Posts filed under ‘Collections’

Harvesting Garden History, One Story at a Time

October is Archives Month, and as gardeners across the country harvest the last of their summer crops, we’re turning our attention to a different type of harvesting: preserving stories about gardens for future generations. Smithsonian Gardens’ Community of Gardens digital archive is celebrating Archives Month with a story-behind-the-story featuring a contributor to our digital archive.

Elizabeth Eggimann is an independent researcher in storytelling and landscape history. During her senior year at Pace University in New York City, she set out to document the untold stories of the community gardeners who have shaped the urban landscape of New York City. Tucked into formerly vacant lots and pockets of green between alleys and asphalt, these nook-and-cranny gardens are vibrant hubs of community energy and activism. Eggimann chose to interview a handful of current community gardeners rather than focus on an all-encompassing narrative of the complex history of urban community gardening in New York City. Their thoughts and wisdom form a snapshot of a city that is ever-changing in the face of development. Eggimann stresses that these oral histories were in many ways a collaborative endeavor. “The narrators are the authors of their stories,” she explains, “without their contribution, time, and generosity this project would not have been possible.”

We asked her to share her thoughts on the experience of embarking on an oral history project spotlighting gardens and gardeners. A few of the stories from her research are featured in the Community of Gardens digital archive.

How did you first become interested in community gardens?

I first became interested in community gardens when I lived adjacent to a garden in New York City’s East Village. A window in my room looked down into the garden space, which, to my delight, offered fantastic bird watching. I slowly began spending more time in the garden—having my morning cup of coffee in there or whatnot—and began feeling really grateful for the spaces presence and availability in my life. It was a retreat from the daily urban ‘hustle and bustle’ I was so accustomed to.

Where did the idea for your project come from? 

I distinctly remember reading Studs Terkel’s Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do. This book remains in my memory not only because I found it to be fantastic, but because of the Bertolt Brecht quote included in the preface:

“Who built the seven towers of Thebes?

The books are filled with the names of kings.

Was it kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone? . . .

In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished

Where did the masons go? . . .”

This quote captured the thoughts that had long been stirring in my mind, and is used in the introduction of my research, Garden Memories: Oral Histories of Urban Community Gardens in New York City. The works of Studs Terkel, and New York City’s urban gardening community at large, inspired my project. The project aims to investigate the experiences of urban community gardeners in New York City. I was interested in capturing the voices behind the movement.

Do you have a favorite story or moment from your interviews?

I really enjoyed working on this project. I met amazing and generous individuals, who openly shared their stores, and for that, I am endlessly grateful. I think one of the most moving moments from my interviews was during a discussion with Haja Worley:

“We had a group of young boys from the neighborhood who would come in and do work in the garden. They worked harder than the adults did, and I would give them a little stipend, you know. The thing was to encourage them, and they would come to work almost every day. They would come to the door and say, you know, like, “are we going to the garden today?” Or they see me in the street, “are we going to the garden today?” At the time, there were dealers in the community and we wanted them to know they didn’t have to idolize these drug dealers . . . they would identify with that and wanted to emulate that without knowing the consequences. They were always willing to come and work.”

In this moment, I felt both sad and proud. From first hand experience as a New Yorker, and an American at that, I understand the realness, per se, of the phenomenon Haja is explaining, which is saddening. However, on the other hand, I felt so proud to be talking with a local community member who has taken action and generated change in lives of neighborhood children.

Why do you think it is important to preserve stories of gardens and gardening?

I feel it is important to work across disciplines to tell stories, help assign meaning to events in relation to memory, and preserve knowledge. As a feminist, I aim to interview people around their own subjectivity, exploring time itself, because, to me, that is worth something. I believe in the power of the individual narrative, and the pursuit of attempting to understand a collective history. These gardeners and gardens have, to a degree, shaped New York City’s history, and their voices and stories should not remain unheard. It’s important to preserve these stories so that we can understand how these gardens have come to exist, and what they mean to community members. In doing so, we are tracing the process of becoming.

Read Eggimann’s interviews from Garden Memories: Oral Histories of Urban Community Gardens in New York City:

We rely on storytellers like YOU (both professional and newbies!) to contribute the interviews and memories that make up the fabric of the Community of Gardens digital archive. We’re truly a community of storytellers, and this is a homegrown archive.

Do gardens tell a story about your neighborhood? Anyone can share a story! Get started with our gardener oral history interview guide, or share your story at communityofgardens.si.edu. Help us preserve stories of gardens, and the gardeners who make them grow.

