Archive for May, 2012

A Modern Rose Garden

The Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden is a modern rose garden.  What makes it modern?  The roses?  The design? The answer is both.

Eric Long, Smithsonian Photographer

The Roses:
Roses are grouped into three types: species, old garden roses, and modern roses. This classification system is based on their existence in the wild, as with species roses, or their date of introduction. The year 1867 heralded the introduction of what is generally accepted as the first modern rose, in this case a hybrid tea rose. This first hybrid tea rose, named „La France,‟ was bred in France by Jean Guillot. „La France‟ was an offspring of the old garden, hybrid perpetual rose named „Madame Victor Verdier‟ and the old garden, tea rose „Madame Bravy.‟ „La France‟ was special because of its urn-shaped, high centered flowers. This new flower form was remarkably different from those that came before it, thus necessitating a new class. This new class of roses was ultimately named hybrid teas. Hybrid tea roses and the rose classes introduced after 1867 make up the modern rose group.

In addition to hybrid teas, polyanthas (a cross between Rosa multiflora and hybrid teas), floribundas (a cross of polyanthas with hybrid teas), grandifloras (resulting from crossing hybrid teas and floribundas), miniatures, and English roses are also considered “modern roses.” All but two of the roses in the

Folger Rose Garden fall into these categories and are therefore modern. The exceptions–a hybrid perpetual rose and a tea rose–were included to demonstrate the old garden rose classes that were the precursors to the hybrid tea rose and hence to the “modern rose.”

The Design:

The modern rose deserves a modern garden. In this case a modern rose garden is one that works for the roses, not against them. When asked to envision a rose garden, many see a formal, symmetrical design, consisting solely of roses surrounded by boxwood edges and tightly clipped hedges–a near monoculture. While this type of design can be beautiful and fulfills a need for a sense of order, it can also lead to an imbalance in the garden. Balance, as found in nature, is made possible by structural complexity and plant diversity which allow for both pest and pest predator (a.k.a. beneficial insects) populations. A modern rose garden should strive for this type of balance as it will lead to a healthier garden with a lesser reliance on pesticides.

When the Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden was designed and installed in 1997-1998, the vision was of a four season garden with year-round interest. That vision still remains a guiding light for Smithsonian Gardens‟ horticulturists today. Roses bloom in the spring through the fall. Small collections of boxwood and holly not only anchor the garden during the winter months but also supply some of the desired structural complexity. A variety of ground covers and other perennials add to the display and ensure plant diversity. They were chosen specifically for their ability to attract a variety of beneficial insects into the garden, thus aiding in a natural balance.

The Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden is a garden of modern roses that was designed with modern garden ideals in mind. As modern as these garden ideals are, however, they hearken back to ancient ideals of nature. Everything old is new again! Or, more fittingly for speaking of gardens, there is nothing new under the sun.

May 30, 2012 at 2:43 pm Leave a comment

Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection: Orchids get Sick Too

Orchids in our greenhouses aren’t immune to disease (unfortunately), and when virus symptoms appear, steps must be taken to remove any infected plant to prevent viruses from spreading and to preserve the overall health of the collection. Cymbidium mosaic virus and Odontoglossum ringspot virus are the most common orchid viruses, and symptoms include black spots on flowers, general discoloration, and decreased flower production. For orchid growers, these symptoms are a nightmare, since their job is to grow display worthy orchids with “wow” factor.

Virus testing with ImmunoStrips in liquid samples.

Rucha Shevade, a former collection intern, has been diligently virus testing numerous orchids in the collection for both viruses using the Agdia Orchid ImmunoStrip test.  To test a plant, Rucha will crush a small piece of orchid tissue in a buffer solution to create a liquid test sample, and then insert an ImmunoStrip into the sample for 2-4 minutes.  Each strip has a colored control line which must appear for the test to be valid, and a colored line for each of the viruses that are being tested for in the event they are positive. If a plant tests negative for both viruses, it is given a tag that is labeled “VIRUS FREE.” Ideally, every plant in the collection would receive a virus free tag, but many orchids have to be thrown out. 

Virus free!

Luckily there are several ways to prevent and limit virus infection and transmission in the collection.  Orchid curator Sarah Hedean is a stickler for “good culture,” which she says is the key to maintaining a healthy collection of beautiful plants.  Good culture starts with choosing virus free plants.  This means looking for symptoms and testing plant tissue for viruses before an orchid is even brought into the collection.  The next step to good culture is to have high housekeeping standards, which can limit pest presence in the greenhouse.  This includes things like having good air circulation, keeping benches and floors clean and removing dead leaves from plants.  Finally, good culture involves limiting contact between plants, and ultimately limiting potential virus transmission.  This means spacing plants evenly along benches, and disinfecting tools such as scissors after they have been used on a single orchid.

Check out the AOS page about orchid viruses and virus testing for more information.

Julie Rotramel, Orchids Intern

May 25, 2012 at 2:00 pm Leave a 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

Garden History and Design: Gnomes

How did this creature of folklore come to be the rosy-cheeked denizen found in gardens across the world?

Small engraved statues of gnomes started to make an appearance in Germany and Austria in the 18th century. The origins of the first ceramic garden gnome are unclear but many manufacturers in Germany became well known for their gnome designs. By the late 19th century there were over a dozen German manufacturers alone.

Lampy, acquired by Sir Charles Isham (

These statues inspired diminutive porcelain figures of gnomes in England which were popular throughout the 19th century and featured in many Victorian-era homes as table decorations; eventually making their way into the garden as good luck charms for the house. Sir Charles Isham is credited with importing the first garden gnomes to his English estate in the 1840s.

