A Trip Through New England Gardens

My name is Erin Clark and I’m a horticulturist with Smithsonian Gardens. Each year Smithsonian Gardens sends staff on professional development trips to gather inspiration for the gardens. Thanks to this travel grant, I was able to tour the gardens of New England. From Connecticut and the hills of Vermont to New Hampshire and Massachusetts, the vistas I experienced were vivid and the people I met were warm and welcoming. Many of the gardens I visited in the area showcased the use of plants, something we like to highlight in tours at the National Museum of American History.

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Hill-Stead

I began with a selection of historic gardens in Connecticut. Starting in Hartford, I visited Hill-Stead, a home designed by an architect’s daughter for her wealthy parents in retirement, complete with a sunken garden by Beatrix Farrand. Works by Monet and other artists hang in the house and the hills outside the home used to be a working farm. I toured with Hill-Stead’s head gardener at a time when the roses bloomed in top form.

Sheila

Landscape Historian Sheila Wertheimer of the Florence Griswold Museum

At The Florence Griswold Museum I spoke with Landscape Historian Sheila Wertheimer who works with volunteers to ensure that the grounds are beautiful and accurate to their original aesthetic. Sheila enlisted the help of an archaeologist to find the original bed locations. Referencing old photographs and paintings by the artists that flocked to this boarding house turned artists’ colony, she recreated a colonial revival garden, complete with roses, yarrow, and delphiniums. The site now hosts an art gallery and a cafe overlooking the Lieutenant River.

PicMonkey Collage- Erin Blog

View of the gardens and barn at The Florence Griswold Museum.

In Massachusetts I visited the campus of Smith College, toured the greenhouse there, and enjoyed the synoptic beds laid out by plant family. Near Massachusetts’ northern border is a place called the Bridge of Flowers where a footbridge stretches across the Deerfield River, adorned in cottage garden flowers and trees reminiscent of Monet’s garden in France.

erin

Me, about to cross the Bridge of Flowers

Bridge of Flowers collage

Bridge of Flowers

Next I drove to Tasha Tudor’s Garden in Marlboro, VT. There the famous children’s book illustrator lived a quiet life in a house built by her son. The Tudor family leads a few tours each year and still keeps the house much as the artist did during her lifetime. An entire field of lupine greeted visitors at the gate. The garden’s crab apples and daffodils had long since bloomed, giving way to the exuberance of summer. Tasha’s grandson, Winslow, proudly showed us the gardens and chickens. Seth Tudor, Tasha’s son, showed us the beams of the house he built by hand and the tiny puppet studio that the family used to entertain neighborhood children.

Erin and Amy Tudor-copy (002)

Amy Tudor (right) and I (left)

Tasha Tudor, born in 1915, had a love of the old way of doing things, and kept goats, churned butter and gardened, all in  late 19th century style dress. There are still notes on the wall with phone numbers, important dates and weather conditions, and sketches of her beloved corgis. A testament to her love of the artistic process, she chose weaving over modern pastimes like watching television and kept two looms that dwarfed the rooms they occupied. Staying there in Vermont among lakes and evergreens, watching the water birds and the sunset, I could understand why Tasha had chosen this place.

Tasha tudor collage

Meeting place for the Tasha Tudor Garden in Marlboro, VT. The cottage garden, with sweeps of lupine and crabapple, is nestled in the forest. Lupine (right) lines a Vermont roadside.

I was off to Portsmouth, New Hampshire the next day, and explored the preserved town of Strawbery Banke (named in the English of the day). It was named for the wild strawberries that grew along the banks, enough to fill the hull of a ship. Several houses and backyard gardens illustrate this site’s 400-year-old history. Erik Wochholz, the Curator of Historic Landscapes at the Strawbery Banke Museum, led me on a tour and we sampled our way through herbs used for brewing and as garnishes. Kids have an opportunity to wander through colonial gardens, explore a WWII-era store, and even do a paleobotany activity examining modern pollen under microscope.

