Archive for August, 2013

Yes! Summer Internship at Smithsonian Gardens

This summer I had the privilege of working with two terrific high school students who were part of the Youth Engagement Through Science Program (YES!) sponsored by the National Museum of Natural History. The students spent six weeks at Smithsonian Gardens participating in a citizen science bird watch.  Read about their experiences below.

-Cynthia Brown, Horticulture Collections and Education Manager

Elvis looking for birds at NMNH.

Elvis searching for birds in the Urban Bird Habitat Garden at the national Museum of Natural History.

Elvis Sosa Martinez: My name is Elvis Sosa – Martinez. I plan on graduating from high school next year (2014) and I would like to go to college and major in Business Administration and Criminal Justice.

Robin's nest.

American Robin’s nest in an Elderberry tree in the Butterfly Habitat Garden.

My experience at the Smithsonian Gardens was great! I never thought I would learn so many things about bird species. My project for the six weeks  was about conducting a bird count to see what types, and how many, are stopping by to visit the Smithsonian Gardens Urban Bird Habitat Garden around the National Museum of Natural History.  The data that was collected from our bird watching sessions was added to the Cornell Lab Ornithology Celebrate Urban Birds project. Every bird is unique in some type of way. Honestly I would recommend this program to any high school student. It is a great experience and opportunity to communicate and interact with many different people. You get the opportunity to observe and to learn how birds nest, live, what they eat and much more. My mentors Cynthia Brown and Paula Healy were a lot of help. They were always there when I needed help and they were very fun to work with. I really appreciate everything that they have done to make this experience a great experience.


Looking for birds at Smithsonian Gardens

Brianne looking for birds at Smithsonian Gardens.

Brianne Turner: My name is Brianne Turner and I am a rising senior. I am originally from Dallas, Georgia and moved to Washington, D.C. in 2007. I was excited about this internship because it was something fun and new for me. I hoped to gain knowledge about new science fields that I didn’t have prior knowledge about. When I graduate high school I would like to study food science and go to law school.


One of Smithsonian Garden’s regular feathered visitors: a catbird.

When most people think of bird watching, they think “Boring!” and choose to avoid the activity all together. However it is so much more. Bird watching for the first time was dull to me, but when you see your first bird it unlocks a new curiosity.  When you see a bird you start to pay attention to the environment near it and also you look at the details on the bird. You begin to do more research in order to find out what bird species you saw and how you can find it again.  You find a new appreciation for the world in which you live in and think of ways to help better it for people and animals, because we are not the only ones that have to pay for our negligence. I had an opportunity be involved with a fairly new project and do research for the new bird interpreters.  I get to leave with the knowledge that my work that I have done will be used over and over again and it will be put to great use.

I really appreciate everything that Smithsonian Gardens has done to make this experience a great experience.

August 26, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Ruby Slippers Make the Plant

Ruby Red Slippers

Judy Garland’s Ruby Red Slippers from the film The Wizard of Oz (Image courtesy of the National Museum of American History.)

At some point in most people’s lives they wish they had a pair of Dorothy’s ruby slippers. Who wouldn’t want the ease of getting home with just a click of the heels? Travel just became ten times easier. Plus, some women just can’t say no to a pair of killer red heels. But here’s the kicker: in L. Frank Baum’s 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s slippers were actually silver. The creators of the 1939 film made the now iconic change from silver to red. Designers dyed the shoes red and then overlapped them with burgundy sequined organza netting. There are an estimated 2,300 sequins on each shoe! The pair on display in the National Museum of American History had felt placed on the bottom to muffle the sound it made against the yellow brick road during dance scenes.

So why were the shoes such a big deal?  Why was the color change so important? Besides the fact that ruby red looked great in Technicolor, it added a whimsical feel. It transformed the farm girl from Kansas into a  self-empowered young woman. Red can change not only the look of a person, but plants as well. The Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’ on the National Museum of American History’s grounds is a perfect example. Located on the north side of the museum on either side of the half circle drive, Hydrangea quercifolia is a great addition to the area. These hydrangeas can grow in Zones 5 through 9 and are well suited for Washington, D.C.’s Zone 7. In 2011, the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C. gave the Oakleaf Hydrangea a makeover and introduced this lovely cultivar.

Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’

Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Ruby Slippers’ at the National Museum of American History.

The ‘Ruby Slippers’ cultivar borrows quite a few attributes from Dorothy and her infamous shoes. Like Dorothy, the plant is a United States native. Like the shoes, its blooms are nine inches long. The blooms start out silvery white, like the slippers in the book, but gradually change to a deep, rich ruby like the slippers in the film. The plant is altogether more petite than its parent plant, which can grow to a typical height and width of eight feet. While these qualities might not seem like a major change, this cultivar takes on a whole new look, with a major dose of pizzazz. Its oak leaf-shaped leaves and brilliant red-orange autumn color are only improved by the changing flower color. The National Arboretum was so fond of the plant that they stuck with the Wizard of Oz theme, introducing Oakleaf Hydrangea ‘Munchkin’ in 2011. Who knows, maybe they’ll introduce ‘Wicked Witch’ next? Whatever they decide it’ll be exciting to see.

 -Katie Hix, Horticulture Intern

August 14, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Nam June Paik: Global Visionary

TV Garden by Nam June Paik

Installing TV Garden by Nam June Paik, 1974/2000, single channel video installation with color television monitors and live plants; color, sound, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. (Image courtesy of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

Smithsonian Gardens recently had the opportunity to make a unique contribution to an exhibit currently on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Our staff often provide plants and flower arrangements to beautify the space of a gallery to complement the art on display, but rarely are we asked to provide plants to become an actual work of art. Art in the garden is a familiar trope, but in this case, the garden is the art.

This was exactly the case when we were approached to provide living plants for the exhibit Nam June Paik: Global Visionary. Nam June Paik was a Korean American artist born July 20, 1932 in Seoul, Korea and died January 29, 2006. He worked in a variety of media, but is often called the “father of video art” as he was one of the first artists to explore the medium of video and television in art.

TV Garden Nam June Paik

TV Garden by Nam June Paik, 1974/2000, single channel video installation with color television monitors and live plants; color, sound, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. (Photo by Amy Vaughters, Smithsonian American Art Museum.)

In the center of the exhibition is Paik’s 1974/2000 installation TV Garden, comprised of televisions screening his 1973 video masterpiece “Global Groove” peeking out from a jumble of live tropical plants. Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouses’ Interior Plant Section helped install the plants and has maintained them throughout the duration of the exhibit. There are over three hundred tropical plants in the installation, and all are varieties specified by the exhibit’s curators to remain true to Paik’s original vision. Aglaonema commutatum ‘Maria’, Dracaena warneckii, Scindapsus aureus (Jade pothos), and Ravenea rivularis (Majesty palm) were acquired in a variety of sizes for TV Garden.

From a horticulturist’s perspective, it is a challenge to maintain these plants due to the sheer quantity and the close proximity of the televisions, wires, and cables spread throughout the installation. Every week it takes approximately three hours of watering and grooming to keep the plants looking fresh and healthy.

Nam June Paik: Global Visionary is open through August 11, 2013. Hurry over to see it; it closes on Sunday!

For more information, check out these reviews of the exhibit by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

-Joel Lemp, Horticulturist

August 5, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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