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

Long Lasting Enjoyment and Ephemeral Beauty: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

At the annual orchid exhibit, we often display highly resilient orchids with long blooming periods to maximize their time on view. Masdevallia Cheryl Shohan ‘Red Hot Momma’ has uniquely shaped, brilliant red flowers that can last up to three weeks. This genus is a less common find in our exhibits, so I am thrilled to see it going downtown this coming week. If time or distance keeps you from visiting, enjoy this cheery photo. It will last a lot longer than the flower anyway!

Masdevallia Cheryl Shohan 'Red Hot Momma'

Masdevallia Cheryl Shohan ‘Red Hot Momma’

Sobralia wilsoniana has much more ephemeral, but brilliant purple flowers, which are at their peak for a little over a day. This isn’t a good candidate to bring to the orchid exhibit, but it is stunning to see in the greenhouse. For the most part in the wild sobralias are bee pollinated. The bright yellow splash on the labellum is a guide that draws pollinators into the center of the flower.

Sobralia wilsoniana

Sobralia wilsoniana

This last featured orchid this week is a hybrid bulbophyllum—Bulbophyllum Thai Spider. This is a cross between Bulbophyllum medusae and Bulbophyllum gracillimum, and characteristics of each are very obvious when looking at the flowers of this hybrid.

Bulbophyllum Thai Spider

Bulbophyllum Thai Spider

2014-0755_A_JR3

Bulbophyllum Thai Spider

 

Bulbophyllum medusae contributes its long, white tendril-like sepals, which become slightly shorter and more orderly in the hybrid under the influence of bright red Bulbophyllum gracillimum. These flowers, like those of Sobralia wilsoniana, only last for about a day before they start to wither.

There is always something blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection. Stay connected with us to see more plants from the collection, and visit the exhibit downtown through the end of April to experience our orchids firsthand!

 

 

-Julie R., Living Collections Specialist

March 5, 2015 at 11:00 am 1 comment

Behind the Orchids: Orchid Family Day

Orchid Family day booths set up in the National Museum of Natural History

Orchid Family day booths set up in the National Museum of Natural History

After working with orchids for five weeks, I could not have been more thrilled to share the splendor of orchids with families and museum-goers at Orchid Family Day. The event was held Saturday, February 22nd on the ground floor of the National Museum of Natural History, and drew a large crowd even in the face of a snowstorm. Smithsonian Gardens, the United States Botanic Garden, and the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center joined together to engage and educate Orchid Family Day participants about orchids and orchid care. Stations included building terrariums, creating botanical illustrations, making paper orchid corsages, asking an expert any orchid question, learning about orchid research, and potting an orchid to take home.

Naturally, there’s always some amount of preparation work that goes into any event. Planning Orchid Family Day took a team of Smithsonian Gardens staff and volunteers. Over numerous weeks, the group developed activities, prepared necessary materials, and helped gather the staff and volunteers needed to run activities. We also created orchid information panels from scratch to pair with the day’s activities. As an intern, I was able to collaborate and create the initial drafts of three display panels. The text then had to pass through several people for editing and revising to ensure quality and accuracy. After having gathered some of the first research for these panels, it was incredible to see the transformation from a simple word document into a professional looking display panel. It was a great opportunity, and I’m proud to have played an influential role in the development of Orchid Family Day.

The Orchid Family Day Panels in final form.

The Orchid Family Day Panels in final form.

Aside from event logistics, Orchid Family Day also needed publicity. Event details were posted online but word of mouth brought more people than the publicity alone could have. In fact, even with the threat of a snowstorm, hundreds of people showed up for the event. Impressively, as the doors to the National Museum of Natural History opened, countless families and individuals flooded into the museum. Although many patrons were excited to be the first in the exhibit halls, a steady stream of people made their way to the family day activities.

Making orchid corsages!

Making orchid corsages!

The enthusiasm of people bouncing between tables, building terrariums then potting orchids, made for equally enthusiastic staff and volunteers at each table to engage the ever changing visitors. I had the chance to witness several staff and volunteers of the gardens participate in demonstrations that were very unlike the work I’ve what previously seen them do. For example, one of the Smithsonian Gardens supervisors was helping make paper orchid corsages! It was incredibly enjoyable seeing the staff engaged with participants whether it was through drawing, potting, building, or teaching. I had the opportunity to staff the botanical illustration table, which is something I’ve never studied or worked much with before. Regardless, it was a lot of fun watching children color in orchid outlines and use their illustrations for all kinds of art projects. We initially intended for them just to create bookmarks, but they got creative and made necklaces and pictures to give to their parents too. Their enthusiasm was endless and parents often had to gently coax their children away from the table when it was time for them to go.

Examples of the terrariums visitors got to make and take home with them.

Examples of the terrariums visitors could make and take home with them.

Many curious minds wandered into the exhibit, and not all were children. Adults wishing to learn more about orchids made the “ask an expert” table very popular. They also enjoyed discovering the latest in orchid research and conservation at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center table. And of course, the ever popular “pot an orchid” station may have stolen the show for most individuals as the U.S. Botanic Garden brought a thousand orchids to give away for free. Orchid Family Day activities offered something for everybody, so make sure to come out to the next one in 2017!

– Alan M., Orchid Exhibition Intern

February 26, 2015 at 11:00 am Leave a comment

Weird and Wonderful: What’s Blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

I think we can all agree that orchids display some of the weirdest morphological adaptations in the plant world. Phragmipediums are already unique because of their highly modified, pouch-like lip, which evolved as a strategy to direct pollinators towards the pollinia during their struggle to escape the flower. The hybrid below, Phragmipedium Giganteum, has another unique feature—extremely long, ribbon-like petals that can grow up to four times the length of the flower!

Phragmipedium Giganteum

Phragmipedium Giganteum

2014-0254_A_JR4

Phragmipedium Giganteum

These long petals are a characteristic feature of Phragmipedium caudatum, one of the parents of Phrag. Giganteum and the type specimen for the genus. Look for the hybrid and its gigantic petals next week at the orchid exhibit, Orchids: Interlocking Science and Beauty.

I am always captivated by orchids with the most miniscule flowers, and the grassy-looking Dendrochilum stenophyllum definitely fits the bill. This species is found in the wild on the Philippine island of Luzon. The inflorescences look almost like spiky grass plumes, but they are actually dense arrangements of the tiniest flowers, with up to 40 per inflorescence! I can only imagine what tiny insect pollinates these delicate blooms.

Dendrochilum stenophyllum

Dendrochilum stenophyllum

Dendrochilum stenophyllum

Dendrochilum stenophyllum

Last, but most certainly not least, is the stunning purple Bletilla striata. This terrestrial species is native to China, Japan and Korea and is known for its extreme hardiness and ease of cultivation. I remember when I first moved here, recognizing a Bletilla growing in a Northwest DC garden and being incredibly shocked that a non-native orchid was growing outside. The genus in general comes from a more temperate environment and plants are found growing in soil, rather than on trees, making them a well-adapted addition to outdoor gardens in the DMV.

Bletilla striata

Bletilla striata

There is always something blooming in the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection. Stay connected with us to see more plants from the collection, and visit the exhibit downtown through the end of April to experience our orchids firsthand!

– Julie R., Living Collection Specialist

February 20, 2015 at 1:00 am Leave a comment

Older Posts Newer Posts


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

Join 183 other followers

May 2015
M T W T F S S
« Apr    
 123
45678910
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Visit our Website!

Recent Posts


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 183 other followers

%d bloggers like this: