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Hello from the Newest Addition to the Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection

Hi Friends!

Happy Arbor Day!  My name is Carpinus betulus ‘Fastigiata’, or columnar European Hornbeam. I feel right at home here at the National Air and Space Museum as all the rockets in Gallery 114 look a lot like….me! The name fastigiata comes from the Latin word meaning “soaring”. While I’ll never reach the moon, I will reach 40 feet tall. My fall color is fiery yellow and orange, and my bark is grey and muscular-looking.

Here are a few snapshots from my planting this morning. It’s a pleasure becoming the 1901st addition to the Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection, and I hope to enjoy many years at the Smithsonian!

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Click here learn more about Smithsonian Gardens and the Tree Collection.

For tips on how to choose the right tree and plant it, check out these tips on proper tree planting techniques from the Smithsonian Gardens Green Team.

April 24, 2015 at 2:11 pm Leave a comment

Chutes, Ladders, and Buckets: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Garden’s Orchid Collection

There are few orchids as unusually delightful and whimsical as the genera Gongora, Stanhopea, and Coryanthes in family Orchidaceae. Largely distributed through the neotropics, these genera are closely related under the subtribe Stanhopeinae. Though they share a similar way of enticing pollinators to visit their flowers, each of these orchids offer something unique as well.

L to R: Gongora aff. quinquenervis, Stanhopea jenischiana, and Coryanthes trifoliate  from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

L to R: Gongora aff. quinquenervis, Coryanthes trifoliate, and Stanhopea jenischiana from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Gongora, Stanhopea, and Coryanthes all attract euglossine bees to pollinate their blooms by producing highly aromatic oils on their flowers. Male euglossine bees, drawn by the intense fragrance, land on the flowers, scrape up the scented oil, and then collect it in spongy pouch-like structures on their back legs. It is believed that the male bees use this behavior is to help attract mates. The more complex the aroma compounds a male bee creates by visiting multiple flowers, the more attractive he appears to female bees.

Transferring collected oils onto its back legs requires a male euglossine bee to release its grip on a flower momentarily. Rather amazingly, these three genera of orchids have each developed a way to capitalize on this moment of vulnerability. Gongoras and Stanhopeas  orchids use a “slide” structure formed from the petals and dorsal sepal of each bloom to guide the upside-down tumbling bee past the pollen on the end of the column and out of the flower. It’s nature’s version of “Chutes and Ladders!”

Coryanthes or Bucket Orchids, on the other hand, trap their bee visitors in liquid pooled in the bucket-shaped lip of their flowers. With its wings submerged, a male bee must exit out back of the bucket and past the column containing the pollen to escape the flower. In the process pollen from the flower attaches to the bee’s back. Since this is a traumatic experience, the bee temporarily avoids similar flowers. Eventually, the bee forgets the experience and falls into the same trap on another flower. The pollen already attached to its back then is deposited in the appropriate place on the flower’s column before new pollen adheres to the bee. Unbelievable, right?

Although flower spikes in all three species extend and hang pendulant from the base of the psuedobulbs, the more interesting phenomenon is that all three develop inverted flowers. This adaptation guides the fall of the visiting bee downwards through each orchid’s respective structure to help pollinate the plant.

Though similar in many ways, each genus exhibits a radically different shape. Below is a photo of Gongora aff. quinquenervis from the Smithsonian Garden Orchid Collection. The flower shape is fairly representative of the Gongora genus as a whole and makes for a great model to understand the pollination process. Some say Gongora tend to look like a bird or insect in flight because of its wing-like reflexed lateral sepals. What strikes me in this particular species, however, is its jaggedness and the small barbs coming off the lip. The barbs remind me of a fishing hook with a lure. Considering how the flower uses its structure to attract a pollinator, it’s actually not a bad analogy

Gongora aff. quinquenervis from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Gongora aff. quinquenervis from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Stanhopea jenischiana, most recognizable for the dark eye spots on its yellow lip (see below), pollinate very similarly to Gongoras via a “slide” method. The fall bees experience after entering the flower led these orchids to be nicknamed “Fall-Through” Orchids.