-Kate Fox, museum educator

October 12, 2018 at 7:45 am Leave a comment

Gardening for Good—Part I

Many of the stories in our Community of Gardens digital archive highlight the powerful impact gardening is having on urban, suburban, and rural areas around the country. Community gardening first gained popularity in the United States in the 1890s (read up on this fascinating topic in our online exhibit). For over a century community garden organizations have helped citizens learn to grow their own food, beautify their neighborhoods, and use gardens as a springboard for education and creating connections between neighbors. Right here in our own backyard in the nation’s capital, Common Good City Farm is growing fresh produce for their neighbors and teaching urban agriculture skills. And the Neighborhood Farm Initiative is teaching novice gardeners how to start and tend their own community garden plot through their Kitchen Garden Education Program. Gardens are proving to be key to providing access to fresh, healthy food in communities across the nation. Community of Gardens not only celebrates the hard work of gardening communities, but is also preserving the individual stories that make up this larger movement for future generations of gardeners and historians.

4ad58236dc7ee241135cd7e843031121

The Neighborhood Farm Initiative in Washington, D.C. offers gardening workshops for adults and families, teaching them how to plan, tend, and harvest a garden plot in their community garden.

Further afield, Grow Appalachia at Berea College in Berea, Kentucky partners with communities in six different states in the Appalachian region to provide garden grants, healthy summer meals for children in their community, and education and technical expertise for farmers and gardeners.

We recently received three stories about Grow Appalachia gardeners from Alix Burke, a AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with the organization. She has spent almost a year collecting stories and images of gardens and gardeners in the program. The stories, ranging from a retired couple perfecting their home gardening skills to a flower farm managed by survivors of domestic abuse, are part of a verdant quilt of gardens doing good growing across the United States.

97452984bf86464384da9bcc643aa1e4

Married couple Della and Charles pose with the bounty of the harvest from their garden. They grew green beans, sweet potatoes, squash, and more. The couple expanded their home garden through the help of Grow Applaachia workshops.

Asked the importance of her work, Burke stated, “It’s important to collect these stories about Grow Appalachia gardeners and their gardens because it captures the lived realities of the program . . . from families bonding in the garden with healthier eating and exercise habits to people who are out of work turning to market gardening as a way to feed their families, both with the food they grow and with income they generate, the people and their gardens are, and always have been, the heart of Grow Appalachia.”

ae87b32874932803e14637d1761fa168

A flower grown on the Greenhouse 17 flower farm. With support from Grow Appalachia, Greenhouse 17 helps domestic abuse survivors get back on their feet and learn new job skills in horticulture and retail.

Stories about gardens can tell us about where we’ve been, and where we are going. The values and beliefs we hold, scientific innovation, foodways, and even economic trends are reflected back at us in the why and how of our gardens. What has Burke learned from her months in the field speaking to gardeners and learning about their experiences? “No one person’s experience captures what it’s like to be a Grow Appalachia gardener, but everyone’s story, in some way, contributes to the larger narrative of food security and the growing local foods economy in the region, ” she says. “Stories have always been important to the Appalachian region, from oral histories, to bluegrass lyrics, to the memories passed down with shared heirloom bean varieties. These interviews allow folks to continue a longstanding Appalachian tradition of speaking their own truths about their own lives, from the food they grow to the connections they make along the way.”

Are there gardens and gardeners doing good in your area? Encourage them to share their story with Community of Gardens! Get started here or email us at communityofgardens@si.edu.

-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

June 28, 2017 at 3:32 pm 1 comment

‘Bucky,’ the Stinkiest Bulbophyllum

Bucky 1

“Bucky’ and its large leaves

Every orchid has an interesting story. Once you look beyond their beauty, other captivating qualities emerge about virtually all of them. However, there are some that stand out and make their presence known in ways that simply cannot be ignored. Whether you like them or not, indifference is unlikely to be your response. In this regard, there is nothing subtle about Smithsonian Gardens’ magnificent specimen of Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis. Charmed by its pendant glossy leaves and their resemblance to a beaver’s tail, the donors of this magnificent specimen named it ‘Bucky’; a name that lives on.

At the time it was originally acquired, few people outside of Asia had seen this species, though many read about it and its remarkable ecology. The inflorescence (flower head) consists of a cluster of about 15 to 20 reddish-brown (meat-colored) flowers covered with papillae (fleshy projections) said to resemble wriggling maggots. Charming! Since it targets female carrion flies as its pollinator, engaging in ‘brood site deception,’ it also evolved a fragrance to match its appearance. Early writings about it claim that its blossoms emitted an aroma reminiscent of the stench of 1000 dead elephants rotting in the sun. While this is surely hyperbole, Smithsonian Gardens staff have been waiting for many months to experience Bucky’s olfactory charms. Incredibly, buds were forming under one of its huge floppy leaves which we didn’t observe until a visitor spied them during a greenhouse tour. We certainly would have noticed them the next day when they opened and started their fragrance treat, though, making the greenhouse almost uninhabitable for a few days.

