Posts tagged ‘Smithsonian’

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 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 This year, however, the plants have been replaced by four large bronze birds, each one representing an extinct species native to North America.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

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

Holidays at the Smithsonian

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.

Poinsettias at the Smithsonian Gardens greenhouse facility.

Poinsettias at the Smithsonian Gardens greenhouse facility.

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.

Holidays decorations being prepared for the National Museum of American History.

Holiday decorations being prepared for the National Museum of American History.

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.

The Smithsonian Castle holiday tree.

The Smithsonian Institution Castle holiday tree.

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 staff posing with the National Museum of American History tree.

Smithsonian Gardens staff posing with the National Museum of Natural History tree.

Festive decorations in the Ripley Garden.

Festive decorations in the Ripley Garden.

National Museum of American History holiday tree.

The holiday tree at the National Museum of American History features glass ornaments created by the Luke Adams Glass Studio of Boston, Massachusetts.

Poinsettia Tree

A tree made of pink poinsettia plants at the Smithsonian Castle.

December 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm Leave a comment


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