Stanhopea jenischiana from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Stanhopea jenischiana from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

And finally, below is Coryanthes trifoliata. Though the lateral sepals unfortunately are past their peak in this photo, the bucket lip is still intact and shows off some this bloom’s stunning detail! Notice the liquid dripping into the flower’s bucket. The second image shows more clearly the channel through which the orchid forces visiting bee to escape.

Coryanthes trifoliata from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Coryanthes trifoliata from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

While these fantastic orchids abound in the Smithsonian Gardens greenhouses, a few have made their way into the Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History over the past several months. Have you had a chance to see any of them? With the show closing this Sunday, April 26 there’s still time to see a few new additions including a Gongora! Don’t miss them!

Alan M., Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Exhibition Intern

April 23, 2015 at 4:17 pm Leave a comment

Growing a Digital Garden Archive

Gardens at Chewonki

The gardens at the Chewonki Foundation in Wiscasset, Maine evolved over a century as the summer camp transformed into a year-round environmental education organization. Generations of students and staff have left their mark on the farm and gardens.

We are a nation of gardeners. Thomas Jefferson grew over 300 varieties of plants at his Monticello home and like any dedicated gardener kept meticulous records detailing the triumphs (and failures) of his adventures in gardening. In the nineteenth century Italian immigrants introduced new vegetables like artichokes to the United States. Today, heirloom seeds originating from around the globe—or grandma’s backyard—can be purchased online and grown wherever we make a home. The Smithsonian Gardens Victory Garden at the National Museum of American History tells a story of citizens feeding their communities during wartime years, as well as a story of the diverse cultures that comprise the American people. In the summer ‘Carolina Gold’ rice, a traditional crop from the Carolina Lowcountry, can be found growing only a few feet from ‘Corbaci’ sweet peppers, a hard-to-find heirloom from Turkey.

Gandhi Garden

Inspired by the quote “you must be the change you wish to see in the world,” the artists of the S.A.G.E. Coalition in Trenton, New Jersey transformed an abandoned lot into a vibrant community garden and gathering space.

April is National Garden Month, and we are celebrating the diversity of American gardens and the gardeners who make them grow. Small gardens and large gardens, community gardens and backyards, our diverse stories are part of a verdant quilt of gardens growing across the country. Gardens tell us where we’ve been, and where we are going. They can tell us stories about how people in our communities lived in the past and articulate our cultural values in the present. So often our everyday stories—the dahlias bred by a great-uncle, the nursery owned by a family for generations, the hot peppers grown as a reminder of a faraway island childhood—are lost to the historical record, and therefore lost to future generations.

Community of Gardens website

Community of Gardens is a participatory digital archive collecting stories from the public about gardens and gardening in America.

Community of Gardens is our answer to the call to preserve our vernacular garden heritage. Community of Gardens is a digital archive hosted by Smithsonian Gardens, in partnership with our Archives of American Gardens, and created by YOU. It is a participatory archive that enriches and adds diversity to the history of gardening in the United States and encourages engagement with gardens on a local, community level. The website uses a multimedia platform that supports images, text, audio, and video. Visitors can add their own story to the digital archive, or explore personal stories of gardens from around the country.

To contribute a story to the digital archive visit the “Share a Story” page on the Community of Gardens website to sign up for an account. Once you have set up your account you may then add a written story and photographs. If you’d like to add video or audio files to your story email them to communityofgardens@si.edu. You will hear from a Smithsonian Gardens education staff member within a few days, and your story will be posted on the website usually within 3-5 business days. Once you have shared a story, share another story, or encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same!

Paul, on the right, shared his family’s garden history with Community of Gardens, beginning with his great-grandfather immigrating to America in 1881. His grandfather Harry Sr., on left, grew tomatoes, and in the nineteenth century his great-grandfather sold vegetables the old Central Market in Washington, D.C. Today Paul maintains a large garden that he tends with his children.

Paul, on the right, shared his family’s garden history with Community of Gardens, beginning with his great-grandfather immigrating to America in 1881. His grandfather Harry Sr., on the left, grew tomatoes, and today Paul maintains a large garden that he tends with his children.

