. They are considered to be secondary cavity nesters in that they traditionally nest in holes made by woodpeckers and other birds.
The nesting boxes were installed to benefit an existing population of Bluebirds as well as to encourage more bluebirds to nest on site. Eastern Bluebird populations are on the rise thanks, in part, to efforts like this one. The lack of suitable nesting cavities caused by changing land use patterns, increasing urbanization, and competition from introduced European starlings and house sparrows has been responsible for the decline of Eastern Bluebirds populations in the past.
When is a pair of nesting boxes better than one?
In areas where Eastern Bluebirds coexist with Tree Swallows (like Maryland) it is recommended that two boxes be placed 15-20 feet apart. Tree swallows will select one box for nesting and defend the other against use by other swallows thereby allowing Bluebirds to claim it.
A Green Roof: for style and comfort.
The roofs on these nesting boxes have been planted with a variety of stonecrop (sedum) plants. The purpose of the “green roof” is to help keep the interior of the boxes cool during the hot summer months.
The temperature inside these nesting boxes will be monitored in an effort to ensure the safety of the fledglings (baby birds).
The green roof nesting boxes were designed Richard Gies for Longwood Gardens. You can download a PDF of his instructions here:
The most important winter task is to take stock of your garden’s successes and failures. Mental notes are good, journal entries are better. There are plenty of mistakes to make, why repeat one?
Did you faithfully fertilize your garden during the growing season? If so, where are the leftovers? Don’t store them on your potting bench or your garden shed; bring them into an area that will remain above freezing. Some liquid fertilizers and pesticides become ineffective after freezing and thawing.
Take advantage of warm winter days; clean up garden debris. Pests and diseases can overwinter on and in dropped fruit, vegetables, leaves and stems. Keep the garden clean and reduce the chance for re-infections. Being neat has the added benefit of reducing the amount of chores necessary in the spring.
When you are cleaning up the garden, don’t cut back the stems of subshrubs: lavender, Russian sage, perennial salvias, etc. The stems provide protection and a bit of insulation for the crown and the dormant buds. Wait till you see new signs of growth in the spring before pruning.
Talk a walk around the garden periodically to check on plants that may have “popped out” of the soil. Fluctuating soil temps – freezing and thawing – can push the perennials and pansies you planted in the fall right out of their holes. Dig the hole a bit deeper, replant and then smooth mulch around the plant’s base. This should keep the plant firmly grounded.
Use branches of pruned evergreens to protect tender perennials from wintry blasts. Maybe your rosemary plant will finally survive the winter!
Careless use of deicing products can damage both the home and the environment. To prevent damage to your home and the environment, choose a deicer carefully. Use deicers according to the directions listed on the package, if possible use even less than is recommended. Do not use fertilizer to melt ice and snow – the nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizer can harm your local streams and the Bay. Plant damage caused by deicers can often be treated by soaking the affected area with 1-inch applications of water three to four times in the spring. As an alternative to deicers – use sand, ashes, or kitty litter to improve traction on icy areas.
Remember to water plants on warm days in January, February and March especially if there has been a dry autumn. Evergreen plants, particularly those planted in the fall, are most susceptible to desiccation.
Remove snow before it can accumulate by sweeping the branches upward with a broom to lift off the snow without further stressing the limbs.
Motivated to grow ‘green’? Use organic seed in next year’s garden. Check with the National Sustainable Information Service (https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/organic_seed/) for a list of suppliers of Certified Organic seed. Several seed catalogs located in Mid-Atlantic States appear on the list, including: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (http://www.southernexposure.com/) in Mineral, Virginia, Landreth Seed Company (www.landrethseeds.com) in Baltimore, Maryland, and Seedway (www.seedway.com) in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.
-Cynthia Brown, Horticulture Collections Management & Education Manager
What can one teacher and a lot of elementary school students do with a big idea and a bunch of dirt? A lot, as it turns out. This inspiring story comes from Christine Comas, an elementary school science teacher at Grace Episcopal Day School in Kensington, Maryland.
As part of a summer Mobile Learning Institute, Smithsonian Gardens, the National Arboretum, and the U.S. Botanic Garden collaborated with EdLab at the Postal Museum on a week-long workshop for teachers on how to integrate mission-based learning into their curriculum. The teachers spent the week completing various missions related to the role of gardens in shaping healthy communities and sharing their findings using a variety of technology platforms.
