Archive for November, 2012

Spotlight on Kohlrabi

What’s going to be on your Thanksgiving table this year? Oyster stuffing, cranberry sauce (savory or sweet), a delicious turkey with crispy skin? What about a purple bulb with a funny name that looks like an alien turnip from another planet?

Kohlrabi growing in the Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History.

Though it looks strange, kohlrabi is a delicious root vegetable in the cabbage family (Brassica oleracea), which also includes kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. Alluding to the fact that the vegetable resembles a turnip more than a cabbage, the German name is a combination of kohl (cabbage) and rübe (turnip). The entire plant is edible but the bulb is most often used for cooking. Skin color ranges from white to green to vibrant purple, and all of the variants are pale on the inside. At the grocery store look for bulbs (preferably still with the delicious leaves) that are no more than 3” in diameter. Larger bulbs tend to be too woody and tough to eat. Low in calories and high in fiber, kohlrabi is a healthy addition to any meal.

In 1909, one W.J.H. Moses bemoaned the lack of familiarity with kohlrabi in the gardening world in the pages of The Country Gentleman. Kohlrabi, he wrote, “can be prepared for the table with the least trouble, has a flavor every bit as good as the best Brussels Sprouts, and if not the easiest raised of all cabbages it is as easy as any . . . and yet with all these advantages kohlrabi is as little known to the general palate as olives were a few decades ago.” Lucky for us kohlrabi, though not the most common vegetable, has become increasingly easier to find in grocery stores and farmers’ markets.

Early twentieth-century cookbooks suggest boiling kohlrabi and serving it au gratin or with a heavy béchamel sauce. We, however, prefer to take a lighter approach. The spicy-sweet, fresh flavor of kohlrabi lends itself to  shredding or julienning raw for salads, but for Thanksgiving we love to serve it roasted with onions and other root vegetables with a dash of olive oil and salt and pepper. Another idea is to swap out half of the potatoes with kohlrabi in your favorite mashed potatoes recipe for a sweeter, lighter take on a holiday favorite. Don’t discard the greens! They can be sautéed on their own or with other greens such as mustard and kale for another healthy side dish.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

November 20, 2012 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Fairy Gardens: Adding Some Imagination to Nature

Garden trends seem to be forever changing. Some develop because even gardeners who stick with a roster of proven reliable plants like a change now and then. There are, however, numerous trends that last. For example, Penjing, or the art of depicting landscapes in miniature, is an ancient pastime that developed in China and is still seen by the use today of bonsai plants. One interesting trend currently emerging out of these gardens in miniature is what’s known as a “fairy garden.”

Lemon Hill’s fairy garden is composed of young plants, diminutive trees and bonsai that are in scale with its miniature castle and houses, fountain, stone walls, gates and furniture, and fairy figurines. The Fairy Garden takes its name from the Meyer lemon trees grown in the vicinity.  Its design was inspired by miniature gardens found in Ireland and in books.  It is visited often by school and scout groups.

Though gardens can reflect many things, such as taste and style, they can also reflect function, such as creating a special place for children and grandchildren.  Just look at the Fairy Garden on Lemon Hill. Lemon Hill was a special project for the owner and her grandchildren.  Her own daughter helped her build the garden and she implemented suggestions from her other three daughters as well as her 13 granddaughters.  She created the garden with all her girls in mind.

Building a fairy garden can be a project that you enjoy with your children or grandchildren that can get them excited and participating in the art and act of gardening. They can be found in any number of small spaces, such as bird baths, pots, or large plant saucers.

Images from the Garden Club of America Collection at the Archives of American Gardens.

By Jessica Short
Archives of American Gardens Intern
October  2012

November 9, 2012 at 9:26 am 1 comment

Archives, landscapes, and History Part II: The Lens of Garden History

October is a month of changing colors, cooler temperatures, and candy for many, but for archivists and history buffs alike, the month is also an opportunity to reflect on the value and meaning of what we document, preserve, and collect in our personal and professional archives for American Archives Month.  When looking back at the history of plants, gardens, and design, photographs and other images can be compelling windows into the past for telling stories about (and remembering) the history and meaning of places.

What a photographer chooses to photograph, as well as the way they frame their image, deciding what to include and exclude, influences what we can know and learn from a collection of photographs. New technology and cultural preferences also contribute to the meaning of photographs.

For example, The Garden Club of America frequently used glass lantern slides, a technology that allowed them to present images to large audiences long before the days of Power Point. Particularly well suited to the social atmosphere of garden clubs, these slides were often hand-painted with vivid colors to bring the spaces to life for viewers. This allowed club members to come together to share and preserve the stories of these gardens and their work through visual culture.  Due to the foresight of Garden Club of America members, Smithsonian Gardens’ Archives of American Gardens (AAG) has over 3,000 of these slides, used during the 1920s and 1930s. They primarily focus on gardens that tend to be more formal, such as the one of Thornewood, a garden in Tacoma, Washington pictured below.

Thornewood in Tacoma, Washington. Asahel Curtis, photographer. August 1933.

While our technology for documenting, displaying, and sharing images is different today, photography continues to be an ever-important means of pro-actively preserving the past, even as the types of gardens and landscapes we value as a part of our archives and history grows.

For example, the more recent images below of Schuylkill River Park Community Garden in Philadelphia from the Archives of American Gardens  represent a more informal community garden, compared to the private, formal garden of Thornewood.  These two images also illustrate how, even in an age where digital photography encourages multiplicity, quality and focus remain important to preserve the kind of documentation that allows people down the road a window into the stories of the past.

In the first image, the photographer focuses on a specific bed within the garden (with more in the background) to give viewers an understanding of the components that make up the overall design of this space.  From this photograph, researchers can begin to understand how the garden itself was used and what was grown.  The repetition of beds implies that community members each have designated spaces.

Close up of Schuylkill River Park Community Garden, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Sarah D. Price, photographer. 2006.

The second image compliments the first, making the archival record more complete. Because the photographer chose a broad view that presents the context of the garden as a component of the larger urban landscape, researchers looking back will be better equipped to understand and imagine how residents negotiated their ways of life as gardeners between the sight and sounds railroad tracks, expressways, and the built environment of Philadelphia.

Schuylkill River Park Community Garden, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Sarah D. Price, photographer. October 2005.

Both Thornewood and Schuylkill River Park Community Garden are important parts of the Archive of American Gardens. Not only do they tell the stories of changing technology, photographic perspectives, as well as evolving trends in garden design and meaning, but these examples also help to illustrate how archives are not only about the past and present, but also about the future as they continue to grow, evolve, and adapt in order to remain relevant into the future.

– Joe Cialdella, Haupt Fellow, Smithsonian Gardens

Click here to read part I

November 1, 2012 at 11:24 am Leave a comment

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