Archive for October, 2012

Persian Ironwood

Looking for a tough little tree with interest in multiple seasons?  Try the little-known Parrotia persica or Persian Ironwood.  Two outstanding attributes are its exfoliating bark and exceptional fall color.

Smithsonian Gardens maintains Parrotias in the Freer Gallery of Art’s courtyard.  The trees are pruned twice a year to maintain a sense of formality, but when grown in the landscape they require little or no pruning except the removal of dead branches.  Hardy in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 to 8, Persian Ironwood grows best in full sun to dappled shade.  The fall color is best when situated in full sun and this durable tree for a small urban garden is drought tolerant once established.  Have an even smaller plot of land to work with?  Try the culivar ‘Vanessa.’  Its outstanding attributes include an upright columnar habit in addition to great  fall color and exfoliating bark.

Interesting Facts:

The Persian Ironwood is a deciduous tree in the Hamamelidaceae family that is native to Iran.  It is named after the nineteenth century German naturalist F.W. Parrot.

October 25, 2012 at 9:36 am Leave a comment

Patiently Growing the Paradoxical Garlic

Photo by Luigi Rignanese.

Garlic lovers face a continual paradox. While flavorful garlic lends that special dish just what it needs, it can leave one’s breath smelling quite dreadful. Garlic has not always been disregarded because of its lingering odor, though. The ancient Romans and Egyptians held garlic in high regard as either a food or sacred plant. Thought to give them strength, Romans would eat raw garlic. As the Egyptians took an oath, they “ranked garlic next to the gods” (Taylor’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables, Watson, 193).

In the past, many cultures did not use garlic for eating pleasure, but rather to heal ailments. Assyrians used garlic as an antibiotic. Thinking it would help relieve asthma, the Greeks consumed cooked garlic. During the Middle Ages, people believed garlic would help an individual avoid heatstroke. Amelia Simmons’s wrote of garlic in the 1796 American Cookery that  “Tho’ used by the French, [they] are better adapted to the uses of medicine than cookery.”(Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, Weaver, 228)  Today, garlic is thought to possibly help reduce cholesterol (Mayo Clinic).

Regardless of how garlic has been used in centuries past, it is evident that many cultures have found it helpful to cultivate for a multitude of reasons. Growing garlic is straightforward but requires patience during the winter and early spring months.

Fall Planting

Garlic is grown by planting cloves of garlic in the late fall months. Avoid rotting by selecting a soil that drains well. In loose soil, place the clove about two inches deep, pointy tip upright. Since garlic is asexually propagated, one can create a crop tailored to local conditions by carefully selecting the cloves that are planted. Simply save the biggest and best heads from the harvest to plant during the following fall season.

Photo by Ondřej Zicha

Spring Scapes

Hardneck cultivars such as Georgian ‘Chesnok Red’, Russian ‘Rosewood’, and ‘Ontario Purple Trillium’ will send up an elegantly curvedscape, or flower stalk, which can and really should be harvested for maximum bulb growth. If the scape is not harvested, the plant’s energy is directed towards the flower rather than towards producing a larger bulb. The scape itself can be sautéed or used to make pesto.

Summer Harvest

Once the leaves turn brown, it is time to harvest the garlic bulb. To harvest, loosen the soil around the bulb, being careful not to pierce or bruise it. After harvesting, allow the bulbs to dry for approximately two weeks. Once the garlic has dried, it can be used in various dishes or roasted alone.

Try to grow your own garlic and enjoy the bounty! As restaurant owner Alice May Brock once said, “Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; wine and tarragon make it French. Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek. Soy sauce makes it Chinese; garlic makes it good” (

Erin Clark
Smithsonian Gardens

October 19, 2012 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Smithsonian Gardens Winter Education Internship

Smithsonian Gardens Education InternshipApplications for 2013 Smithsonian Gardens winter internships should be received no later than November 1, 2012.

Smithsonian Gardens designs, manages, and maintains the gardens and grounds of the many Smithsonian museums in Washington, D.C., which attract over thirty million visitors each year. The Collections Management and Education branch is responsible for developing educational programs and materials as well as managing the Archives of American Gardens and a collection of garden furnishings and horticultural artifacts.

The Smithsonian Gardens’ Education and Outreach Winter Internship

This internship focuses on developing educational content for use in a pilot program dedicated to fostering a healthy environment in local schools through gardening. Working closely with a DC public school, the educators and intern will guide students in exploring and studying green spaces in their own community.

The intern will attend all school meetings, contribute to curriculum design, update the project website, write blog posts, and provide general program support. The intern will also contribute weekly to various social media platforms. There may be an opportunity to develop interpretive labels and content for a final exhibit or write curriculum materials, depending on the interests and experience of the intern.

