Last year, I had the opportunity to design an exhibit in the Ripley Center, “Design for Small Spaces.” Featuring stumpery, fairy gardens, green walls, terrariums and dish gardens, I hoped to inspire visitors with some ideas they could try at home, even in the smallest of spaces. A favorite component of the exhibit was the fairy garden vignette. With this year’s latest installation, I wanted to delve deeper into the world of miniature gardening.
The new exhibit, “Garden Inspirations,” opened Labor Day weekend in the Ripley Center. Images from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Gardens were used to inspire five miniature landscapes. Selecting images from the Archives was no easy task. I spent hours narrowing down options from the thousands available in that repository to find “the perfect five” to miniaturize. In my search, I was looking for images that not only documented a range of gardens, but ones I also felt confident in transforming. Which images had features I could replicate with small plants and miniature furniture and would do well in low-light conditions? Ultimately, I found five images I not only fell in love with, but met those requirements.
I hope you’ll have a chance to visit “Garden Inspirations” and find inspiration in elements in the pictured gardens for your own plantings, as I did in the miniature displays. What colors, textures, scents, or features might you add to your own garden?
Would you like your garden to inspire other gardeners? Add images and a story about your garden to Community of Gardens, a digital home for sharing and preserving stories of gardens and the gardeners who make them grow. Anyone can add their story, which means that an account of your parents’ backyard wedding, your grandmother’s tomatoes, or your neighborhood’s community garden can become a part of the Smithsonian. Visit communityofgardens.si.edu to get started.
– Alex Thompson, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist
Miltonia moreliana is a species of orchid found in Venezuela and Brazil that blooms reliably in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection in late summer or early fall. Named originally for a French orchid nursery around 1800, ‘Mora’ is also the Spanish word for blackberries which share this vibrant color. For many years this species was considered a variety of the highly variable Miltonia spectabilis which has many color forms. However, Miltonia moreliana was described as a separate species back in 1848 and is considered distinct from the other color forms.
Many confuse the vigorous, lowland, warmer-growing Miltonias from Brazil with the finicky, upper-elevation Miltoniopsis that thrive in the Andes Mountains in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. While the flowers are superficially similar, they are not closely related and have different cultural requirements. Brazilian Miltonias have long rhizomes (underground stems) between their growths and become large specimens quickly. Because of their creeping habit, new growths often wander out of their pots. Larger plants, such as this Miltonia need frequent repotting and occasional division to stay healthy. Many intergeneric (a cross between plants in two different genera) hybrids with Brassia and Oncidium have been bred using this species and the results virtually always exhibit this delightful coloration. Some examples of these beautiful and popular hybrids can be seen below.
– Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection Specialist
What do you usually pack to eat on a long trip? Maybe a few granola bars and a couple bottles of water?
Thanks to detailed records kept by the Pilgrims, we know that they brought a large quantity of seeds with them during their voyage on the Mayflower to the New World. These seeds were used to start gardens that sustained the new colony. They produced quick-growing crops like mustard, protein-rich peas, and carbohydrates from wheat and oats.
On an expedition to the Arctic in 1819, British sea captain Sir William Edward Parry fortuitously brought along a pocketful of cress and mustard seeds. When his ship the H.M.S Hecla was stuck in the polar ice for nine months, these sprouts helped prevent scurvy amongst the crew.
The crew of Expedition 44 to the International Space Station in 2015 also packed along seeds. Astronauts Scott Kelly and Kjell Lindgren became the first Americans to ever eat food grown in space–a leafy romaine lettuce salad.
According to the sci-fi classic Star Trek, we are still a few centuries away from having a food replicator aboard a starship. However, NASA and partnering space agencies are currently developing gardens that will one day sustain life on a space station and maybe even a Mars colony.
So, the next time you pack food for a long journey, you may want to choose some hearty granola bars. You know, the ones with the seeds in them…just in case.
To learn more about sustaining life in far-out locations come to the Museum Moonshine program at the National Air and Space Museum on September 10, 2016 from 8 to 10 p.m. Museum Moonshine is an evening garden party that celebrates the treasures of Earth and space by highlighting craft food and drink inspired by earthly botanicals and space science. Tickets available here – http://s.si.edu/2beYmHi
– Brett McNish, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist
My name is Erin Clark and I’m a horticulturist with Smithsonian Gardens. Each year Smithsonian Gardens sends staff on professional development trips to gather inspiration for the gardens. Thanks to this travel grant, I was able to tour the gardens of New England. From Connecticut and the hills of Vermont to New Hampshire and Massachusetts, the vistas I experienced were vivid and the people I met were warm and welcoming. Many of the gardens I visited in the area showcased the use of plants, something we like to highlight in tours at the National Museum of American History.
I began with a selection of historic gardens in Connecticut. Starting in Hartford, I visited Hill-Stead, a home designed by an architect’s daughter for her wealthy parents in retirement, complete with a sunken garden by Beatrix Farrand. Works by Monet and other artists hang in the house and the hills outside the home used to be a working farm. I toured with Hill-Stead’s head gardener at a time when the roses bloomed in top form.