Strawberry Banke Museum

Herb Garden at Strawbery Banke Museum

John Forti, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Director of Horticulture and Education, met with me for my last stop before heading back to D.C. MHS owns a historic estate next to a soccer park, complete with a grotto, a formal garden and several themed gardens. During the last year, wooden structures and arches have been built and educational interpretation for youth has grown. The veggie garden, next to a peaked frame house built by the monks who once ran the site, is the current domain of several heirloom lettuces, tomatoes, and strawberries, as well as a nesting killdeer.

Heading into the city and to the airport, I was left with beautiful memories of the places I had visited on this whirlwind tour. Every place has a different focus, a different plant palette, and a set of people who love it, dedicated to its continuance, much like Smithsonian Gardens. I learned about the importance plants have in providing a sense of place in a garden.  I saw many different ways of interpreting history with labeling, programs and art.

– Erin Clark, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist

 

August 22, 2016 at 2:38 pm Leave a comment

The Language of Flowers

In literature, mythology, love, and everyday life flowers—light as a feather—are weighted with meaning. In the Victorian era entire guides were published dedicated to the “language of flowers” and the idea that a single flower, or a particular arrangement of flowers, could communicate complex emotions and social cues. Of course, these guides were often at odds with each other and were most likely a faddish folly rather than a prescription for concrete communication in everyday life. One could only hope that if a courting couple were signaling each other with posy holders they were referencing the same book. For instance, a white rose symbolizes “I would be single” according to the 1852 book The Language of Flowers, but in The Illustrated Language of Flowers (1856) a white rose signaled “I am worthy of you.” Unless it was wilted, for then it meant “transient impressions.” Confusion sets in when a white rose was worn with a red rose, which symbolized “unity.” If these books were taken at face value, how easy it would be to send mixed messages. What a beginning to a romantic comedy!

Throughout history flowers have symbolically marked weddings and funerals, the change of seasons, state and national pride, and have symbolized love, hope, rebirth, death, and everything in between. The state flower of Hawaii is the yellow ma’o hau hele (Hibiscus brackenridgei). Hibiscus flowers are often given to visitors to Hawaii as a gesture of welcome. Mexican marigolds (cempasúchil) are known as the flor de muertos and used to decorate the graves of loved ones for Día de los Muertos celebrations.

Flowers find their way into our everyday lives through more personal channels. Our Community of Gardens digital archive is a home for these stories of flowers and gardens and their impact on our daily lives. From the unique peony cultivar developed by a flower-loving neighbor to cakes flavored by the vanilla orchid to memories of a childhood spent in shady backyard abundant with colorful azalea bushes, anyone can share their story with the Smithsonian Institution. We are collecting stories of gardens and plants past and present to preserve for future generations.

Here are some of our favorite flower stories from Community of Gardens—all have a story to tell about the meaning of flowers in our personal histories and culture at large:

Light purple iris in a garden bed

The beautiful “ditch” irises passed down through a family in this Community of Gardens story. The original irises were found on the author’s great-grandparents’ land growing in a swampy area and were transplanted from generation to generation, from garden to garden.

Old photo of a grafted Christmas cactus in a pot

The holidays are just around the corner when the Christmas cactus blooms! At one time Rose Villa Nursery in New Orleans was the largest supplier of grafted Christmas cactus. Read, and listen, to one family’s story of their nursery business and their famous Christmas cactus. 

Close-up of light pin 'Pier Bugnet' rose

The ‘Pier Bugnet’ rose is particularly suited to growing in the cold northern climate of Fairbanks, Alaska. When the rose was in danger of being lost, the Fairbanks Garden Club banded together to save this beautiful flower for their town. Read the full story here.

Do you have a personal story of flowers to share with our archive? We welcome stories about:

  • The development of a particular flower cultivar.
  • Flowers rescued and replanted from family homesteads or lost or destroyed gardens.
  • Family florist businesses or flower farms.
  • Edible flowers. Share your best recipe for squash blossoms with us!
  • Did you grow up in a different country? Is there a flower that reminds you of home, or a flower from your culture you have incorporated into your life in the United States?
  • Flower gardens of all shapes and sizes.
  • What flowers mean to you in your life.

