The Fountain Garden

The theme of Garden Fest this year is “Water, Water, Everywhere.” Join us on May 9th, 2014 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the Enid A. Haupt Garden for a celebration of the role water plays in sustaining healthy garden and healthy humans. The day will include live music, the creation of a water-themed community art project, and numerous educational activities. In this blog post Smithsonian Gardens volunteer Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano takes an in-depth look at the history behind one of our most popular water features in the gardens. 

Gardens are central to the design of the Smithsonian Quad, which comprises the space between the Castle and Independence Avenue. While the Victorian parterre is the largest and most central area of the Enid A. Haupt Garden, two smaller gardens are tucked among the museums. The Fountain Garden, which abuts the National Museum of African Art, is of Moorish design and incorporates key design elements of the architecture of North Africa.

The Fountain Garden

An overall view of the Fountain Garden looking towards the National Museum of African Art, 2004.

 

The Fountain Garden was inspired by the Court of the Lions in the Alhambra, the 12th century fortress and palace in Granada, Spain. The Alhambra, which is at present Spain’s most-visited monument, reflects the era of Al-Andalus, when Muslims had control or great influence over territory that extended from Central Asia to Spain. Between the 8th and the 14th centuries, Muslim Spain was a center for the arts and sciences. In the 13th century, Granada was the stronghold of the Nasrid dynasty and a thriving state in both commerce and the arts. The Alhambra, which was begun in 1248 and took 100 years to be completed, was emblematic of the dynasty’s power. It is still the world’s oldest Islamic palace to survive in a good state of preservation.

The Court of the Lions

The Court of the Lions in the Alhambra, Granada, Spain. Photo by Flickr user mttsndrs

Within the structure, the Court of the Lions has been called “the most elegant complex of Muslim architecture.” The courtyard consists of two adjacent squares forming a rectangular, with a fountain in the center and 6 fountains in the periphery. The central fountain has 12 lions in a circle surrounding a large marble basin. Water emanates from the mouth of each lion. The courtyard is surrounded by 124 intricate columns which include 11 different types of arches.

Wall Fountain

The wall fountain, seen in the background here, cools the air in the hot summer months.

Like its predecessor, the Smithsonian’s Fountain Garden incorporates water, tiles, and the symmetrical shape formed by the crossing of four streams of water representing the four rivers of paradise (water, wine, milk and honey).  But it is highly stylized version of its Andalusian counterpart, and has jets of water rising directly from the ground rather than spewing from the mouths of lions. The garden also includes a Moorish-inspired wall fountain, in which the water falls over a vertical surface. This provides a soothing sound and cools the ambient air during the warm summer months. The wall is planted with vines that form a veil or chador, thereby alluding to the cultural roots of the original fountain in what is now Spain. Art and function therefore merge with history in the garden which abuts the National Museum of African Art and can be enjoyed by visitors within the Museum as well as by those walking through the Quad’s open spaces.

-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian Gardens volunteer

April 30, 2014 at 7:00 am 2 comments

Historic Images of Early Olmsted Designs Digitized

This article was originally published in the National Association for Olmsted Parks online newsletter. April 26th is Frederick Law Olmsted’s birthday; celebrate by visiting a local park!

The Riverway

The Riverway in the Emerald Necklace, Boston, Massachusetts. Thomas Warren Sears, photographer, 1907. Archives of American Gardens.

Several hundred photographic images dating from the early twentieth century and taken by Olmsted Brothers’ employee Thomas W. Sears were digitized recently thanks to a project funded by the Smithsonian Institution.  The glass plate negatives are part of the Thomas Warren Sears Collection at the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens (AAG).

The historic images include unpublished views of early Olmsted design projects including the Emerald Necklace in Boston and Roland Park in Baltimore.  There are even a handful of images of Fairsted, the Olmsted firm’s office in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Sears started his design career with the Olmsted firm and later went into private practice in Philadelphia.  Among his most noted commissions are Reynolda, the R. J. Reynolds estate in Winston-Salem, North Carolina (now part of Wake Forest University) and the Colonial Revival gardens at Pennsbury, William Penn’s country estate in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Fairsted, Massachusetts

Fairsted, the Olmsted office in Brookline, Massachusetts. Thomas Warren Sears, photographer, 1910s. Archives of American Gardens.

An amateur photographer, Sears documented several projects of the Olmsted firm, his own design work, and numerous gardens and landscapes in the U.S. and Europe that he visited.  The Sears Collection at AAG includes over 4,500 of his images, dated approximately 1900-1930.