We are looking for any story about gardens and gardening in America—even stories of Americans gardening abroad. Here is just a sampling of the stories we are looking to include in Community of Gardens:

  • What’s growing in your own backyard, or on your apartment balcony? What motivates you to garden and how did you get your start? How does gardening enrich your everyday life?
  • Interview a neighbor or family member about their garden.
  • Memories of gardens past. Do you have strong memories of your grandparents’ garden, or visiting a public garden that no longer exists? Gardens can live on in stories and images through the archive.
  • Family history. This is a good opportunity to get out the photo albums and scan old family photographs. Are you a fourth-generation gardener like Paul, pictured above?
  • Community gardens—past and present.
  • Did you immigrate to the United States from another country? How do your traditions and culture play a role in your garden?
  • College and university gardens.
  • School gardens. Involve your students in telling the story of their garden!
  • Pollinator gardens and beekeeping.
  • Americans gardening abroad. Are you a veteran or member of the Foreign Service? Did you keep a garden while living abroad? How did living in another country influence your garden?
  • Sustainability and eco-friendly gardening.
  • Stories of gardens committed to providing food access in urban areas.

Join us in preserving our national garden heritage—this month and every month. What is your garden story?

 -Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

April 15, 2015 at 8:42 am Leave a comment

Behind the Orchids: Changeouts in the Kogod Courtyard

This week I took a break from work on the Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty exhibition to help Smithsonian Gardens’ horticulturists with planters in the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture.  The Reynolds Center, which houses the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum, underwent a major renovation in the early 2000s to enclose its central courtyard, creating a beautifully maintained interior space filled with natural light. If you are a fan of architecture or just like cafes in nice spaces, you should definitely go check it out! Smithsonian Gardens’ horticulturists care for eight large planters throughout the courtyard and I’ve made two trips over the past couple weeks to help replace plants in two of the eight planters. With each planter over 300 square feet, it’s quite the production.

Interior of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture

Interior of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture

In fact, on Kogod changeout days, help is needed from several members of the Smithsonian Gardens staff. This week, I joined a team of five staff members and one volunteer to tackle the job. Changeouts occur regularly. Often new plants are rotated onto display for seasonal purposes or to freshen up the courtyard for the many thousands of visitors that regularly pass through. Earlier this year, the courtyard display featured Cymbidium orchids and their endless blooms gave spectacular color to the space.

Kogod changeouts not only address aesthetic purposes. Changeouts are also useful for ensuring and maintaining plant health. Sometimes a new plant may not do so well in the space. There might be a pest problem that requires removing a plant or a plant may simply need to come out because its life cycle is ending. Whatever the reason, making the effort to assess each plant’s health ensures a beautiful display.

During the first step of a planter changeout, all the plants (except for the trees) come out of the planter and are placed onto tarps laid out on the ground. Plants are assessed to determine whether they are still in good condition for display, if they need attention, or if they should simply be composted. Once the current plants are sorted, new soil is poured into the bed to level the surface with the edge of the planter. Once again, adding soil serves both an aesthetic and functional purpose. Fresh soil both looks better and allows the new plants going into the planter to have an easier time rooting. This is one of the most labor-intensive parts of the process as each of the planters easily takes in 80 50-pound bags of new soil.

Once the soil is in, additional nutrients are added and mixed in evenly before introducing the plants. The Smithsonian Gardens’ interior plantscape designer and crew then work to create a planter design with the plants available instead of trying to fit the plants into a predesigned plan. I feel this allows the planters to come out looking their best and showcases plants that we may have been able to save from the previous design that we did not expect to have. After helping with two changeouts, it’s really a nice surprise to see how it all comes together each time.

kogod-planter-2

The next time you are visiting the Smithsonian American Art Museum or National Portrait Gallery,  make sure to swing by the Kogod Courtyard and enjoy the wonderful green inside, no matter what the weather may be like outside!

– Alan M., Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Exhibition Intern

April 10, 2015 at 10:53 am 2 comments

From One Flower to Many and Some In Between: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Orchids come in an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and number of blooms. This week’s “What’s In Bloom” looks at some of unique plants in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection that highlight the impressive diversity of the Orchidaceae family. From large, single-flower plants to plants with spikes full of tiny blooms; these species are awe-inspiring!