This project will serve as a research for a future smart phone app where youths across the nation can participate by sharing their community’s garden stories with Smithsonian Gardens. The intern will participate in the smart phone app planning and development meetings.


Applicants must be currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program and have completed coursework or be currently enrolled in courses in museum studies or museum education, history, horticulture education or another related field. Applicants must have excellent organizational, analytical, and interpersonal skills, and strong writing skills. Knowledge of Microsoft Office Suite required; experience with digital photography, social media, curriculum writing, and conversational Spanish a plus.

Internship Details 

Start date: January (flexible)
2 to 3 days a week for 10 to 16 weeks –also flexible.
Stipend of approximately $100-200 a week.
Course credit for this internship can arranged through your school.
Opportunities to complete special projects that may relate to the intern’s special area of interest.

How to apply 

To apply, applicants must register and submit an application online at Smithsonian On-line Academic Application System (SOLAA) at

On SOLAA, you can locate Smithsonian Gardens’ internship application under the

Next, under “Program that you wish to apply for:” select “Smithsonian Gardens Internship
Program.” Choose the “Winter 2013” cycle.

Applications for 2013 Smithsonian Gardens winter internships should be received no later than November 1, 2012. 

For additional information, contact us at

October 17, 2012 at 3:50 pm Leave a comment

October is National Rhubarb Month

I bet  you are asking, ‘why October?’ I am not quite sure.  This doesn’t quite make sense because rhubarb is very strongly associated with spring in the northern United States. In October it is just starting to go dormant with the first few frosts.  If we were in the Southern hemisphere, however, we would just be starting to harvest the stalks this month. Maybe we celebrate rhubarb in October just so we have it in our thoughts year-round and can be jealous of those on the other side of the world enjoying its delicious sweet-tart taste now when we have to wait another six months for it.

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum, Rheum x hybridum)

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum, Rheum x hybridum) is a cool season, perennial vegetable with long leaf stalks, or petioles, that hold large, triangular leaves. We eat the red, fleshy stalks of the plant that are quite tart when not cooked. In the culinary world it is considered a fruit because it is often sweetened and used with other fruit in desserts and baked goods, hence its nickname of  ‘pie plant’. Rhubarb pairs perfectly with strawberries because of the flavor and the shared early growing season.

Keep rhubarb on your mind until next spring when you can plant crowns or divisions to grow your own and use some in your favorite recipe or stick with the traditional favorite and celebrate National Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie Day on June 9th. If you are going to try to grow rhubarb yourself make sure you give it a nice spot where it can live for up to twenty years without being disturbed.  To see some plants in person come check out the Victory Garden at the Museum of American History!

October 12, 2012 at 8:30 am Leave a comment

Reflections on Landscapes, Archives, and History Part I

Back in the warmer days of August, I had the opportunity to attend the Detroit Agriculture Network’s 15th Annual urban garden tour in Detroit, Michigan.  Hundreds of people gathered in the late afternoon at Eastern Market to board buses or take off on bikes to visit gardens and hear from gardeners on the east, west, and central areas of the city. Above all, it was an occasion to hear from passionate individuals and view the city from the ground up.

A garden tour stop at Manistique Community Garden on Detroit’s East Side
Image by Joe Cialdella

Even though my first experience seeing and volunteering with urban gardens in Detroit was in 2004, looking at the gardens in Detroit’s landscape – a compelling assortment of open space, roads, and buildings (many still inhabited and, yes, many long abandoned) – continues to be at once jarring and inspiring; a poignant and thought-provoking place because of the layers of time and meanings collected here.  As garden historian Kenneth Helphand writes,

“When we see an improbable garden, we experience a shock of recognition of the garden’s form and elements, but also a renewed appreciation of the garden’s transformative power to beautify, comfort, and convey meaning despite the incongruity of its surroundings. Gardens are defined by their context, and perhaps the further the context from our expectations, the deeper the meaning the garden holds for us.”[1]

As a historian, the context I look to when I see these gardens is often that of the past. How did social, political, economic, environmental and cultural conditions shape transform these spaces?   The seeming improbability of gardens as a part of post-industrial landscape challenged my expectations, and sparked my interest in learning what deeper meanings, and histories, gardening in Detroit might have.

Through this experience with a place, the landscape itself becomes an inspiration and an archive.  A record of changing tastes, values, style, and use, for example, is captured by looking closely at the location, age, and size of buildings.  Natural features, such as rivers and waterways often mark the original contribution to the archive of a landscape.