The 900 Sears images digitized for this pilot project are all available on the Smithsonian’s online catalog at www.siris.si.edu .  Their resolution is truly remarkable: it is possible to read the caption of a framed photograph seen in the background of Sears’ dorm room at Harvard University!

Approximately 20% of the Sears Collection was digitized during the rapid capture digitization project.  The time needed to capture a high resolution digital scan of each fragile glass plate negative was under a minute as compared to 9-14 minutes per scan that AAG staff had been averaging with a flatbed scanner.  The Archives of American Gardens hopes to secure funding in the future to digitize the remainder of the collection which includes Olmsted gems like New York’s Central Park, Buffalo’s Delaware Park, and Branch Brook Park in New Jersey.

-Joyce Connolly, Museum Specialist 

April 24, 2014 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Container Gardening Basics

Container gardening is fun for everyone and easier than most people think. Containers are easier to maintain in areas where space is limited, easy to move around depending on the light requirements, can be rotated depending on the season, and will break up the monotony of a deck, patio, or terrace.

It is entirely up to you, the gardener, whether to select the container before or after the plants are chosen.  Just make sure the plants and the container complement each other in size and color and remember that drainage in the container is a must!

Container gardens require a soil mix that is light and well drained.  Many potting mixes also have fertilizer added and contain ingredients to help retain moisture, both of which are helpful for container plants.  It is best to purchase soil labeled exclusively for container gardening.  These mixtures are usually made from ingredients that—oddly enough—don’t include soil, thereby making them “soilless” mixes.  If you find the bag too heavy to pick up it’s probably too heavy to use in a container.

Haupt Garden container garden

A variety of heights, colors, and textures in this Enid A. Haupt Garden urn make for an exciting container garden.

Plants with the same growing conditions and water and light requirements should be planted together.  Consider using non-flowering plants for unique leaf texture and color along with flowering plants, perennials, herbs, and even vegetables.  This type of planting is called “fusion” gardening in the green industry.   Perennials used in containers during the season can then be planted in the garden bed for the following year.

For a great looking display, a mixture of tall, medium-sized, and trailing plants is important.  Tall plants can be planted in the center, off to the side, or at the back of the pot.  Shorter plants can be placed around the tall plants and trailing plants close to the outside edges.

Smithsonian Castle hanging basket

Short on space? A hanging basket is the perfect solution if you’re lacking in square footage. This simple but colorful summer arrangement gussies up a lamppost next to the Smithsonian Castle. Eric Long, photographer.

The plants will only receive nutrition from you so using a well balanced fertilizer is important for overall plant health.  Top dressing with a slow release fertilizer helps get the plants off to a good start. The more water you add to the soil, the more fertilizer the plants will need.  An all-purpose food mixed with water is an easy and fast way to feed your plants.

A daily watering check is a must, especially if the container is displayed in full sun during the summer months.  Watering in the morning is best.  Plants will be able to quench their thirst through the warmer parts of the day and the risk of foliar diseases will decrease if the leaves are kept dry in the cooler temperatures at the end of the day.

Many varieties of plants need to be deadheaded to remove spent flowers and encourage more branching and new flowers.  Routine maintenance will also alert you to any diseases or pest problems that may occur in the container garden.

Inspire yourself to bring color and excitement to every area around your home through the wonderful world of container gardening.  Start out small and simple.  Gardening is a perfect way to achieve some quiet time and interact with nature.  Discover how fulfilling and fun container gardening really can be!

-Jill Gonzalez, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist

April 15, 2014 at 8:15 am 1 comment

Lost Bird Project: Modern Extinction

Interning at the Smithsonian Gardens this winter has been an enriching and rewarding experience.  Getting the opportunity to work on so many different projects with so many different people in an intellectually-stimulating environment makes every day exciting and gratifying.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to assist in The Lost Bird Project’s arrival at the Smithsonian. Sculptor Todd McGrain began The Lost Bird Project to bring awareness to North American birds that have become extinct within the last two centuries. Todd has made five cast-bronze statues to immortalize five extinct birds: the Carolina Parakeet, the Passenger Pigeon, the Labrador Duck, the Heath Hen, and the Great Auk. He has traveled across the country installing his statues at locations where the birds were last seen. His statues have also been displayed at various institutions across the country.

Heath Hen sculpture by Todd McGrain

The Heath Hen installed in its new home in the Enid A. Haupt Garden parterre.