Get started by visiting the Community of Gardens website and clicking on “Share a Story” or emailing us at communityofgardens@si.edu.

 -Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

August 17, 2016 at 12:29 pm Leave a comment

The Critical Importance of Water Quality for Living Collections: Planning Ahead

Objects and artifacts in a museum collection are typically housed in cases and cabinets with drawers or shelves. As a living museum, Smithsonian Gardens’ plant collections are maintained in the landscape and in a large greenhouse facility. Because plants are living specimens that require vitamins, nutrients and other sources of energy, they must be monitored and nurtured daily. Water is a critical component of this care. Photosynthesis, transpiration (water movement through a plant and subsequent evaporation from plant leaves), and the transfer of vitamins and minerals from the soil to the plant are all dependent on the presence of water.

Water quality and availability are key factors to plant maintenance in a public garden. Things like droughts, floods, and other natural disturbances must be considered when developing a plan of care for each garden and/or collection. Throughout its gardens and landscapes, Smithsonian Gardens utilizes an irrigation system that uses 30-50% less water than conventional watering, improves plant growth by extending watering times, prevents soil erosion and nutrient runoff, and ensures that plants are watered without wetting leaves, which helps prevent fungal disease.

Water Harvesting

Irrigation system visible during construction of Folger Rose Garden 

Water quality is also of critical importance when it comes to successful orchid cultivation and maintenance. Orchid species exposed to municipal water–such as that which the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection (SGOC) currently uses–exhibit detrimental physical manifestations caused by the accumulation of salts in the growing medium. These adverse effects include leaf tip burn, decreased plant vigor, reduced blooming, discoloration, and even death.

Water Harvesting 2

Dendrobiums grown with municipal water (left) compared with ones grown with reverse osmosis water. 

To have access to high quality water for the long-term care of SGOC, Smithsonian Gardens recently secured funding from the Smithsonian’s Collections Care and Preservation Fund* to install a customized rainwater harvesting system at its Greenhouse Facility. The system will collect, filter and store rainwater in a large tank or modular chamber. This is a preferable alternative to filtering municipal water for several reasons. First, filtering does not remove all of the added compounds found in municipal water. Additionally, rainwater has a similar pH to that of reverse-osmosis (R/O) water, which is currently used for our most delicate specimens. Smithsonian staff are currently visiting local universities and public gardens with large-scale water harvesting systems to glean ‘lessons learned’ from each project and to determine whether an above-ground or underground cistern (water storage tank) makes the most sense for SGOC’s year-round water use.

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Example of above-ground cistern at the University of Maryland. 

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Example of a modular storage chamber which allows for a much shallower excavation and ease of transport to a site. 

The plan is for rainwater to be collected from the roof of the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility then pumped under pressure from a cistern through a filtration system to remove particles at the micron level. From there, the rainwater will be disinfected using ultraviolet light to destroy any microorganisms that are detrimental to orchid health. Finally, the rainwater will be pumped to a hose connector in each of the four orchid greenhouses for use when staff are watering.

*This project supports innovative and sustainable collections care which will have a direct, substantial, and permanent impact on the health and preservation of the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection. It was made possible with financial support from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund, administered by the Smithsonian’s National Collections Program and the Smithsonian Collections Advisory Committee.

– Sarah Hedean, Living Collections Manager 

 

August 1, 2016 at 12:47 pm Leave a comment

Things are getting fat in the Ripley Garden!

Fat in a succulent sort of way, that is!

Two years ago, I started playing around with growing plants vertically using a system of trays specifically designed for such use (Going Vertical in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden). During that first year, I planted the trays with creeping thymes, and other low-growing selections in an effort to create a mosaic of colors and form. This was successful, but I knew it could be better.

The next year I used all sun-loving succulents in an awe-inspiring range of colors, textures, and forms which allowed me to have fun creating a living tapestry that would thrive with low-water usage.