Yet in a place like Detroit, where seemingly endless redevelopment and decline are starkly juxtaposed, you cannot help but wonder what is missing from the landscape today.  This can be particularly problematic when digging deeper into the history of such fleeting spaces as small scale community-minded gardens in a constantly changing urban environment.

Old and new features of the landscape meet where the Greening of Detroit’s “Detroit Market Garden” borders an industrial building.
Image by Joe Cialdella

Gone from Detroit’s landscape is the rich tradition of gardening culture that came before the contemporary movement. For example, during the 1890s, Mayor Hazen S. Pingree started a municipally-supported gardening plan to feed unemployed workers (many of whom were Polish and German immigrants).  The Garden Club of Michigan was one of the 12 founding members of the Garden Club of America in 1913.  During the Great Migration, African Americans moving to Detroit used gardens as a means of providing food and improving the appearance and value of their neighborhoods. And in the 1930s, thrift gardens again provided sustenance to many of those left unemployed by the Great Depression.

As the Haupt Fellow at Smithsonian Gardens, I’m in the process of digging up the details of these gardens using more traditional archives to better understand the history of what it means for people to contribute to an urban-industrial landscape by gardening. This can be a difficult task since the spaces themselves are often fleeting and records of them scarce, unlike many of the design plans and photographs of more famous landscapes.  Looking back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, sociological surveys, government reports, meeting minutes, scrapbooks, maps, newspapers, magazines, and photographs are often surprisingly detailed documents that provide us with a way to re-imagine what these types of gardens looked like, their contexts, and how they were used in the past.

Map of “Pingree’s Potato Patches” from an 1894 government report

Together, the actual landscape and the two-dimensional records of experiences long removed from the land lend themselves to a fuller garden history that contributes not only to understanding gardens themselves, but also how gardens can reflect changing social, political, economic, environmental, and cultural contexts that give more people a way to consider the role of gardens and landscapes in their own lives.

The fleeting, seasonal nature of gardens also points to the importance of documenting garden spaces today. While we all hope they will last forever, proactively considering how you can preserve a garden or landscape’s history for your family, community, or organization provides an opportunity for reflection and sharing of information between one another that can often help to create connections and networks of support that will help these spaces exist into the future.  One way of doing this is through creating a collection of photographs, such as those found in Smithsonian GardensArchives of American Gardens.  Look for more on this in my next post.

Tomato Plants and Detroit’s Skyline.
Image by Joe Cialdella

– Joe Cialdella, Haupt Fellow, Smithsonian Gardens

For more information on being a part of preserving garden history or beginning your own research, check out the resources below.  

Take 10 minutes to “tag” an image form the Archives of American Gardens to help make their extensive collections more accessible to the public, researchers, and landscape designers!

These websites offer good tips and instructions for beginning your own archival adventure into the history of a garden or landscape near you:

[1] Kenneth Helphand. Defiant Gardens: Making Gardens in Wartime, 2006, pg. 9.

October 11, 2012 at 2:06 pm 4 comments

Take Ten Minutes to Tag for the Archives of American Gardens

As part of the American Archives Month celebration, the Archives of American Gardens is encouraging the public to ‘tag’ their online records in the Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center.  A little over a year ago, the Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center quietly turned on the tagging feature for records of participating Smithsonian archives, libraries and museums and now the Archives of American Gardens is hoping to use American Archives Month to promote this feature. The Archives is reaching out to Facebook followers of Smithsonian Gardens, universities with library and information science programs as well as horticulture programs to to contribute descriptive terms, keywords, or short phrases, to an item’s record to enhance searching on its records.  If a user describes an item in the same way that they would search for it, the presumption is that these new terms will help with the retrievability of the records.  For each tag that is added, that item has another access point – another way for other users to discover that item.

Although public tagging is not perfect and many questions remain about how folksonomy might function in the museum, a summary in a 2009 report by the Steve Project finds that, “Tags offer another layer that supplements and complements the documentation provided by professional museum cataloguers.” So while tagging is not meant to be a replacement for established cataloging methods, it may complement the catalog with a helpful element of user engagement and interaction.

Get Tagging! Visit the Archives of American Gardens Virtual Volunteer page to get started on tagging images.

Jessica Short, Intern
Archives of American Gardens
Smithsonian Gardens

Blogs across the Smithsonian will give an inside look at the Institution’s archival collections and practices during a month long blogathon in celebration of October’s American Archives Month. See additional posts from our other participating blogs, as well as related events and resources, on the Smithsonian’s Archives Month website.

October 5, 2012 at 8:00 am 1 comment

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