Smithsonian Gardens is proud to host Todd’s statues in the Enid A. Haupt Garden located adjacent to the Smithsonian Castle. The Passenger Pigeon statue will be on display at the Urban Bird Habitat Garden located at the northwest corner of the National Museum of Natural History as a companion piece to the Smithsonian Institution Libraries’ exhibit Once There Were Billions: Vanished Birds of North America opening on June 24, 2014. The five sculptures will be on display through March 15, 2015.

Lost Bird Project sculptures

The Lost Bird Project bronze sculptures in situ.

The stories of these birds are tragic and highlights just how fragile nature can be. One-hundred years ago, massive flocks (numbering in the millions) of Passenger Pigeons flew across the Unites States. It was inconceivable at the time that the huge Passenger Pigeon population could become extinct. The birds became a stable food source across the country and as the demand for Passenger Pigeons grew, the birds were hunted to the point of extinction. Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, died in captivity in 1914.

Carolina Parakeet sculpture by Todd McGrain

Artist Todd McGrain unveils the Carolina Parakeet.

These two exhibits remind us of the importance of understanding how as humans we are intrinsically linked to our environment.  Whether directly or indirectly, humans have a huge influence on our natural world and our every action affects many other organisms. These birds represent just a mere fraction of the species we have lost over the past two centuries. Pollution, excessive hunting and fishing, global warming, habitat loss are all anthropogenic factors that have contributed to the extinction of many species across the globe. By bringing awareness to this issue, we can work towards preventing such extinctions from happening in the future.

 -Tammy Lee, Smithsonian Gardens landscape architecture intern

 

Map of The Lost Bird Project in the Smithsonian gardens.

April 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

Plant Pranks

It’s April Fool’s Day! You know what that means . . . Don’t worry, we don’t have any tricks up our sleeves today. We’re going to let the plants pull all the pranks. We asked Smithsonian Gardens horticulturists to think of a few of their favorite plants that deceive and mislead both pollinators and gardeners alike. (Yes, we are anthropomorphizing here; guilty as charged!)

Maianthemum racemosum

Maianthemum racemosum a.k.a False Solomon’s Seal -suggested by James Galgliardi, Butterfly Habitat & Urban Bird Habitat Garden horticulturist: From its foliage one would think this plant to be Solomon’s Seal, but this native plant reveals its true self in bloom. Instead of the drooping bell-shaped flowers from the leaf axils seen on Solomon’s Seal, Maianthemum racemosum’s flowers appear at the end of the stems as fragrant plumy racemes. Attractive berries turn ruby red in summer. These berries serve as a food source for a variety of birds in the Urban Bird Habitat.

Lycoris squamigera

Lycoris squamigera -suggested by Brett McNish, Supervisory Horticulturist: This lily loves to play tricks on unsuspecting gardeners. The green foliage grows in the spring, then dies back in the summer, leaving little evidence the plant ever existed. In late summer the flower scapes shoot up quickly and burst with beautiful pink blossoms. This is why Lycoris squamigera is also know as the ‘Resurrection’ or ‘Magic’ lily. Isn’t nature cool? (Image via eol)

Exochorda

Exochorda -suggested by Erin Clark, Victory Garden & Heirloom Garden horticulturist: Exochorda, also known as pearl bush, has flower buds that look like little pearls. At a glance out the window, it can also fool some of us paranoid sun-seekers into thinking spring has dropped yet another snow. Not to worry, it is just a sign that spring is truly here. Watch for this to bloom within the month. While we grow an heirloom species, there are many modern cultivars to choose from. (Image via eol)

Lithops

Lithops- suggested by Joe Brunetti, Victory Garden & Heirloom Garden horticulturist: Lithops, also known as ‘living stone,’ is a succulent native to southern Africa. Mimcry helps this plant blend in with its environment. The leaf pairs look like rocks and pebbles, which helps the plant to avoid being eaten. Leaf pairs can be shades of brown, green, cream, or tan and produce yellow or white flowers.  (Image via eol)

Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens orchid specialist and horticulturist, had many suggestions! Orchids are masters of trickery and deception. 

Bulbophyllum beccarii orchid

Bulbophyllum flowers often look and smell like dung, dead animals, or bloody dismembered parts of animals. They do this to attract carrion flies which pollinate them . . . but alas, the flies have been duped and get nothing in return for their pollination services. (Pictured: Bulbophyllum beccarii via eol)

Ophrys orchid

Most famous are the various orchids such as Ophrys (from the Mediterranean ) that use sexual deception to attract bees to their flowers. They have lips that strongly resemble lovely female bees to attract the young, naive male bees. Furthermore, the fragrance of their flowers contains a bee’s sex pheromone, attracting the males and tricking them into ‘pseudocopulation’ to spread the flower’s pollen. (Pictured: Ophrys scolopax via eol)

April 1, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Hope for the American Elm

American Elm

The American elm at the intersection of Constitution Ave. and 9th St. on the grounds of the National Museum of Natural History. Eric Long, photographer.