Succulents Greenhouse

Succulents overwintering in our greenhouse facility.

The response to my succulent experiment was so positive that I knew it had to come back. So before deadly frosts arrived, I dismantled the wall and sent it back to the care of our wonderful growers, Joe Curley and Jill Gonzales, to overwinter in the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility. The plants flourished under their care and the wall is back this year, bigger and better than before!

Succulent wall

2016 Green Wall 

But what else can be done with succulents? Could I create succulent topiary-like balls? Why not try?!  Again with the help and support of our greenhouse staff, this past winter, I purchased some pre-made metal frame spheres that were stuffed with sphagnum moss and secured with fishing line.

Moss spheres

Sphagnum moss spheres ready for succulent additions.

I got various sizes of these spheres and plugs (small rooted plants) of assorted succulents.  The first thing I did was submerge the dry spheres in a bucket of water to soak the moss thoroughly.  Then I started playing with the little plugs and began creating artistic designs of color and form all over the spheres. I added holes in each moss ball and placed starter plants in, securing them with florist pins when necessary.

Succulent plugs 2

Succulent plugs

succulent balls - me

Me, enjoying design experimentation with the succulent spheres

After creating the spheres, they were once again in the hands of our great growers who cared for and nurtured them until they were established enough to put on display in the garden.

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Early phase succulent sphere 

They are now scattered throughout the Ripley Garden, hanging from various structures and lamp posts.  Come on by and check them out—I think they turned out pretty well and am excited to see them completely filled in.

Succulent balls in the garden 2

The succulent spheres at home in the Ripley Garden!

I check them frequently to see if they need watering since the sphagnum moss dries out quickly, but succulents are engineered to handle times of drought, so they should continue to thrive in the absence of much water, though I am not sure just how much!

So, once again, I am experimenting and learning new things all the time.  I have no idea how the succulent spheres will do this summer, but that is part of the fun of gardening, isn’t it?

Happy Gardening!

– Janet Draper, Mary Livingston Ripley Garden Horticulturist 

July 18, 2016 at 10:05 am Leave a comment

Smithsonian Gardens Living Collections: The Orchid Inventory

One of the most important aspects of managing a museum collection is the inventory. For a living collection like the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection (SOGC) there is a significant turnover of collection material due to plants’ natural life cycles and/or disease. Therefore, a regular inventory of the contents of each of the orchid greenhouses enables Smithsonian Gardens to reconcile any plants that were not deaccessioned properly in the past, relabel orchids that are missing accession tags, and update plant locations arising from moves in and out of the greenhouses for displays, exhibits, and lectures throughout the year.

Another important reason that Smithsonian Gardens conducts inventories of the orchid collection is to maintain the readability of the plants’ accession labels. The SOGC uses plastic tags that are printed with each plant’s accession number, a scannable barcode, and are overlaid with UV protection. Even with this protection the labels fade over time due to being in the direct sun, generally lasting about four years before they become unreadable.

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Example of a new accession label vs. an older accession label.

Each summer, a Smithsonian Gardens intern takes on the responsibility of inventorying a portion of the orchid collection. This year, thanks to a new Collections Information System (CIS), the process of scanning, printing, and reattaching accession labels is much more streamlined. Our exceptional orchid intern, Ming, completed the inventory in one greenhouse in half the time it has taken in years past!

The inventory process requires Ming to scan each plant’s accession label barcode using a handheld device. The handhelds are equipped with a condensed version of the CIS which is adequate for fieldwork. Inventory lists are synced back to the main CIS so that new barcode labels can be generated, printed and reattached to plant pots using hog rings.

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Our orchid intern, Ming, hard at work in one of the greenhouses.

Learn more about our collection inventory in July by following Smithsonian Gardens on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!

– Julie Rotramel, Living Collections Specialist, Smithsonian Gardens

July 5, 2016 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Smithsonian Gardens Unveils Newly Renamed Pollinator Garden

Smithsonian Gardens kicked off Pollinator Week this Tuesday, June 21, 2016 by unveiling its newly renamed Pollinator Garden outside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and holding its third annual Pollination Party.