Phragmipedium longifolium

Phragmipedium longifolium

Pictured above is Phragmipedium longifolium with its large, roughly eight inch bloom on display. This orchid is native to the costal and mountain regions of Ecuador and into Latin America. The beautiful thing about Phrag. longifolium is that while only one flower may be in bloom at a time, it’s possible for mature orchids to produce blooms year round under ideal conditions. This makes the orchid very popular and many hybrids are made with this species as one of the parents.

Mormolyca rigens

Mormolyca rigens

Located in the same global region as Phrag. longifolium, Mormolyca rigens displays much smaller, one inch flowers. Unlike Phrag. longifolium, when Morm. rigens blooms many flowers pop out all over the orchid, capping the ends of thin growing shoots. Morm. rigens is also able to maintain bloom most of the year. This orchid is particularly attractive to bees who, lured by its shape and coloring, pollinate the flower by trying unsuccessfully to mate with it.

Dendrobium speciosum

Dendrobium speciosum

Dendrobium speciosum is suited for prolific reproduction in the wild. It produces many, many fragrant blooms on just a single vegetative spike. While the blooms pictured here are conveniently located in the Smithsonian Gardens’ greenhouses, in the wild Den. speciosumis is commonly found throughout Australia. This plant showcases white flowers with purple-spotted, red-veined labellums, but there are many variations of this orchid in the wild because its pollen readily crosses with other Dendrobium species. With upwards of two hundred and fifty flowers opening synchronously on one stalk, this orchid releases an incredibly aromatic scent to attract potential pollinators from all directions.

Regardless of if an orchid blooms with one large flower, many tiny flowers, or anything in between, the incredible variety of this family is always a pleasure to view.

– Alan M., Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Exhibition Intern

April 6, 2015 at 1:56 pm Leave a comment

Cultivate ’14: Plants and Art

I had the opportunity to travel to Columbus, Ohio, last July to attend Cultivate ’14.  This annual conference is held for people from all aspects of the horticulture industry, including growers, retailers, landscapers, interior plantscapers, floral designers, and educators. With educational sessions, the largest horticultural trade show in North America, wonderful tours to attend, and over 10,000 attendees, there was so much to see and learn while I was there.

As part of the conference, I was fortunate to be able to visit the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus.  I have always been fond of conservatories and greenhouses, and this one did not disappoint!  The conservatory itself, comprised of 8,300 sq. ft. of glass roof space, first opened its doors to the public in 1895 to show off its collection of palms.

One aspect that really drew me in to all of the beautiful plant displays there were the Dale Chihuly glass pieces that were exhibited throughout the conservatory.  I learned that Chihuly’s artwork was first displayed in the conservatory in 2003.  Because of a marked increase in attendance, the Friends of the Conservatory decided to purchase many of those glass pieces so that they could be shown permanently.  There is something about the way the beautiful glass, with its electric colors, reflects the sun in such a gorgeous setting.  It warms me from the inside out.

Chihuly 1

Sunset Tower by Dale Chihuly at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Columbus, Ohio

That really got me thinking about how important art is in the garden: bringing these two elements together to draw in people to see the gardens.  It is a way for gardeners and plant lovers to come to such a lovely, natural setting to appreciate art.  It is equally as valuable to bring lovers of art into a garden setting, which is beautiful and imperfect—quite a different setting to display artwork than the stark white walls that we often see in a gallery—and enable them to appreciate the artwork in a more natural setting.  The synergy created by placing these two components of artwork and gardens in the same space makes the combination of the two work that much more effectively together than they would on their own.

Chihuly Pieces at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Columbus, Ohio

Chihuly pieces at the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Columbus, Ohio

We at Smithsonian Gardens are so fortunate to have such a beautiful backdrop in which to display our plants.  The museums themselves are works of art, inside and out.  We have entire gardens that are dedicated to displaying artwork (such as the Hirshhorn’s Sculpture Garden), and others that are gardens, first and foremost, that also display artwork (the Haupt Garden, American Indian Museum, and Natural History Museum, to name a few).

