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
One of the most important aspects of managing a museum collection is the inventory. For a living collection like the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection (SOGC) there is a significant turnover of collection material due to plants’ natural life cycles and/or disease. Therefore, a regular inventory of the contents of each of the orchid greenhouses enables Smithsonian Gardens to reconcile any plants that were not deaccessioned properly in the past, relabel orchids that are missing accession tags, and update plant locations arising from moves in and out of the greenhouses for displays, exhibits, and lectures throughout the year.
Another important reason that Smithsonian Gardens conducts inventories of the orchid collection is to maintain the readability of the plants’ accession labels. The SOGC uses plastic tags that are printed with each plant’s accession number, a scannable barcode, and are overlaid with UV protection. Even with this protection the labels fade over time due to being in the direct sun, generally lasting about four years before they become unreadable.
Each summer, a Smithsonian Gardens intern takes on the responsibility of inventorying a portion of the orchid collection. This year, thanks to a new Collections Information System (CIS), the process of scanning, printing, and reattaching accession labels is much more streamlined. Our exceptional orchid intern, Ming, completed the inventory in one greenhouse in half the time it has taken in years past!
The inventory process requires Ming to scan each plant’s accession label barcode using a handheld device. The handhelds are equipped with a condensed version of the CIS which is adequate for fieldwork. Inventory lists are synced back to the main CIS so that new barcode labels can be generated, printed and reattached to plant pots using hog rings.
Learn more about our collection inventory in July by following Smithsonian Gardens on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!
– Julie Rotramel, Living Collections Specialist, Smithsonian Gardens
Smithsonian Gardens kicked off Pollinator Week this Tuesday, June 21, 2016 by unveiling its newly renamed Pollinator Garden outside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and holding its third annual Pollination Party.
When Smithsonian Gardens first opened the 11,000 square-foot Butterfly Habitat Garden in 1995, its goal was to emphasize natural plant/butterfly partnerships and educate visitors about ways they could help these partnerships thrive. Twenty years later, we saw a need to expand the mission of this garden to tell a broader story of the often fragile relationships between plants, pollinators, and people.
This change reflects the growing importance of supporting pollinator health championed by the formation of a task force by President Barack Obama in 2014 and the implementation of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. As a participant in this task force, Smithsonian Gardens hopes that the reinterpretation of this garden will educate visitors about the wide diversity of pollinators and the types of plants that support them. The garden’s assorted plantings also show strategies for creating beautiful pollinator-friendly gardens.
The garden’s new theme leads visitors on a ‘Pollination Investigation’ to discover the who, what, when, why, where, and how of pollination by examining the unique relationships between a variety of pollinators—from butterflies and bees to flies and beetles—and flowers. With one in three bites of food we eat dependent on pollinators, it is vitally important that we all work to protect and strengthen pollinator populations.
We hope you can visit the newly renamed garden and join us in protecting the pollinators all around us!
Don’t forget, tomorrow is Father’s Day! Father’s Day means letting dad know you love him, handmade cards, and family get-togethers. Special occasions are the perfect opportunity to learn more about your family history. Is your pops passionate about perennials or peppers? This weekend, trying to get dad gabbing about his garden. Does he remember the first plant he successfully grew? Who taught him how to garden? What’s his favorite thing to grow? Does he have any tips for young gardeners just starting out? Any old photos of his backyard or garden you’ve never seen before? A secret recipe for the perfect compost soup?
In honor of Father’s Day, here are a few of our favorite dad stories from the Community of Gardens digital archive. Community of Gardens is a platform for collecting stories of American gardeners and gardens for future generations. Become a part of the Smithsonian by sharing your dads’s story—or any garden story—today: http://communityofgardens.si.edu
- This sweeping story has it all: A young Italian immigrant arrives in Ellis Island in 1948 in search of his younger brother, settles in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, grows a family, and grows beautiful gardens rooted in his Italian heritage, bursting with fresh figs, tomatoes, and garlic. Read the full story here.
- This story spans three centuries, and many bountiful crops of ripe tomatoes. Paul shared his family’s garden history with Community of Gardens, beginning with his great-grandfather immigrating to America in 1881. His grandfather Harry Sr., above, grew tomatoes, and today Paul maintains a large garden that he tends with his children.
- George and Olivia Napientek raised their children on this family homestead in Franklin, Wisconsin surrounded by bountiful vegetable and flower gardens. George taught all of his children to work on the farm at a young age. With hard work comes delicious rewards; according to his children (who shared this story), “apples for applesauce and pie came from Pa’s orchard.” I’m sure that pie was delicious with a tall glass of milk from the dairy cows! Read the full story here.
