Posts tagged ‘conservation’

A Trip to the “Holy Grail” of Irrigation Systems

When I was awarded a Smithsonian Gardens travel grant I knew that I wanted to make the most of it by going to Orlando, Florida to visit the “holy grail” of centrally-controlled irrigation systems like the one here at the Smithsonian. So, in late September I spent time in the Orlando area visiting Walt Disney World, John Deere Green Tech, an area of Orlando named Lake Nona, Universal Orlando, and a green industry trade show called “The Landscape Show.”

The “holy grail” that I referred to is the Maxicom irrigation system at Walt Disney World. It is the largest system of its type here in the United States and also the oldest. Many of the features of this system came about because of requirements that Disney had over the years. It was quite interesting to see Disney from behind the scenes and to get access to the inner workings of their massive system. I was surprised to discover that the Smithsonian’s irrigation system is actually a bit more modern than theirs and that we are really state-of-the-art when it comes to how our system communicates. I found it very reassuring that the last two and a half years of hard work (plus another two and a half years by my predecessors) has done wonders to rehabilitate our aging system.

Maxicom irrigation controller

One of 750 Maxicom irrigation controllers in Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Smithsonian Gardens uses about 20 similar controllers to irrigate the Smithsonian Institution’s gardens and grounds.

Point of connection in the Disney irrigation system

One of the irrigation system points of connection in the Maxicom irrigation system at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. The Maxicom system was invented by Rain Bird in the early 1980s.

On this trip I was able to see irrigation systems that are just like ours as well as systems that are quite different. I often tell people that irrigation is like a big erector set. You just need to know what pieces to put in what order. The big difference between our system and most others is that ours is a centrally controlled “smart” system. Without using too many long and boring irrigation terms, that basically means that our irrigation system tells itself when and how long to run by using data from an on-site weather station and pre-programmed schedules. Click here for more on how the Smithsonian Gardens’ irrigation system and weather station work.


Smithsonian Gardens’ on-site weather monitoring station in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. Data collected at this station helps regulate irrigation here at the Smithsonian.

For me this trip was truly valuable in many ways. I was able to gauge the state of the Smithsonian’s irrigation system, see some of its competitors in action, and–most importantly–meet my counterparts in the Orlando area as well as a few of the real innovators who developed and implemented the irrigation system that we use here at the Smithsonian. I’m looking forward to keeping in touch with the folks that I met to keep our system moving in the right direction.

-Mike Guetig, Irrigation Specialist, Smithsonian Gardens

November 4, 2015 at 12:00 pm Leave a comment

The Heath Hen

The Enid A. Haupt Garden is a symmetrical, manicured Victorian parterre gracing the Smithsonian Quad. While the design of the garden changes with the seasons, it usually has topiaries or tall urns in each of its four corners. This year, however, the plants have been replaced by four large bronze birds, each one representing an extinct species native to North America.

The birds, the work of artist Todd McGrain, are part of the Lost Bird Project. The project seeks to create awareness of the vulnerability of living things when they are hunted or their habitats are destroyed. The sculpture closest to the southeast corner of the garden  is the heath hen, whose history is closely entwined with that of the areas where it once thrived, from Maine to Virginia.

Heath Hen by Todd McGrain

Heath Hen by Todd McGrain

A subspecies of the prairie chicken, the heath hen was considered a culinary treat. Indeed, some have suggested that it was the heath hen rather than the turkey that the Pilgrims consumed during the first Thanksgiving. Because they were a cheap food source, heath hens were hunted and eaten, and their numbers dropped sharply. By 1870, there were none in the US mainland; their dwindling population was confined to the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. By the turn of the 20th century, only 100 heath hens were left and the island placed a ban on hunting. This measure, together with the creation of a sanctuary, increased their population to 800 by 1916. But a fire destroyed much of their breeding ground that year, and that, together with a harsh winter, disease, and the rise of predatory birds, once again imperiled the heath hen. By 1927, there were only 13 birds left. The last heath hen, known as Booming Ben for his distinctive and haunting hoot, died in 1932.

Heath Hens

This illustration shows a male and a female heath hen. From Illustrations of the American ornithology of Alexander Wilson and Charles Lucien Bonaparte Prince of Musignano With the addition of numerous recently discovered species and representations of the whole sylvae of North America (1835) by Thomas Brown and illustration by James Turvey. Wikicommons.

McGrain has depicted the hen with an open beak, as if Ben were trying to tell us something. The sculpture was made using the lost-wax method. The bird was first carved in wax, then covered with a ceramic material and baked in an oven. This burned away the wax, leaving a mold in the shape of the bird. The molten bronze was then poured into the mold, after which it hardened and assumed the desired form. The artist has therefore created a memorial to the extinct bird, both honoring the heath hen and reminding us of its extinction, an event that could have been averted with greater environmental knowledge and awareness.

-Annette B. Ramírez de Arellano, Smithsonian Gardens volunteer

June 4, 2014 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Watering Well: Irrigation Tips for Your Garden

Now as summer approaches we anticipate getting back into the garden and tending to the lawn. There is one element of gardening that should not be overlooked and that is getting your irrigation system tuned up for the season. Fully automated irrigation systems afford gardeners the convenience of not having to drag water hoses all over their property.

Sean Jones, Folger Rose Garden. Smithsonian Gardens.

Sean Jones, Folger Rose Garden. Smithsonian Gardens.

Energize your system’s mainline slowly and check the grounds for wet areas. This is a good way to find any leaks in your mainline and repair them before money has been wasted on an undetected leak. Here are a few easy things you can do to ensure that your system is in proper working order which can also save you time and money:

  • Check the irrigation timer and adjust any previous programs that may have been input from last season as necessary. With seasonal changes come programming changes. Your plants’ water requirements are going to differ from what they were in the fall when you winterized your system. You might actually use a lot less water at the beginning of the season which can translate directly into savings on your water bill.
  • Once you have done these things, run each individual zone and check for coverage. This may require changing and/or adjusting heads and nozzles. Making these changes can save you money. Sometimes we don’t know there are coverage issues until we see failing plants at which point it means replacing costly plant material.
  • With newer technologies and advanced irrigation product design available, you may want to consider changing out older irrigation components for newer products. The irrigation industry has made many advances, especially in the area of water conservation.

Remember that irrigation is a watering supplement. Don’t overwater your plants. Give them time to become thirsty; this will help build a healthy root system because the roots will grow deep looking for water.

These are just a few suggestions that you can undertake to do your part to help conserve water resources and – at the same time – save yourself some money.

-Sean Jones, Irrigation Engineer

April 29, 2013 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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