Posts tagged ‘Enid A. Haupt Garden’

Ensete superbum


Cliff banana (Ensete superbum)

Cliff banana (Ensete superbum). Image courtesy of the National Museum of Natural History.

This monocarpic, herbaceous banana is a wonderful specimen in any garden. Monocarpic describes plants that flower, set seed, and then die. Ensete superbum, or cliff banana, is native to India and has a conical pseudo-stem made up of overlapping leaf sheaths.  Its bright green leaves, reaching six feet in length, drop during winter.  The plant may reach ten to twelve feet while blooming.  The inflorescence (or flower head) is a curved terminal spike with triangular oblong fruits and reddish brown bracts that persist for some time to add ornamental value.  This banana, unlike many others, does not produce suckers and only reproduces by seed.  In some extraordinary cases, plants in the wild can go into a three to four year dormancy period.

Cliff banana (Ensete superbum)

The cliff banana (Ensete superbum) in its current home in the Enid A. Haupt Garden.

This rare plant in now on display in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. You can see it for a limited time just inside the west entrance to the garden, close to the entrance to the S. Dillon Ripley Center.

-Matt Fleming, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist

August 5, 2014 at 7:00 am 1 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 This year, however, the plants have been replaced by four large bronze birds, each one representing an extinct species native to North America.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

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

Art For a Day

On May 10th We celebrated National Public Gardens Day with Earth Matters to Smithsonian Gardens – Garden Fest 2013! It was a busy (and hot) day energized by music, dancing, crafts, tomato potting, and lots of information for the home gardener, from composting to attracting pollinators.

When we asked artist  Emily C-D to design a collaborative, ephemeral art activity for Garden Fest we were excited to see what she would dream up. For weeks we collected leaves, flowers, and  more from our gardens and greenhouses, eager to see how she would incorporate the materials into an artwork dependent on visitor participation that would only last for one day.

In her own words, here is Emily’s take on her process and vision:

Garden Fest collaborative and ephemeral art activity

Emily drew out a design on a piece of 15’ x 15’ canvas beforehand and brought it with her on the big day. Photo by Brett McNish.

What was your inspiration for the project?

Emily: I was asked to come up with a temporary, participatory art piece appropriate for a festival about gardening that would also reference the Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor exhibit at the National Museum of African Art. Drawing on my experience as a muralist who has often painted on horizontal surfaces, and also as an explorer that has experienced the beauty of Mexican tapetes (ephemeral carpets), I proposed the creation of a ground mural out of natural materials. I have always enjoyed transforming the floor—crosswalks, sidewalks, streets, and bridges—because the process of creation and the finished piece are intrinsically participatory. I can invite people of all ages and abilities to join in the fun since the surface to be transformed does not necessitate the use of ladders or scaffolding. The public that walks across the finished work of art enters the world created by the designs and colors, literally becoming a part of the piece. For Garden Fest, it seemed appropriate that we would use organic materials from the garden itself—seeds, leaves, petals, sticks, wood chips, rocks, and dirt—to “paint” the mural.

Adding natural materials to the ephemeral art piece.

Throughout the day visitors participated by jumping in and adding natural materials to the larger design. Some stayed for only a few minutes but others stayed for more than an hour. Photo by Francisco X. Guerra.

Can you tell us a little bit more about “garden carpets” in Mexico?

Emily: Tapetes (literally, carpet in Spanish) are temporary works of art that are created on the ground out of brightly colored sawdust and other organic materials like flower petals, beans, seeds, and rice. In Mexico, their creation is a public event that draws the community together and is often associated with the celebration of a religious holiday. Tapetes can be monumental, perhaps covering the entire block that surrounds a church. It takes an incredible amount of patience, time, and energy to create a work of art of such magnitude (and often quite impressive detail and design), and yet tapetes are meant to be walked on. They are pathways for spiritual processions and as such they are ephemeral, lasting only a day or two. The value of tapetes lies within a process that builds community and brings people into the present through the creation of a moment of beauty.

Did everything go as planned? Did anything surprise you?

Emily: The nature of my community practice is such that the element of surprise is built into the projects. My role as the artist is to create an open framework that establishes cohesiveness within a work of art that involves the contributions of many hands and minds.  Although I might be working with specific themes, materials, and/or designs, many details are left up to the participants so that they might have a sense of ownership of the piece, and not just feel like “helpers.” In the case of Garden Carpet, I drew a very basic design onto a large piece of canvas which people were encouraged to “color in” using the various materials at hand—sort of like a page from a monumental coloring book. The symmetrical nature of my drawing influenced the placement of the materials (sand, pinecones, or pink sawdust), so that without directing people as to where to place what, the final work exhibited an incredible sense of balance. It was a constant surprise to me as to which colors and textures were chosen to fill in the different areas of the design, and yet at the end of the day, my original drawing still shone through.

Visitors add natural materials to the ephemeral art piece at Garden Fest.

We were amazed by the intricate designs created by the Garden Fest visitors. Photo by Brett McNish.

 What was your favorite moment of the day?

Emily: The moment when two girls began to fill in the blank design with color was especially exciting, and viewing the finished work at the end of the day was definitely very satisfying. Although, I have to stress that I thoroughly enjoyed myself throughout the day. Every moment was filled with color, collaboration, and creation!

