Protecting Pollinators

Did you know that this week is National Pollinator Week? Every year organizations devoted to conservation celebrate pollinators and address the urgent issue of declining pollinator and plant populations. Pollination is the process of moving pollen within flowers or from flower to flower, allowing the plants to fertilize and reproduce. This movement can be done by wind, water, or a variety of animals, known as pollinators. Animal pollinators assist about 90% of all flowering plants in their pollination needs.

The Pollinator Cycle (pollinator.org)

This year’s focus is on native orchids, which depend on a variety of animals for pollination. What is particularly interesting about the relationships between orchids and their pollinators is that while many insects and animals may visit orchid flowers, each orchid species often has a “preferred” pollinator. Unfortunately, if pollinator populations continue to decline, many species of orchids could be at risk.

This is true too for many of our own food sources, including coffee, bananas, and a variety of tree nuts. These plants are truly dependent on their pollinators and in turn, so are we. According to pollinator.org, “worldwide, approximately 1,000 plants grown for food, beverages, fibers, spices, and medicines need to be pollinated by animals in order to produce the goods on which we depend. In the United States, pollination by honeybees and other insects produces $40 billion worth of products annually.” However, the loss of habitat, chemical misuse, invasive plant and animal species, and various diseases have severely affected pollinator species around the world. Unfortunately, the true scope of damage and the status of pollinators is still unknown, which is why it is so important to work to conserve pollinator species, even the seemingly non-desirable insects, such as flies.

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Bee on a Brown-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba) in the Butterfly Habitat Garden

When we think of pollinators, we typically think of the glamorous ones: bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. However, many plants are pollinated by other animals and insects such as bats, beetles, moths, and even flies; each one has its own distinct attraction to flowers. For example, bees, birds, and butterflies prefer brightly colored flowers, while flies and moths prefer pale or dark colored plants. A diverse selection of native plants in your garden can help to support pollinator populations in your area and maintain botanical biodiversity. Pollinator.org has handy regional guides on what plants are native to your area and attractive to the different pollinators in your eco-system.

So what can we do to protect and encourage pollinator communities? In the Butterfly Habitat Garden, Smithsonian Gardens has committed to planting pollinator-attracting plants free of chemical-based pesticides. In all of our gardens too, an Integrated Pest Management approach is used, meaning that we monitor insect behavior and can then attempt to control insect populations rather than eradicate them. This method can better allow for pollinators to do their jobs, as they are not exterminated by chemical-based pesticides.

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Smithsonian Gardens’ Butterfly Habitat Garden outside the National Museum of Natural History

Even if you cannot devote a whole habitat to pollinating critters, you can provide a refuge or food source with even one plant. James Gagliardi, horticulturist in the Butterfly Habitat Garden provided a list of some of his favorite plants in the garden that are frequently visited by pollinators:

Hummingbird Mint (Agastache spp)
Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)
Bee Balm (Monarda spp)
Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)
Salvia (Salvia spp)
Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa spp)
Goldenrod (Solidago spp)
Verbena (Verbena spp, especially Verbena bonariensis)
Lantana (Lantana camara)
Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

-Elizabeth Chenevey, Smithsonian Gardens Education & Outreach Intern

June 17, 2014 at 8:31 am Leave a comment

The Heath Hen

The Enid A. Haupt Garden is a symmetrical, manicured Victorian parterre gracing the Smithsonian Quad. While the design of the garden changes with the seasons, it usually has topiaries or tall urns in each of its four corners. This year, however, the plants have been replaced by four large bronze birds, each one representing an extinct species native to North America.

The birds, the work of artist Todd McGrain, are part of the Lost Bird Project. The project seeks to create awareness of the vulnerability of living things when they are hunted or their habitats are destroyed. The sculpture closest to the southeast corner of the garden  is the heath hen, whose history is closely entwined with that of the areas where it once thrived, from Maine to Virginia.

Heath Hen by Todd McGrain

Heath Hen by Todd McGrain

A subspecies of the prairie chicken, the heath hen was considered a culinary treat. Indeed, some have suggested that it was the heath hen rather than the turkey that the Pilgrims consumed during the first Thanksgiving. Because they were a cheap food source, heath hens were hunted and eaten, and their numbers dropped sharply. By 1870, there were none in the US mainland; their dwindling population was confined to the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. By the turn of the 20th century, only 100 heath hens were left and the island placed a ban on hunting. This measure, together with the creation of a sanctuary, increased their population to 800 by 1916. But a fire destroyed much of their breeding ground that year, and that, together with a harsh winter, disease, and the rise of predatory birds, once again imperiled the heath hen. By 1927, there were only 13 birds left. The last heath hen, known as Booming Ben for his distinctive and haunting hoot, died in 1932.

Heath Hens

This illustration shows a male and a female heath hen. From Illustrations of the American ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucien Bonaparte Prince of Musignano With the addition of numerous recently discovered species and representations of the whole sylvae of North America (1835) by Thomas Brown and illustration by James Turvey. Wikicommons.

McGrain has depicted the hen with an open beak, as if Ben were trying to tell us something. The sculpture was made using the lost-wax method. The bird was first carved in wax, then covered with a ceramic material and baked in an oven. This burned away the wax, leaving a mold in the shape of the bird. The molten bronze was then poured into the mold, after which it hardened and assumed the desired form. The artist has therefore created a memorial to the extinct bird, both honoring the heath hen and reminding us of its extinction, an event that could have been averted with greater environmental knowledge and awareness.