I work primarily with plants used in interior spaces, and while I can’t necessarily work with “gardens” and artwork, the plants I grow and care for in the Smithsonian greenhouses are used inside the museums where even more pieces of art are displayed.  The trip to Franklin Park Conservatory has inspired me to think more creatively about the plants I grow, and to consider new ways in which the plants can be arranged to complement the artwork they will be placed around, or even the space in which the plants will be displayed.

The next time you visit a space that displays horticulture and art, take the time to appreciate how much more you get out of your experience by having both plants and artwork working together.

– Shannon Hill, Greenhouse Horticulturist

March 26, 2015 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Behind the Orchids: Exploring from Behind the Lens

Smithsonian Gardens 20th annual orchid exhibition is well underway at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. Walking around the exhibit hall, you can’t help but appreciate at the multitude of colors, shapes, and sizes of the orchids on display. How is it possible to capture such beauty? If you’re like me, you take hundreds of photos on your phone.

In addition to the seemingly endless pictures I’ve taken on my phone, I’ve had the opportunity as an orchid exhibition intern to get behind a DSLR camera and experiment with orchid photography. I’m by no means a professional photographer, but experimenting with settings and subjects has given me a new-found appreciation for photography and shown me there’s more to understand about orchids than meets the eye.

There’s a lot to understand about how to take a photo at the show, and it all begins with the orchids themselves.

Phalaenopsis hybrid from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

Phalaenopsis hybrid from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

First Element: Subject

When taking a photograph, first consider what’s in your viewfinder. It’s helpful to try and center your shot on an orchid bloom to give yourself the most unobstructed view. Bloom-centered orchid photos are beautiful, but there also is a great appreciation that can come from taking photos that capture the plant as you would view it in real space. When up close with an orchid, you have the opportunity to view the plant from all different angles. I’ve found that taking different approaches to photographing an orchid subject can capture facets of its beauty that you may not have noticed before. The orchid Ornithidium coccineum ‘Superman David’, for example, has both a delicate flower and interesting plant structure which both deserve recognition. ‘Superman David’ is subject in both photos below, but taking photos from different viewpoints can help viewers better appreciate the orchid as a whole.

Ornithidium coccineum 'Superman David'

Ornithidium coccineum ‘Superman David’

Second Element: Light

Another element I focused on when learning to use the camera is lighting. Clearly, there is different lighting outside than in greenhouses or even in the orchid exhibit hall. Different types of lighting have different benefits and can result in interesting images. The natural light outside or in the greenhouse makes an orchid come to life. You get the feeling of how the orchid would appear in nature.

In the exhibit hall, the lighting is designed to really bring out the dazzling and detailed displays of each orchid arrangement. Aside from beautiful vignettes, the smallest individual orchid flowers are showcased with breathtaking brilliance. Whereas natural light shows orchids in context, the spotlights and other lighting features in the exhibit bring a greater focus to orchid details. These orchids are here to perform, to play both lead and support. That’s what makes an exhibit interesting.

Plants from the Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty exhibition (Left) and a well-lit Bublaphyllum (right)

Light in the Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty exhibition helps highlight orchid details.

Third Element: Focus

There is something to discover in both blurred images and sharp photographs. Whether intentional or not, capturing a blurred image creates an interesting experience for the viewer. It’s almost as if you’re outside looking in or looking over someone’s shoulder. You can see enough to make out the shape of the object, but can’t quite focus on the details. It produces an exciting feeling, because you want to know the specifics and there are still things you don’t know yet. With blurred images, you hone on different features of a plant than you normally would. You pay closer attention to the shape of the flower, or notice the overwhelming color which may be lost to the intricacies of orchid patterns in sharply-focused frames. Look at the following three photos, what changes and what new views appear for you with each progressive shot?

focus 1

focus 2

focus 3

As the images get progressively less focused, what stands out to me in the above images is the “C” shape of the Oncidium Tiger Crow ‘Golden Girl’ on the right hand side of the photo.

Regardless of what kind of camera you may have, there’s ample ways to tailor a unique photo by experimenting with these elements. Visit the orchid exhibition and get creative!

– Alan M., Orchid Exhibition Intern

March 19, 2015 at 9:27 am Leave a comment

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