Bucky 2

Inflorescence of Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis

A monstrous plant from lowland Papua New Guinea, Bucky loves to be warm and humid all the time. Given its robust girth and thick pseudobulbs (storage organs in the stem), we water it daily and feed it frequently. It is the most famous species in Bulbophyllum section Macrobulbon, of which the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection has an almost complete set. They all share the same pollination strategy so more very stinky orchids are soon to come! The surprising species epithet, ‘Phalaneopsis,’ was given because superficially the plant resembles Phalaenopsis gigantea, the largest Phalaenopsis species (native to Borneo). Other than both being in the orchid family, however, they are not at all closely related.

– Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection Specialist 

April 13, 2017 at 1:48 pm 5 comments

Vanilla blooms abound!

vanilla-3

This past December, Smithsonian Gardens large trellised specimen of Vanilla pompona graced our greenhouses with luxurious blooms. Beautiful umbels of impressive, successively blooming flowers appeared at every leaf node on this huge vining orchid. Even though each individual flower lasts less than 24 hours, so many new blooms opened daily that it was a true spectacle for several weeks. A sister species to the better known Vanilla planifolia, the source of the  delicious flavoring we all know and love, V. pompona differs in having a much larger, gullet shaped lip. Its seed pods are also used to make a type of vanilla extract, though only locally in Costa Rica and Panama where it grows. Many Vanilla species occur in tropical regions around the world (circumtropical) and therefore are thought to be among the most ancient of orchids, perhaps with a common ancestor existing when the continents were contiguous. Most of these other species are not used for flavoring.

vanilla-abounds

With rampantly growing vines, these orchids climb quickly and become massive specimens in a short time. Generally, they will only bloom when they are very large and mature. Like a philodendron, their plant habit is a combination of terrestrial and epiphytic. Starting as terrestrial plants with thick fibrous roots, aerial roots arising from the leaf axils clasp the sides of trees as they climb upward searching for higher light in which to bloom. They are easy to propagate from cuttings, but as with any succulent, it is best to let the cuts callous for a few days before planting them or they are sure to rot. Indeed, Vanilla plants in Madagascar plantations have fallen prey to a fungal disease in recent years.  We produce pods on our plants by pollinating the flowers by hand (“selfing”) as they do in vanilla plantations in Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands.

– Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection Specialist 

January 10, 2017 at 3:49 pm Leave a comment

Brassavola nodosa (the Lady of the Night orchid)

Even though they are not especially rare or particularly showy, orchids from the genus Brassavola are quite popular. These sturdy, succulent, epiphytic plants live in a variety of habitats throughout Central and South America. Due to their wide-ranging prevalence and adaptability, they are easy to find in and out of the wild. Growing contentedly in bright shade to high light conditions just short of full sun, and adapting well to intermediate to warm growing conditions, these plants often grow into lush specimens. Free flowering, they usually bloom at least twice a year on their newest growths. Smithsonian Gardens is lucky to have several different clones of this species in its Orchid Collection, many of which have grown into massive, spectacularly blooming specimens.

Brassavola nodosa

Brassavola nodosa’s supremely elegant, ghostly white flowers exhibit a pollination strategy, similar to Darwin’s Orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale). Pale colors show up better in the moonlight, and this feature–combined with a sweet, wafting crepuscular or nocturnal fragrance–ensures that the blossoms can be found easily by their pollination partners.

-Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Specialist

November 22, 2016 at 7:51 am Leave a comment

The Language of Flowers

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:

Light purple iris in a garden bed

The beautiful “ditch” irises passed down through a family in this Community of Gardens story. The original irises were found on the author’s great-grandparents’ land growing in a swampy area and were transplanted from generation to generation, from garden to garden.

Old photo of a grafted Christmas cactus in a pot

The holidays are just around the corner when the Christmas cactus blooms! At one time Rose Villa Nursery in New Orleans was the largest supplier of grafted Christmas cactus. Read, and listen, to one family’s story of their nursery business and their famous Christmas cactus. 

Close-up of light pin 'Pier Bugnet' rose

The ‘Pier Bugnet’ rose is particularly suited to growing in the cold northern climate of Fairbanks, Alaska. When the rose was in danger of being lost, the Fairbanks Garden Club banded together to save this beautiful flower for their town. Read the full story here.

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.

Get started by visiting the Community of Gardens website and clicking on “Share a Story” or emailing us at communityofgardens@si.edu.

 -Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator

August 17, 2016 at 12:29 pm 2 comments

The Critical Importance of Water Quality for Living Collections: Planning Ahead

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 Harvesting

Irrigation system visible during construction of Folger Rose Garden 

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.

Water Harvesting 2

Dendrobiums grown with municipal water (left) compared with ones grown with reverse osmosis water. 

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.

Water Harvesting 3

Example of above-ground cistern at the University of Maryland. 

Water Harvesting 4

Example of a modular storage chamber which allows for a much shallower excavation and ease of transport to a site. 

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 

 

August 1, 2016 at 12:47 pm Leave a comment

Older Posts


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 322 other followers

Visit our Website!

Recent Posts

December 2019
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
3031  

%d bloggers like this: