Archive for July, 2012

The Smithsonian Institution’s Archive of American Gardens Wins the 2012 American Public Garden Association Program Award!

Archives of American Gardens Displays Their Prize

Every year, the American Public Garden Association Program recognizes the work of a truly innovative garden program. The winning public garden program is chosen based upon pioneering one or more of the following areas: education, conservation, development, botany, gardening, horticulture, research, extension or administration. The Archive of American Gardens fosters garden education through its garden tours (hosted by resident horticulturalists), its special garden activities and events, its garden interpreters program (which trains volunteers to meet and educate visitors on our gardens’ grounds), and its social media, which details local and national garden news and other interesting finds. As an archive, we are a repository devoted to preserving America’s garden heritage. We hold over 10,000 images of gardens from all over the country, documenting over 7,000 gardens! A treasure trove for garden enthusiasts and professional scholars alike, the Archive of American Gardens has digitized over 30,000 of its images, which are available at the Smithsonian’s online catalog at As a program devoted to education and research, we are pleased to accept the American Public Garden Association Program Award.

For more info on the award, or to nominate a garden program for next year’s award, see

Kristina Borrman, Katzenberger Art History Intern

July 27, 2012 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

The Doctor Is In: Physic Gardens

University of Cincinnati Medicinal Herb Garden, 1977. Elise H. Warrington, photographer.

While gardens have long been used for medicinal and culinary purposes, the first documented physic garden, and perhaps the most widely known, was the Chelsea Physic Garden in London, founded in 1673. Physic gardens were closely related to botanical gardens, as both garden types encouraged the collection, documentation and study of different plant species as well as promoting horticultural education to the public. The primary difference between the two garden types was that physic gardens were principally concerned with growing herbs for their medicinal qualities; the Chelsea Garden began as an apothecary’s garden used to train apprentices in identifying plants. Today the garden still exists and has a major role in public education, with a focus on natural medicine.

Sheffield Garden, 2000. Emilie Lapham, photographer.

Physic gardens can be credited with influencing not only botanical gardens, but also the modern herb garden. The Archives of American Gardens Garden Club of America Collection includes many examples of both public and private herb gardens. Exemplifying the contemporary role of herb gardens in education, the University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine hosts an herb garden, with a variety of medicinal plants (including marigolds and aloe) lining the college’s walkways. Compared to the University of Cincinatti, the herb garden within the private Sheffield Garden of Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania appears much more whimsical. Accompanied by statuary and a flowering border, it demonstrates how the herb garden can be valued both for its aesthetic and utilitarian appeal.

Jessica Dame, Archive of American Gardens, Garden Club of America History and Design Intern

July 20, 2012 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Sustainability at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

The Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), broke ground just a couple months ago and is progressing quickly towards its goal of opening its doors in 2015. The museum plans to become LEED-certified which is a rating system that helps identify and implement measurable green building design. The museum is right on track with its building requirements. Though LEED certification has become more and more common, there still is a distinct missing piece in the true sustainability of a building through the LEED certification system, however. Experts have determined that for a building to be truly sustainable, the rating system needs to consider its surrounding landscape.

NMAAHC Construction Site

NMAAHC Construction Site

In order to address this problem, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden partnered together in 2005 to come up with a solution to this missing component in LEED certification. These organizations collaborated with experts to address site design issues relating to soil, hydrology, vegetation, material selection, and human health and well-being to develop their own sustainable rating system on sites alone. This rating system is known as the Sustainable Sites Initiative or SITES for short.

SITES is a distinct and different rating system from LEED. SITES, like LEED, fosters the conservation of resources by promoting things like using recycled materials or solar energy, but it takes it to another level by going beyond the building’s exterior and rebuilding critical ecological capacity on sites. Sustainable buildings can only be truly ‘sustainable’ with healthy built landscapes. For example, a building using water captured on site or vegetation to reduce heating and cooling requirements can only happen with a built landscape design integrated into the building’s design.

NMAAHC will set out to secure both LEED building and SITES certifications. This is very exciting as currently there are only three SITES-certified projects in the U.S. If NMAAHC makes the cut it will set an example as an important landmark for site design across the nation by following the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

Liz Carroll, Landscape Architecture Intern

July 13, 2012 at 1:00 pm 3 comments

Appropriating the Garden Bluebook: The 1929 Blueprint for a July “Blue” Garden

The Garden Bluebook (1929 edition)

Cover of The Garden Bluebook (1929 edition)

An architect and art historian, Leicester Bodine Holland was famous during his lifetime for a book titled The Garden Bluebook (first published in 1915, with later editions), which advised amateur gardeners and those working in the newly professionalized field of landscape architecture to think of their herbaceous borders as a series of pictures changing month by month. A rich source for the study of notable garden photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston and the genre of garden photography, Sam Watters’ Gardens for a Beautiful America describes Holland’s book as a “how-to-color-a-garden manual.” Holland’s description of the garden and accompanying charts for “arranging flower harmonies and flower sequences,” illustrates the author’s wish to create a “garden symphony,” but perhaps also a cinematic one as well, by looking at the garden as a series of moving images over time. The overall effect may perhaps betray the author’s desire to introduce a new aspect to garden education: a third dimension. Garden enthusiasts across the nation were accustomed to garden club sponsored lectures in which two dimensional slides illustrated the pros and cons of selected garden designs. The problem with these images is that it was often difficult to see exactly what was planted in a dense herbaceous border. Amateur gardeners in particular wanted to know how to build a dense, topographically interesting border that could remain lush all or most of the year.

Holland’s cross-section drawings and bird’s eye garden views allowed his readers to better envision their future gardens in multiple dimensions, arranging plants according to their respective widths and heights at maturity.  Here’s a sample of Holland’s herbaceous border design for a July garden laced in blue.

Holland measures his border as six feet wide and twenty feet long. To start, he recommends planting the larger “background” plants first and outlines two wide areas for “Shrub A” and “Evergreen B,” the exact species to be of the gardener’s choosing. Next, he plants Peonies in front of the shrub and evergreen, as their “deep green foliage provides constant solid masses throughout the summer.” He saves room for the tall perennials in the back of the border: red Hollyhocks and several varieties of violet and blue Delphinium. In the left-hand foreground he plants white and deep purple Japanese Iris, and in the middle foreground purplish-blue Bellflowers (Campanula). The overall effect will be a cascade of blue shades ranging from white to light blue and deep purple.

The 1929 version of this book was found among many treasures at the Smithsonian Botany and Horticulture Library, and a copy of the 1927 edition can also be found online in its entirety at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (Smithsonian Libraries is a contributor)

For more on the Botany/Horticulture library, see

Kristina Borrman

Katzenberger Art History Intern

July 6, 2012 at 4:00 am 1 comment

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