With the release of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937, gnomes saw a rise in popularity once again. Once they started to be mass produced, however, they were marked as low-class knickknacks and mostly found in over-the-top whimsy gardens.

Gnomes became wildly popular again in the late 1970s thanks to The Secret Book of Gnomes series, released in the U.S. by publishing exec Andrew Stewart. While writers on garden ornamentation urged people not to feature gnomes in their gardens, these cautionary words gave rise to a new generation of gnomes that found instant popularity. Thanks to popular culture, gnomes have made yet another comeback and can be found in all sorts of gardens. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, garden gnomes will no doubt be around forever.

Brittany Spencer-King, Research Assistant

May 18, 2012 at 12:30 pm Leave a comment

International Migratory Bird Day

Today is International Migratory Bird Day.

House Sparrow

For a few weeks in the spring and fall, migratory bird research and bird tagging has taken place at the National Museum of Natural History, the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden, and the National Gallery of Art.

Here is a list of the birds observed:

American crow, American goldfinch, American redstart, American robin, Baltimore oriole, Barn swallow, Black and white warbler, Blue-gray gnatcatcher, Brown-headed cowbird, Blue jay, Brown thrasher, Carolina chickadee, Canada goose, Carolina wren, Chimney swift, Common grackle, Common yellowthroat, Chestnut sided warbler, Downy woodpecker, Eastern kingbird, European starling, Fish crow, Gray catbird, House finch, House sparrow, House wren, Killdeer, Mallard, Mourning dove, Northern cardinal, Northern mockingbird, Ovenbird, Ring billed gull, Ruby-crowned kinglet, Rock dove, Red tailed hawk, Song sparrow, Veery, White crowned sparrow, Worm eating warbler, White throated sparrow, Yellow breasted chat, Yellow rumped warbler, and the Northern (Yellow shafted) flicker

On the list there are quite a few species that normally inhabit more natural habitats. These were seen or caught during migration and the birds likely used the urban garden habitats for refueling on their way north or south.

What birds do you see around your home or office? Be sure to visit the Urban Bird Habitat currently being installed at the National Museum of Natural History to discover what birds visit.

James Gagliardi, Horticulturist

May 12, 2012 at 10:31 am Leave a comment

Garden Fest 2012: Gardening for Healthy Living

Here at Smithsonian Gardens we have been working hard for the past few months to plan our annual Garden Fest event. The theme of this year’s Garden Fest is Gardening for Healthy Living, inspired by our newest education program, Let’s Move! with Smithsonian Gardens. We have planned more than twenty garden-themed activities to show our visitors all the different ways that they can stay healthy and active in the garden.

We are excited to have our friends from other public gardens join Smithsonian Gardens for this cannot-miss event, including Hillwood Museum & Gardens, Brookside Gardens, Green Spring Gardens and the American Horticultural Society. And there are some local museums joining the fun as well including the National Gallery of Art, Freer-Sackler Gallery, and the National Zoo.

As Smithsonian Gardens’ education intern, I got the chance to witness firsthand all of the hard work that goes into planning such a big event. In addition to the core Garden Fest team, many of our horticulturalists lent a hand in planning their own activities to showcase healthy living in the garden. In addition, our entire staff is prepped and ready to pull everything together in the coming week to make this event a success. From developing activities to making posters to setting up tables, everyone here at Smithsonian Gardens has pitched in to make this year’s Garden Fest the best yet!

Beyond helping in the planning of this event, I also got to work on the Let’s Move! with Smithsonian Gardens activity. Let’s Move! interpretative panels will be featured throughout the Haupt Garden during the event. Each participant will get a copy of our Let’s Move! Healthy Hunt Guide. Then visitors can start searching for each of the ten panels scattered around the garden. Volunteers from our Garden Interpreter program will be ready and waiting to stamp the guides as visitors complete the panel activities. Everyone who completes the hunt will receive a prize!

This is only one of the many great activities we have planned for Garden Fest 2012. It takes place on May 11th from 11am to 1:30pm and May 12th from 11am to 3pm in the Enid A. Haupt Garden behind the  Smithsonian Castle. See our website for more information.

We hope to see you moving at Garden Fest!

Bridget Sullivan, Education Intern

May 4, 2012 at 11:01 am Leave a comment

History is Blooming at Smithsonian Gardens

Are you a garden enthusiast who enjoys history on the side, or perhaps a history buff with an interest in the outdoors? Well now you’re in luck! Come on down to the Enid A. Haupt Garden behind the Castle on the National Mall and join our garden interpreters for Smithsonian Gardens’ newest educational program, History in Bloom.

Bison in the South Yard.

Through fun and interactive activities you can learn about the Smithsonian’s history of collecting exotic plant species from around the world and experience Victorian-era culture preserved right here in the Haupt Garden. Whether you are using historic photographs to explore the garden’s changing landscape or embarking on a global scavenger hunt, you will enjoy discovering the many hidden treasures this garden has to offer!

Enid A. Haupt Garden

Look for our garden interpreters in the Haupt Garden on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10:30 to 1:30 to explore the history of Smithsonian Gardens. Our interpreters will facilitate activities that teach visitors about the history in the Haupt Garden and give them the tools to investigate the garden like explorers throughout history.

To learn more about this program visit Smithsonian Gardens’ website. Now go ahead and take an outdoor journey through time!

Corey Colwill, Education Volunteer

May 1, 2012 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

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