Smithsonian Gardens manages the health and maintenance of 1,873  trees in the Washington, D.C. area. As you walk around the Smithsonian gardens and museums you may notice a common theme: many of these trees are mature specimens with historical context and connection to the museums they surround. This is extremely evident as you walk the grounds of the National Museum of Natural History, where the extensive American elm plantings bring us back to a time when Ulmus americana was the predominant street tree in America. In fact, the large specimen on the corner of 9th Street and Constitution Avenue predates the museum, which celebrated its centennial in 2010.

As Dutch Elm Disease (DED) has wiped out the majority of stately American elms throughout the U.S., we at Smithsonian Gardens work diligently to monitor and manage our trees in order to prevent the spread of this lethal disease.

NMNH, 1909. Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Center Market vendors outside of the National Museum of Natural History in 1909. Dutch Elm Disease wiped out many of the majestic elms that predate the museum. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

It is with this management strategy in mind that we carefully select replacements when elm trees at the Smithsonian need to be removed. When one of the younger elms on the north lawn of the National Museum of Natural History was critically damaged during a storm, we once again debated and discussed which “resistant” elm to replace it with. One of the best choices for a true Ulmus americana replacement is the ‘Jefferson’ Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Jefferson’), selected through the collaborative efforts of the National Park Service and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS).

This tree was selected for its excellent DED resistance and the fact that as a true species, it exhibits the classic American elm form, unlike some of the resistant hybrids.

‘Jefferson’ elms leaf out earlier in the spring and maintain their green color better in the summer than other U. americana specimens. We were very lucky to receive this tree from the National Park Service as it is just becoming available in the commercial trade at this time, and can be difficult to find. The National Park Service propagates ‘Jefferson’ by cuttings from the original tree, located on the National Mall, and grows the seedlings for six years at its National Capital Region Nursery. It is a long process and a difficult one, as only about 5% of the cuttings live to become mature trees. Hopefully this selection will become more common in the nursery trade so that we can once again plant these majestic trees with confidence. Until that time, we are very thankful for the ongoing collaboration between the National Park Service and Smithsonian Gardens to ensure that the American elm still graces the Washington, D.C. landscape.

-Jonathan Kavalier, Smithsonian Gardens Supervisory Horticulturist 

March 20, 2014 at 2:22 pm Leave a comment

Orchid Oddity: Habenaria medusa

Anyone who’s seen specimens from the Smithsonian Orchid Collection knows that this most diverse and species-rich plant family can display truly bizarre yet strangely beautiful forms. Literally every day, some improbable flower comes into bloom in our greenhouses. But there is one plant that invariably causes jaws to drop when viewed in full bloom. Most onlookers agree it is among our most spectacular and prized orchid species in the collection.

Habenaria medusa

Habenaria medusa via eol.

Habenaria medusae is a terrestrial orchid from monsoonal habitats in Indonesia and mainland southeast Asia. Producing a basal rosette of leaves from a subterranean corm, the plant is fairly nondescript until it sends up a 20-inch inflorescence bearing ten to twenty or more truly astounding flowers. Most prominent is the outstanding lip, composed of finely dissected, radially arranged fringe reminiscent of Medusa’s head of snakes, from which it gets its name. One might ask why such a lip evolved in the first place; in this case it is still somewhat of a mystery. Thought to be moth-pollinated because of its white color, sweet evening fragrance and nectar spur, the deep fringe is actually a fairly commonplace feature of moth flowers. Though no one knows exactly why, something about these deeply fringed flowers acts as a highly effective attractant to moths.

Habenarias are known for being difficult to cultivate, intolerant of poor or chemically treated water, and needing a strict, dry winter dormant period. They rot easily if watered during their dry season. Despite its sensitive nature, the Smithsonian’s specimen has proven to be more amenable than most to cultivation and has bloomed three times since being purchased as a small bulb from a vendor from Singapore at the World Orchid Conference. This year the plant was selfed (pollinated with its own pollen) to create more seedlings of this delightful species and also crossed with a related species with a deep coral pink lobed lip in the hopes of producing flowers with a colorful medusa lip.

-Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens orchid specialist

Visit our orchids at the United States Botanic Garden’s exhibit Orchid Symphony, a collaboration between Smithsonian Gardens and USBG, now through April 27th, 2014!

March 10, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

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