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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
It’s Arbor Day! That means it’s time to celebrate all of the wonderful benefits that we get from trees, and to plant trees to increase those benefits. Newspaper editor J. Sterling Morton is usually credited with first proposing the tree-planting holiday called “Arbor Day” in Nebraska in 1872. While Morton’s Arbor Day was a first in the United States, the celebration of a day devoted to trees actually has roots hundreds of years earlier.
The first documented celebration of an Arbor Day was organized by the mayor in the Spanish village of Mondoñedo in 1594. Today, a small marker commemorating this event can still be found in the town (now known as Alameda de los Remedios). The first “modern day” Arbor Day happened in Spain in 1805 in the village of Villanueva de la Sierra and was organized by a local priest, Don Ramón Vacas Roxo. According to author and professor Miguel Herrero Uceda, Don Ramón was “convinced of the importance of trees for health, hygiene, decoration, nature, environment and customs” and decided “to plant trees and give a festive air.” After celebrating Mass on Carnival Tuesday, Roxo, accompanied by other clergy, teachers, and villagers, planted a poplar tree. The celebration and plantings lasted three days. The priest was so moved by the importance of trees that he wrote a manifesto in their defense and sent it to neighboring towns to encourage people to protect nature and establish tree plantations.
Many decades later, the message and spirit of Arbor Day had spread throughout the world. In 1977, Kenyan political and environmental activist Wangari Maathai started a grassroots movement known as the Green Belt Movement. It organized women in rural Kenya to plant trees in order to combat deforestation and erosion and provide future food and firewood, all the while empowering the women involved. The movement has planted over 50 million trees, and tens of thousands of women have received training in environmentally sustainable trades. Maathai received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
One of the most inspiring stories about people and trees comes out of India. In 1979, a local teenager named Jadav Payeng began noticing that on the island of Majuli, his home, erosion was taking vegetation and land away, and many of the native animal species along with it. Majuli is the largest river island in the world, located in the middle of the Brahmaputra River, and is vulnerable to the tides of many tributaries. Seasonal flooding was leaving large areas of the island barren, while washing other areas away completely. Payeng was concerned by what he saw, so he planted twenty bamboo seedlings on a sandbar to help prevent this erosion from continuing. He was so inspired to save his home in this way that he continued to plant trees and scatter tree seeds to help reforest the island. Today, he is responsible for planting a forest that is now approximately 1,400 acres, more than one and a half times larger than New York City’s Central Park! Deer, tigers, rhinoceroses, and elephants have moved into the dense forest, along with returning bird species that had not been seen in the area for decades.
This Arbor Day, let’s be inspired by these stories of how individuals can make a large and lasting impact on our world. If you can, plant a tree (or several), care for the trees that you already have, or volunteer for a neighborhood tree advocacy group. We can all make a difference and improve our world with trees!
-Greg Huse, Arborist, Smithsonian Gardens Arborist and Tree Collection Manager
The Smithsonian Tree Collection is maintained by Smithsonian Gardens and features close to 1,900 accessioned specimens throughout the Smithsonian museum grounds and gardens surrounding the National Mall, the Anacostia Community Museum, and the Smithsonian support facilities in Maryland. Click here to learn more about the Smithsonian Tree Collection.
In honor of Earth Day, Smithsonian Gardens is proud to announce a $146,200 grant award from Smithsonian Institution’s Collections Care and Preservation Fund for a water conservation project at our Suitland Greenhouse Facility. The award supports the purchase and installation of a rainwater harvesting system to irrigate the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection by collecting and using rainwater to water the collection rather than municipally-treated water as we use now. This project is a collaboration between Smithsonian Gardens and the Smithsonian Facilities Energy Management Branch of the Systems Engineering Division which is responsible for Smithsonian’s energy use and conservation techniques.
Rainwater harvesting is a technique used for collecting, storing and using rainwater for landscape irrigation and other uses. The rainwater is collected from hard surfaces such as rooftops and is a cost effective method of water conservation. Rainwater is superior for plant watering because it is free from pollutants like dissolved salts, minerals, and chemicals such as fluoride and chlorine.
Water quality is of critical importance when it comes to successful orchid cultivation and maintenance. Orchid species exposed to municipal water often show detrimental physical manifestations caused by accumulated salts building up in the orchid growing medium. These adverse effects include leaf tip burn, decreased plant vigor, reduced blooming, discoloration, and even death.
Many of the best orchid collections and commercial growers in the United States, Europe, and South America use either purified water or rainwater for irrigating orchids. Switching from municipal water to rainwater is like ‘flipping a switch’ with regard to orchid growth. Seedlings irrigated with rainwater grow two to three times faster and the plants often have cleaner, unblemished foliage. A resent comparison of Atlanta Botanical Garden seedlings sired at the same time as ones grown by Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection show they are more than triple the size of those being grown by Smithsonian Gardens. Clear evidence of the need to implement better water quality for the over 8,000 orchids in our collection. We hope to have the new water harvesting and irrigation system installed by the end of this year.
This project celebrates innovation and supports sustainable collections care which will have a direct, substantial, and permanent impact on the health and preservation of the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection. This project received Federal support from the Smithsonian Collections Care and Preservation Fund, administered by the National Collections Program and the Smithsonian Collections Advisory Committee.
-Sarah Hedean, Horticulturist, Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection
Sunday is the final day of the 2016 orchid exhibit, Orchids In Focus, at the United States Botanic Garden (USBG). It has been an interesting season to say the least, with seventy degree weather in January and gusting winds throughout March. Most of our show plants are bloomed out and will start their recovery for next year’s blooming cycle. Our species orchids are not on such a rigid schedule and are still living the slow life in the greenhouses, blooming when they please and offering visual fireworks of color amidst the overwhelming background of green foliage.
Scaphyglottis bidentata is a dazzling miniature orchid from Central and South America. This species exhibits spectacular red-orange flowers, a pollination syndrome for ornithophily, or bird-pollination. Several other Scaphyglottis with large (relatively), bold flowers were previously classified under a distinct genus, Hexisea but were morphologically similar enough to the former Scaphyglottis grouping to be lumped together. One of the major defining morphological characteristics of species in this group is that the pseudobulbs are stacked (see inset photo).
Another striking pop of color found in our species greenhouse comes from Dendrobium bracteosum var. tannii. If you look this one up, you won’t find tannii mentioned anywhere because the name has never been formally published. This variety is a miniature form of the species. To give you an idea of the size difference the flowers on our specimen are no longer than a centimeter in diameter, which is less than half of the typical size.
Dendrobium sanguinolentum is a pendant growing epiphyte found in Thailand, Western Malesia and the Philippines. This species is known as “The Blood Stained Dendrobium” because the flowers typically have splotches or stains of violet at the edges of the sepals and petals. The plant below may be an alba form of this species since there are no stains evident on the pale yellow flower.
This week’s grand finale is Myrmecocattleya Claudia Elena. This fantastic hybrid with such vivid coloration is a cross between Myrmecophila tibicinis and Cattleya dowiana. In the wild, the ranges of these two species do not overlap, but since they are both part of the Cattleya alliance, hybridizers are able to successfully interbreed them. Myrmecophila flowers are typically one to two inches in diameter, but when crossed with a large flowered Cattleya, they almost triple in size!
Photographs are a wonderful way to explore nature’s diversity, but nothing compares to experiencing it in person. If you are in the Washington, D.C. area, make sure to take a final trip to the USBG to see our orchids on display before the exhibit ends on the 17th!
-Julie Rotramel, Living Collections Specialist