-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian Gardens volunteer

June 4, 2014 at 7:00 am 1 comment

The Magic of Rain Lilies

The common name rain lily comes from this plant’s tendency to bloom after a good soaking from Mother Nature.  They are native to tropical and semi-tropical regions of the Americas.   There are 3 genera commonly known as rain lilies – Zephyranthes, Habranthus, and Cooperia.  Rain lilies are a perennial bulb with a hardiness of USDA Zones 7 to 11 for most species.  They come in various colors, mostly ranging from pinks, yellows, and whites and new colors are popping up through hybridizing and breeding all the time.  Although the common name would suggest that they are in the Liliaceae (lily) family, they actually fall under Amaryllidaceae.

Zephyranthes candida

Zephyranthes candida (Kai Yan, Joseph Wong, photographers. Image via eol.)

Rain lilies are often grown in containers where they can be placed on a front porch or around a deck and will reward all season long.  I have found that if grown in containers, they seem to prefer being slightly crowded and even somewhat pot-bound.  They also look great along a pathway or in the front of a sunny border and are often used in rock gardens.  To get the finest show, Rain lilies look best planted in masses.  Most Rain lilies will bloom several times a season, usually after a good downpour.

If you live in a zone where Rain lilies are not hardy they are easy to overwinter.  When it starts getting cooler, simply bring them indoors (either the container or, if planted, the dug up plants – if possible give them a quick potting) and keep them dry all winter, then set them outside again in the spring.  You can pull off the foliage as it dies to keep them clean.  You may want to either add soil or rough the edges of the pot prior to setting them outside if the soil has shrunk over the winter.

Habranthus tubispathus

Habranthus tubispathus, also referred to as Habranthus texanus (Stan Shebs, photographer. Image via eol.)

Rain lilies grow best in full sun to partial shade.  They prefer to be kept evenly moist but can tolerate periodic dry spells without problem.  During summer months use a well-balanced fertilizer (either liquid or slow release).  The bulbs produce offsets which can be divided and planted in spring or you can sow seeds if you wish.  If you are collecting seeds, sow right away before they dry as they tend to lose the ability to germinate and may take extra time to do so.  Rain lilies are very gardener-friendly as they have no serious pest or disease issues.  I have had problems with mealy bugs, however, but that is because I start watering them earlier in the season than normal and I keep them in the greenhouse for a fuller plant come spring.  Be aware that all parts of the plant can be toxic if ingested.

After reading this, you may be eager to see some Rain lilies for yourself, so please stop by the Ripley Garden at the Smithsonian Institution this summer and enjoy their beauty.  Some of the ones we display are Zephyranthes flavissima, Habranthus robustus ‘Russell Manning’, Habranthus texanus, and Zephyranthes candida.

 

-Matt Fleming, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist

May 25, 2014 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment

Water Conservation at Smithsonian Gardens

Join us this Saturday, May 9th, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m for a celebration of “Water, Water, Everywhere” at Garden Fest in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. In this blog entry Sarah Tietbohl writes about just one of the many ways we try to conserve water at Smithsonian Gardens.

Moongate Fountain in the Haupt Garden

Moongate fountain in the Enid A. Haupt Garden

When I first started at Smithsonian Gardens in 2010 I was assigned the job of cleaning the Moongate fountain in the Enid A. Haupt Garden.  I was excited about this task as I would have an opportunity to learn to use a new piece of equipment and keep cool during the hot summer months.  I estimated that the fountain would need to be cleaned maybe once a month. With the pond open between April and October, that would total seven times a year. That spring, the cleaning schedule started out at once a month.  As the season went on and the temperatures climbed into the 90s, I noticed that the fountain was growing algae at a rapid pace. It turned the water a sickly slimy-green color. That once-a-month cleaning turned into scouring once or twice a week! That season, I ended up cleaning the fountain well over twenty times. The next year it was the same story.

Moongate fountain in the Haupt Garden

Sarah explains her environmentally-friendly method for maintaining the Moongate fountain.

After the summer of 2011, I really started to think about all of the water, energy, and time it takes to clean the Moongate fountain. I started to gauge the amount of water that was being used in one year to clean and fill the fountain. I calculated that it takes 2,300 gallons of water just to fill the fountain each time it is cleaned, plus 200 gallons or so to clean it. I decided to research environmentally-friendly products that would reduce the amount of algal growth, thereby cutting down on the amount of water needed to re-fill the fountain after each cleaning. Fewer cleaning sessions would also result in less emissions (and noise) generated from the power washer that runs every time the fountain is cleaned. I started experimenting with a non-toxic black pond dye. Adding black dye to the fountain reduced the amount of sunlight that was able to penetrate the water, which in turn reduced the algal growth. I found the dye to be very effective and talked my colleagues into using it in the fountains in the Ripley and Folger Gardens as well. Thanks to the black dye solution, Smithsonian Gardens has reduced fountain water use from 60,000 gallons a year to slightly less than 22,000 gallons- a terrific way for Smithsonian Gardens to employ a sustainable alternative in its operations.

-Sarah Tietbohl, Smithsonian Gardens 

 

May 7, 2014 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

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

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