Emily C-D with the finished work of art.

Emily C-D with the finished garden carpet at the end of the day. Photo by Francisco X. Guerra.

How did you get into community art, and what do you enjoy about collaborating with the public?

Art is a form of communication that can transgress boundaries of language and culture. As such, I have always been interested in increasing the accessibility of art so that we might all realize our creative potential and cooperate in the creation of a more vivid, expressive world. I first got into community art back in 2004 when I facilitated the painting of new outdoor seating for a public library in Baltimore. Since then, I have been creating fun, interactive projects that blur the line between spectator and participant, working with people to discover color, rhythm, and beauty within the chaos of our reality.

At the end of the day the installation was rolled up and composted at our greenhouse facility, but it lives on in photographs and the memories of those who contributed to its creation.

Emily C-D is based out of Mexico City and Baltimore. You can view more of her community art on her website:


-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

July 17, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Smithsonian Gardens Turns 40!

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:

THEN: The side of the Freer Gallery of Art, circa 1976. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

NOW: The side of the Freer Gallery of Art, 2012.

THEN: Peacock in the Courtyard of the Freer Gallery of Art, circa 1923. Peacocks lived in the courtyard during the 1920’s as a nod to James McNeill Whistler’s famous Peacock Room inside the gallery. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

NOW: Courtyard of the Freer Gallery of Art (sans peacocks), 2010. Photographer: Eric Long.

NOW: Courtyard of the Freer Gallery of Art (sans peacocks), 2010. Photographer: Eric Long.

THEN: Topiary dinosaur on the National Museum of Natural History grounds, 1990. Photographer: Dane A. Penland. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

THEN: Topiary dinosaur on the National Museum of Natural History grounds, 1990. Photographer: Dane A. Penland. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

NOW: The Urban Bird Habitat at the National Museum of Natural History, 2012. The garden attracts birds to the museum grounds year round. Notice that dinosaurs still have a presence!

NOW: The Urban Bird Habitat at the National Museum of Natural History, 2012. The garden attracts birds to the museum grounds year round. Notice that dinosaurs still have a presence!

THEN: The South Yard of the Smithsonian Castle, 1910. This is now the location of the Enid A. Haupt Garden. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

THEN: The South Yard of the Smithsonian Castle, 1910. This is now the location of the Enid A. Haupt Garden. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

THEN: The Victorian Garden, 1976. The parking lot on the left side of the photograph has since been removed and the gardens extended. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

NOW: The Enid A. Haupt Garden, 2012. The garden opened to the public on May 22, 1987.

NOW: The Enid A. Haupt Garden, 2012. The garden opened to the public on May 22, 1987.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

December 4, 2012 at 3:30 pm 1 comment

Yesterday, May …

Yesterday, May 22, 2012 was the 25th anniversary of the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden–the Silver Anniversary. Fittingly, many silver plants grace this garden. One of the most striking is Senecio cineraria ‘Cirrus.’ You may recognize it by its common name – Dusty Miller. But this isn’t any old common plant; the cultivar ‘Cirrus’ is big, bold and beautiful!


Senecio cineraria ‘Cirrus’ is an evergreen, usually grown as an annual, with toothed, silver-gray, felted leaves. The plant is actually a short-lived perennial and will act as such if grown in mild climates or in protected areas of the garden. It usually grows in a clump measuring approximately one foot by one foot. A small, button-shaped, yellow flower appears in the second year of growth.


The color silver acts as a great garden blender. An area filled with multiple, sometimes unrelated, colors can be made harmonious with the addition of silver. A mistake made by many gardeners is the belief that white is a color to use for blending multiple, uncomplimentary colors. White screams, it doesn’t blend. Silver saves many exuberant, multi-chromatic plantings from being garish.


Many silver plants have textures that add an interesting element to garden plantings; imagine the gravelly appearance of sedums and echeverias. Some add a strong, flinty look, while others have a powdery-blue appearance and of course there are the fuzzy gray leaves so common among herbs.


Silver plants reflect the light. When the sun is setting, silver foliage reflects the rosy sunsets and glow. And if the silver plant has a fuzzy texture, dew collects on the leaves in the morning. Not only are the individual hairs magnified, but the whole plant tends to sparkle in the early morning sunshine.


Many silver plants are sculptural; their strong, clean lines would be right at home in a museum of modern art.


Environmental concerns: The silver-grays enjoy really well-drained soil. Gardeners working with clay soils have to be careful where they site them. These plants also hate humidity. Sage always falters in mid-Atlantic summers – big sections die, making the plants look raggedy. Try planting herbs, such as sage, in soil amended with pea gravel or chicken grit. Consider planting lavender on a sharp slope and then mulch with gravel or chicken grit to prevent the crown of the plant from rotting. Be careful not to crowd silver plants since they need good air circulation to prevent die-back. You can hear all the silver foliaged plants breathe a collective sigh of relief when the humidity drops in the fall.


Design concerns: Take care not to overplant silver-foliaged plants. You really can have too much of a good thing. How many silver pillows do you really need in one garden? And if we have a really wet summer you have a collection of slimy, droopy, silver pillows in your garden.


Celebrate the Enid A. Haupt Garden’s Silver Anniversary with some silvery plants of your own!Image

May 23, 2012 at 4:56 pm Leave a comment

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