At The Florence Griswold Museum I spoke with Landscape Historian Sheila Wertheimer who works with volunteers to ensure that the grounds are beautiful and accurate to their original aesthetic. Sheila enlisted the help of an archaeologist to find the original bed locations. Referencing old photographs and paintings by the artists that flocked to this boarding house turned artists’ colony, she recreated a colonial revival garden, complete with roses, yarrow, and delphiniums. The site now hosts an art gallery and a cafe overlooking the Lieutenant River.
In Massachusetts I visited the campus of Smith College, toured the greenhouse there, and enjoyed the synoptic beds laid out by plant family. Near Massachusetts’ northern border is a place called the Bridge of Flowers where a footbridge stretches across the Deerfield River, adorned in cottage garden flowers and trees reminiscent of Monet’s garden in France.
Next I drove to Tasha Tudor’s Garden in Marlboro, VT. There the famous children’s book illustrator lived a quiet life in a house built by her son. The Tudor family leads a few tours each year and still keeps the house much as the artist did during her lifetime. An entire field of lupine greeted visitors at the gate. The garden’s crab apples and daffodils had long since bloomed, giving way to the exuberance of summer. Tasha’s grandson, Winslow, proudly showed us the gardens and chickens. Seth Tudor, Tasha’s son, showed us the beams of the house he built by hand and the tiny puppet studio that the family used to entertain neighborhood children.
Tasha Tudor, born in 1915, had a love of the old way of doing things, and kept goats, churned butter and gardened, all in late 19th century style dress. There are still notes on the wall with phone numbers, important dates and weather conditions, and sketches of her beloved corgis. A testament to her love of the artistic process, she chose weaving over modern pastimes like watching television and kept two looms that dwarfed the rooms they occupied. Staying there in Vermont among lakes and evergreens, watching the water birds and the sunset, I could understand why Tasha had chosen this place.
I was off to Portsmouth, New Hampshire the next day, and explored the preserved town of Strawbery Banke (named in the English of the day). It was named for the wild strawberries that grew along the banks, enough to fill the hull of a ship. Several houses and backyard gardens illustrate this site’s 400-year-old history. Erik Wochholz, the Curator of Historic Landscapes at the Strawbery Banke Museum, led me on a tour and we sampled our way through herbs used for brewing and as garnishes. Kids have an opportunity to wander through colonial gardens, explore a WWII-era store, and even do a paleobotany activity examining modern pollen under microscope.
John Forti, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Director of Horticulture and Education, met with me for my last stop before heading back to D.C. MHS owns a historic estate next to a soccer park, complete with a grotto, a formal garden and several themed gardens. During the last year, wooden structures and arches have been built and educational interpretation for youth has grown. The veggie garden, next to a peaked frame house built by the monks who once ran the site, is the current domain of several heirloom lettuces, tomatoes, and strawberries, as well as a nesting killdeer.
Heading into the city and to the airport, I was left with beautiful memories of the places I had visited on this whirlwind tour. I learned about the importance plants have in providing a sense of place in a garden. I saw many different ways of interpreting history with labeling, programs and art. Every place has a different focus, a different plant palette, and a set of people who love it, dedicated to its continuance, much like Smithsonian Gardens.
– Erin Clark, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist
In literature, mythology, love, and everyday life flowers—light as a feather—are weighted with meaning. In the Victorian era entire guides were published dedicated to the “language of flowers” and the idea that a single flower, or a particular arrangement of flowers, could communicate complex emotions and social cues. Of course, these guides were often at odds with each other and were most likely a faddish folly rather than a prescription for concrete communication in everyday life. One could only hope that if a courting couple were signaling each other with posy holders they were referencing the same book. For instance, a white rose symbolizes “I would be single” according to the 1852 book The Language of Flowers, but in The Illustrated Language of Flowers (1856) a white rose signaled “I am worthy of you.” Unless it was wilted, for then it meant “transient impressions.” Confusion sets in when a white rose was worn with a red rose, which symbolized “unity.” If these books were taken at face value, how easy it would be to send mixed messages. What a beginning to a romantic comedy!
Throughout history flowers have symbolically marked weddings and funerals, the change of seasons, state and national pride, and have symbolized love, hope, rebirth, death, and everything in between. The state flower of Hawaii is the yellow ma’o hau hele (Hibiscus brackenridgei). Hibiscus flowers are often given to visitors to Hawaii as a gesture of welcome. Mexican marigolds (cempasúchil) are known as the flor de muertos and used to decorate the graves of loved ones for Día de los Muertos celebrations.
Flowers find their way into our everyday lives through more personal channels. Our Community of Gardens digital archive is a home for these stories of flowers and gardens and their impact on our daily lives. From the unique peony cultivar developed by a flower-loving neighbor to cakes flavored by the vanilla orchid to memories of a childhood spent in shady backyard abundant with colorful azalea bushes, anyone can share their story with the Smithsonian Institution. We are collecting stories of gardens and plants past and present to preserve for future generations.
Here are some of our favorite flower stories from Community of Gardens—all have a story to tell about the meaning of flowers in our personal histories and culture at large:
Do you have a personal story of flowers to share with our archive? We welcome stories about:
- The development of a particular flower cultivar.