Honor a dad in your life by sharing his garden story with the Smithsonian. Share here or email us at email@example.com. Help us grow our archive!
-Kate Fox, Smithsonian Gardens educator
World-class orchid collections like the one at Smithsonian Gardens are more than an assemblage of pretty flowers. A lot of work goes on behind the scenes like maintaining good plant culture, regular and judicious watering, and dealing with insect pests and viruses. Another aspect of a well-kept collection is vigilant record keeping and data management.
There are several collections information systems (CIS) in use by botanic gardens that keep track of accessioned plant material. In the past, Smithsonian Gardens used a relational database tailored specifically to orchid collections for this purpose. This program worked well for many years but our growing online presence, digitization and IT requirements, and opportunities to expand SG’s plant collections prompted us to search for a more robust system.
In November 2015, Smithsonian Gardens switched to a botanical collections database with a more flexible framework. This new framework enables us to expand our plant records to encompass gardens surrounding the Smithsonian museums, in addition to managing our living collections of orchids and trees. Using this new tool to accession “unofficial” collections such as SG’s tropical plants will improve our horticulturists’ ability to track plant usage, longevity, and vitality.
Visitors to the Smithsonian will also benefit from this database transition. As Smithsonian Gardens tracks new plants in its gardens, staff will be able to plot their locations on a map, create tours, and compile images and other plant data on SG’s website. For on-site visitors, this will be an invaluable trip-planning tool; for online visitors, this will be a fantastic way to explore plants on the Smithsonian campus from afar.
The switch to a more flexible database also allows SG to better integrate its collections information with existing Smithsonian IT systems. This compatibility enables automatic syncing of collection images between the plant database and the Smithsonian’s main Digital Asset Management System rather than having to link the images separately in both places. Cross-talk between the systems cuts out redundant steps from our previous workflow and frees up collections staff to work on other projects. In addition, the process used to update collection images and information to the online Smithsonian Collections Search Center is more streamlined.
SG’s living collections team is currently cleaning up and enhancing the migrated data. With over 30,000 records of both living and historic plant assets, there is a lot of verification and editing to accomplish. This fall the focus will shift to the Smithsonian Gardens Tree Collection, the other living collection entrusted to our care. Our goal is to integrate Tree Collection data from an existing database with accession records in the new database, while maintaining the ability to track tree locations across more than 180 acres of grounds through mapping software.
Smithsonian Gardens is excited to grow its living collections management program. The implementation of a new database is just a first step, but it paves the way for future progress and enables more efficient and effective management of the Smithsonian’s living plant collections for the benefit of both on-site and virtual visitors.
-Julie Rotramel, Living Collections Specialist, Smithsonian Gardens
The Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection contains an amazing assortment of species and hybrids. I come to work each day with great anticipation of what new marvel has unfurled overnight. I am never disappointed. Our interiorscape staff selects the most stunning plants for our orchid display cases outside the Warner Bros. Theater on the first floor of the National Museum of American History (NMAH). This week’s display features a group of orchids from one of my favorite genera, the fascinating Brassia.
Better known as spider orchids, Brassias are beloved for their long, narrow, ribbony sepals and petals. One of the orchids currently on display is Brassia Rex, a hybrid of Brassia verrucosa X Brassia giroudiana, which is known to have greater vigor and larger flowers than either parent. Created in the 1960s by the venerable orchid breeder Goodale Moir, this exceptional hybrid is a wonderful addition to every collection that has space for it. Beware, however, as it can grow into a monstrously large plant.
It has long been believed that Brassias evolved flowers which—through a strategy known as brood site deception—mimic the appearance of spiders in order to attract female parasitic wasps of the genera Pepsis and Campsomeris that target spiders as hosts on which to lay their eggs. This ‘imitation’ strategy is evident in many types of orchids that use flower smell, color, and texture to appear to be suitable places for pollinators to deposit their progeny. Ecologists in Central America, however, have recently noted that while parasitic wasps do indeed visit Brassias and pollinate them, they do not appear to lay eggs on these orchids. As a result, this finding disproves brood site deception as the reason for Brassias’ spider-like appearance. While the true reason for the spider orchid’s form remains unknown, discussion at a recent orchid conference brought up the possibility that these wasps simply like the look of these flowers.
This raises a fascinating question I’ve been mulling over recently: Is it possible that there is an aesthetic component to orchid evolution? Charles Darwin thought this to be the case and pointed to the sexual selection of mates in various animal species as evidence. Perhaps pollinators also select showy flowers such as Brassias for their ‘attractiveness.’ This question has yet to be answered and is just one of the many reasons I find the mysterious field of orchid ecology so fascinating.
-Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection Specialist
Good gardeners aren’t born – they’re cultivated! Next week our horticulture staff kicks off a series of free lunchtime talks and demonstrations on gardening basics designed to help turn your thumb green. Join us Thursdays this summer from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. on the East Walk of the Enid A. Haupt Garden to explore home gardening topics, ask questions, and grow your gardening skills.
May 12, 2016 – Spring and Summer Tree Care Tips
Keeping a tree looking great in bud, blossom, and leaf can be a challenge. Join us for tips on how to care for your trees during the spring and summer seasons.
May 19, 2016 – Starting Veggies, Herbs and Flowers from Seed
Growing gardens from seeds increases variety choices and helps your budget. We’ll show you how to start plants from seed, save money, and still have a bountiful, beautiful garden.
May 26, 2016 – Tools of the Trade
Spring is here! You’re ready to garden, but are your tools? Join us to learn about the must-have tools for every gardener and how to care for them.
June 2, 2016 – Growing, Drying and Freezing Herbs
Herbs, spices, and everything nice! We’ll delve into how to grow and keep a few favorite culinary herbs. Leave inspired to create an herb garden in your yard or windowsill.
June 9, 2016 – Small Space Food Gardens
If you’re eager to add some flavor to your meals but short on space we’re here to help. We’ll share strategies for creating a productive food garden even when space is at a premium.
June 16, 2016 – Pollinator Gardens
One in three bites of food you eat depends on pollinators. From butterflies and bees to flies and beetles there are many different types. Discover the unique relationship between pollinators and flowers and learn tips on creating beautiful pollinator-friendly gardens.
June 23, 2016 – Let’s Talk Hops
Hop into home brewing with our horticulturists. We’ll cover how to grow hops at home and take them from bud to beer in this introductory session.
June 30, 2016 – Top Native Plants for the Home Landscape
Nothing beats a native! Discover 15 native plants perfect for home landscapes. From perennials to shrubs and trees, native plants are a great way to beautify a garden and support healthy ecosystems at the same time.
July 7, 2016 – Getting Your Orchid to Re-Bloom
If you love orchids but have trouble getting them to bloom again, make room in your schedule for this session. We’ll share the secrets to mastering the art of beautiful blooms year after year.
July 14, 2016 – Home Irrigation
A home irrigation system can help save water and money while keeping your plants and grass looking great. Our irrigation specialist shares different approaches to planning, installing, maintaining and troubleshooting a system suited for your needs.
July 21, 2016 – Composting Basics
Curious about how you can turn garbage into gardens? From food waste and lawn clippings to worm work and soil amendments, we’ll get down and dirty with composting basics.
July 28, 2016 – All Things Lavender
The scent of lavender has been cherished for centuries. Come learn all about the Mediterranean plant that inspired a namesake color and leave with your own lavender sachet.
August 4, 2016 – Orchid Repotting
To repot or not? Learn what potting materials and techniques you can use to ensure your orchids have a comfortable home so they’ll reward you with beautiful blooms.
August 11, 2016 – House Plants 101
We’re bringing it back to basics with this session for hopeful house plant gardeners. Take away tips on watering, light, soil, and container selection that will help get you get growing indoors.
August 18, 2016 – Floral Design: Building a Winning Arrangement
Prepare to wow your friends with your next floral arraignment. Our speakers will highlight the elements of a winning display. This session will meet on the East Walk of the Enid A. Haupt Garden and then walk over to the nearby Sackler Gallery to see a breathtaking example.
August 25, 2016 – Rose Care
Join us for tips on rose care appropriate for budding and seasoned rose enthusiasts alike. Our rose expert will also talk about how to choose companion plantings for your rose garden.
September 1, 2016 – Turf Renovation
The grass doesn’t always have to look greener on the other side of the fence. Join us to learn what you can do this fall to get your lawn into shape.
September 8, 2016 – Beneficial Insects in the Garden
Beneficial insects can help support garden health in many ways. Curious to know who you should host in your garden and how they can help? Join us for bug basics.
September 15, 2016 – Fall Soil Preparation for a Fertile Spring
Does your soil need a boost? Fall and winter are the perfect time to promote fertile soil. Learn about the importance of soil testing and strategies for creating healthier garden soil organically.
September 22, 2016 – Rain Gardens
Beautiful landscapes can be good at fighting pollution and solving drainage issues too! Find out how installing an attractive rain garden can help absorb over 10 times more stormwater than the average lawn and filter pollutants at the same time.
September 29, 2016 – Fall Tree Care Tips
Trees need TLC too! Learn how to prepare your trees for the coming winter months. We’ll cover pruning, mulching, watering, and more.