Unveiling of sign in front of Pollinator Garden

Smithsonian Gardens Director Barbara Faust and Pollinator Garden Horticulturist James Gagliardi unveil new signage in the renamed Pollinator Garden on Tuesday, June 21, 2016.

When Smithsonian Gardens first opened the 11,000 square-foot Butterfly Habitat Garden in 1995, its goal was to emphasize natural plant/butterfly partnerships and educate visitors about ways they could help these partnerships thrive. Twenty years later, we saw a need to expand the mission of this garden to tell a broader story of the often fragile relationships between plants, pollinators, and people.

This change reflects the growing importance of supporting pollinator health championed by the formation of a task force by President Barack Obama in 2014 and the implementation of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. As a participant in this task force, Smithsonian Gardens hopes that the reinterpretation of this garden will educate visitors about the wide diversity of pollinators and the types of plants that support them. The garden’s assorted plantings also show strategies for creating beautiful pollinator-friendly gardens.

The garden’s new theme leads visitors on a ‘Pollination Investigation’ to discover the who, what, when, why, where, and how of pollination by examining the unique relationships between a variety of pollinators—from butterflies and bees to flies and beetles—and flowers. With one in three bites of food we eat dependent on pollinators, it is vitally important that we all work to protect and strengthen pollinator populations.

We hope you can visit the newly renamed garden and join us in protecting the pollinators all around us!

June 24, 2016 at 9:44 am Leave a comment

Dad’s Garden

Don’t forget, tomorrow is Father’s Day! Father’s Day means letting dad know you love him, handmade cards, and family get-togethers. Special occasions are the perfect opportunity to learn more about your family history. Is your pops passionate about perennials or peppers?  This weekend, trying to get dad gabbing about his garden. Does he remember the first plant he successfully grew? Who taught him how to garden? What’s his favorite thing to grow? Does he have any tips for young gardeners just starting out? Any old photos of his backyard or garden you’ve never seen before? A secret recipe for the perfect compost soup?

In honor of Father’s Day, here are a few of our favorite dad stories from the Community of Gardens digital archive. Community of Gardens is a platform for collecting stories of American gardeners and gardens for future generations. Become a part of the Smithsonian by sharing your dads’s story—or any garden story—today: http://communityofgardens.si.edu

Francesco Pietanza holding squash from his garden.

Francesco Pietanza holding up a prize squash grown in his Brooklyn, New York garden, circa 1950s or 1960s.

  • This sweeping story has it all: A young Italian immigrant arrives in Ellis Island in 1948 in search of his younger brother, settles in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, grows a family, and grows beautiful gardens rooted in his Italian heritage, bursting with fresh figs, tomatoes, and garlic. Read the full story here.

 

Harry Sr. holding his tomato harvest in his home garden.

Paul’s grandfather Harry Sr. with his prized tomatoes in his Colonial Beach, Virginia garden, 1960s.

  • This story spans three centuries, and many bountiful crops of ripe tomatoes. Paul shared his family’s garden history with Community of Gardens, beginning with his great-grandfather immigrating to America in 1881. His grandfather Harry Sr., above, grew tomatoes, and today Paul maintains a large garden that he tends with his children.
George Napientek outside cleaning up tree damage after a storm on his homestead

George Napientek (on the right) cleaning up tree damage after a storm on his homestead, November 1946.

  • George and Olivia Napientek raised their children on this family homestead in Franklin, Wisconsin surrounded by bountiful vegetable and flower gardens. George taught all of his children to work on the farm at a young age. With hard work comes delicious rewards; according to his children (who shared this story), “apples for applesauce and pie came from Pa’s orchard.” I’m sure that pie was delicious with a tall glass of milk from the dairy cows! Read the full story here.

Honor a dad in your life by sharing his garden story with the Smithsonian. Share here or email us at communityofgardens@si.edu. Help us grow our archive!

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator 

 

June 18, 2016 at 8:51 am Leave a comment

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