- Flowers rescued and replanted from family homesteads or lost or destroyed gardens.
- Family florist businesses or flower farms.
- Edible flowers. Share your best recipe for squash blossoms with us!
- Did you grow up in a different country? Is there a flower that reminds you of home, or a flower from your culture you have incorporated into your life in the United States?
- Flower gardens of all shapes and sizes.
- What flowers mean to you in your life.
-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator
Objects and artifacts in a museum collection are typically housed in cases and cabinets with drawers or shelves. As a living museum, Smithsonian Gardens’ plant collections are maintained in the landscape and in a large greenhouse facility. Because plants are living specimens that require vitamins, nutrients and other sources of energy, they must be monitored and nurtured daily. Water is a critical component of this care. Photosynthesis, transpiration (water movement through a plant and subsequent evaporation from plant leaves), and the transfer of vitamins and minerals from the soil to the plant are all dependent on the presence of water.
Water quality and availability are key factors to plant maintenance in a public garden. Things like droughts, floods, and other natural disturbances must be considered when developing a plan of care for each garden and/or collection. Throughout its gardens and landscapes, Smithsonian Gardens utilizes an irrigation system that uses 30-50% less water than conventional watering, improves plant growth by extending watering times, prevents soil erosion and nutrient runoff, and ensures that plants are watered without wetting leaves, which helps prevent fungal disease.
Water quality is also of critical importance when it comes to successful orchid cultivation and maintenance. Orchid species exposed to municipal water–such as that which the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection (SGOC) currently uses–exhibit detrimental physical manifestations caused by the accumulation of salts in the growing medium. These adverse effects include leaf tip burn, decreased plant vigor, reduced blooming, discoloration, and even death.
To have access to high quality water for the long-term care of SGOC, Smithsonian Gardens recently secured funding from the Smithsonian’s Collections Care and Preservation Fund* to install a customized rainwater harvesting system at its Greenhouse Facility. The system will collect, filter and store rainwater in a large tank or modular chamber. This is a preferable alternative to filtering municipal water for several reasons. First, filtering does not remove all of the added compounds found in municipal water. Additionally, rainwater has a similar pH to that of reverse-osmosis (R/O) water, which is currently used for our most delicate specimens. Smithsonian staff are currently visiting local universities and public gardens with large-scale water harvesting systems to glean ‘lessons learned’ from each project and to determine whether an above-ground or underground cistern (water storage tank) makes the most sense for SGOC’s year-round water use.
The plan is for rainwater to be collected from the roof of the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility then pumped under pressure from a cistern through a filtration system to remove particles at the micron level. From there, the rainwater will be disinfected using ultraviolet light to destroy any microorganisms that are detrimental to orchid health. Finally, the rainwater will be pumped to a hose connector in each of the four orchid greenhouses for use when staff are watering.
*This project supports innovative and sustainable collections care which will have a direct, substantial, and permanent impact on the health and preservation of the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection. It was made possible with financial support from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund, administered by the Smithsonian’s National Collections Program and the Smithsonian Collections Advisory Committee.
– Sarah Hedean, Living Collections Manager
Fat in a succulent sort of way, that is!
Two years ago, I started playing around with growing plants vertically using a system of trays specifically designed for such use (Going Vertical in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden). During that first year, I planted the trays with creeping thymes, and other low-growing selections in an effort to create a mosaic of colors and form. This was successful, but I knew it could be better.
The next year I used all sun-loving succulents in an awe-inspiring range of colors, textures, and forms which allowed me to have fun creating a living tapestry that would thrive with low-water usage.
The response to my succulent experiment was so positive that I knew it had to come back. So before deadly frosts arrived, I dismantled the wall and sent it back to the care of our wonderful growers, Joe Curley and Jill Gonzales, to overwinter in the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility. The plants flourished under their care and the wall is back this year, bigger and better than before!
But what else can be done with succulents? Could I create succulent topiary-like balls? Why not try?! Again with the help and support of our greenhouse staff, this past winter, I purchased some pre-made metal frame spheres that were stuffed with sphagnum moss and secured with fishing line.
I got various sizes of these spheres and plugs (small rooted plants) of assorted succulents. The first thing I did was submerge the dry spheres in a bucket of water to soak the moss thoroughly. Then I started playing with the little plugs and began creating artistic designs of color and form all over the spheres. I added holes in each moss ball and placed starter plants in, securing them with florist pins when necessary.
After creating the spheres, they were once again in the hands of our great growers who cared for and nurtured them until they were established enough to put on display in the garden.
They are now scattered throughout the Ripley Garden, hanging from various structures and lamp posts. Come on by and check them out—I think they turned out pretty well and am excited to see them completely filled in.
I check them frequently to see if they need watering since the sphagnum moss dries out quickly, but succulents are engineered to handle times of drought, so they should continue to thrive in the absence of much water, though I am not sure just how much!
So, once again, I am experimenting and learning new things all the time. I have no idea how the succulent spheres will do this summer, but that is part of the fun of gardening, isn’t it?
– Janet Draper, Mary Livingston Ripley Garden Horticulturist