One teacher, Christine Comas, took the assignment a step further. She decided that when she returned to school in the fall, she would challenge her students to design a garden that would improve the health of their school and their community. Last year the entire school studied the Chesapeake Bay. When Comas asked her students how they would like to help save the bay, her students responded that they wanted to create habitats for animals, keep water clean and make the school beautiful. These three powerful ideas became the guiding principles of the school rain garden.
Comas and her classes collaborated with Kara Crissey from Good Earth Gardeners, who provided her expertise with plant selection. All of the plants in the garden are native to the area. Explains Comas, “We chose plants that would provide habitats for birds, butterflies and other insects, that could withstand influxes of water, salt, and pollution, and that could handle pooling of water around the plant’s base. These plants along with the rain garden structure are designed to slow down the storm water runoff and assist in the percolation of the water.”
Not only does the garden provide a beautiful setting for outdoor learning, it prevents runoff into nearby Rock Creek. Every student, from preschoolers to fifth graders, had a chance to participate in the planting. They were eager to get their hands dirty while learning about the effects of rainwater runoff on the bay. For those less in-the-know than the students, signage educates the community at large about the botanical information and the positive effects of the rain garden.
Comas reflects, “I learned from the workshop that student input and ideas should be the catalyst to environmental education projects at schools. The students become deeply invested in their work. The project then becomes more meaningful, satisfying and successful. Years from now, after they have graduated, we hope that they will return and point to the garden and note that they were a part of the solution. It is my hope that they will educate others in the community on the importance of caring for the local and global environment. Together we can make a huge impact.”
Next up? This spring the third graders will be designing and planting a native vegetable garden.
Some of the plants in the garden:
Light Blue Aster
Shenandoah Switch Grass
Purple Woods Aster
Eastern Red Cedar
Sweet Bay Magnolia
Pinot Noir Hibiscus
Blue Flag Iris
You can read more about the rain garden and see pictures of the installation process here.
-Kate Fox, Museum Educator
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
Garden trends seem to be forever changing. Some develop because even gardeners who stick with a roster of proven reliable plants like a change now and then. There are, however, numerous trends that last. For example, Penjing, or the art of depicting landscapes in miniature, is an ancient pastime that developed in China and is still seen by the use today of bonsai plants. One interesting trend currently emerging out of these gardens in miniature is what’s known as a “fairy garden.”
Lemon Hill’s fairy garden is composed of young plants, diminutive trees and bonsai that are in scale with its miniature castle and houses, fountain, stone walls, gates and furniture, and fairy figurines. The Fairy Garden takes its name from the Meyer lemon trees grown in the vicinity. Its design was inspired by miniature gardens found in Ireland and in books. It is visited often by school and scout groups.
Though gardens can reflect many things, such as taste and style, they can also reflect function, such as creating a special place for children and grandchildren. Just look at the Fairy Garden on Lemon Hill. Lemon Hill was a special project for the owner and her grandchildren. Her own daughter helped her build the garden and she implemented suggestions from her other three daughters as well as her 13 granddaughters. She created the garden with all her girls in mind.
Building a fairy garden can be a project that you enjoy with your children or grandchildren that can get them excited and participating in the art and act of gardening. They can be found in any number of small spaces, such as bird baths, pots, or large plant saucers.
Images from the Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens.
By Jessica Short
Archives of American Gardens Intern
Looking for a tough little tree with interest in multiple seasons? Try the little-known Parrotia persica or Persian Ironwood. Two outstanding attributes are its exfoliating bark and exceptional fall color.
Smithsonian Gardens maintains Parrotias in the Freer Gallery of Art’s courtyard. The trees are pruned twice a year to maintain a sense of formality, but when grown in the landscape they require little or no pruning except the removal of dead branches. Hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 to 8, Persian Ironwood grows best in full sun to dappled shade. The fall color is best when situated in full sun and this durable tree for a small urban garden is drought tolerant once established. Have an even smaller plot of land to work with? Try the culivar ‘Vanessa.’ Its outstanding attributes include an upright columnar habit in addition to great fall color and exfoliating bark.
The Persian Ironwood is a deciduous tree in the Hamamelidaceae family that is native to Iran. It is named after the nineteenth century German naturalist F.W. Parrot.