Posts tagged ‘container gardens’

Plants in the Ripley Center: Design for Small Spaces

Next time you visit the Smithsonian museums, take some time to venture into the Ripley Center concourse underneath the Enid A. Haupt Garden. You’ll find the planters lining the walkway there feature a temporary exhibit showcasing gardening styles for small spaces. Five planters host unique interior and exterior vignettes that illustrate a variety of small gardening options. They require little space and are low-maintenance, but add BIG style to any garden.

In selecting a new theme for the plantings in the Ripley Center, I chose to highlight gardening styles that fit urban settings – traditionally smaller spaces for plants – that can be adapted to accentuate any size area. I worked closely with Smithsonian Gardens’ (SG) team of education specialists and collection curators to design this exhibit which features pieces from SG’s historic Garden Furnishings Collection.

Fairy garden

Fairy garden

Whimsical, magical, fantastic – these are words I think of to describe a fairy garden. My daughter is very much into fairies, princesses, and gnomes – all that wonderful stuff of the Disney variety. For her, this form of gardening in miniature that incorporates fairies and other fantasy creatures IS magic. To me, these gardens have a tale to tell through their use of characters and scenery and spark the imagination of young and old.

Assorted terrariums


My family shares a 1950’s ranch-style house. While there isn’t a lot of room for interior plants, we’re able to fit in some of the styles on display in the modest space. Terrariums are what we use the most at home–on the dining-room table, in the bathroom and bedrooms. Since they can be almost any size, the possibilities are almost endless. A small terrarium can really brighten up a space and add a natural touch, as it has in our 1950’s galley kitchen!


Green wall

My colleague Janet Draper wrote an interesting post about her planting of a green, or living, wall in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. The green wall installed in the Ripley Center is much smaller and less tricky to cultivate than the lovely and large exterior wall that Janet maintains. Green walls have become popular in offices and homes as a way to liven up a wall and provide possible health benefits; they clean the air and increase positive moods.



A stumpery is a garden feature I wish I had known about every time a tree fell in my nestled-in-the-woods childhood home. Utilizing the remains of a tree in inventive ways would have saved my father a lot of chainsaw blades. Through the creative arrangement of stumps and the incorporation of ferns and other shade-loving plants, old stumps can themselves become a focal point within a garden. This style was extremely popular during the Victorian era (1837-1901) and has experienced a resurgence recently.

Dish garden of succulents

Dish garden of succulents

Dish gardening enables a gardener to create an environment that might otherwise be difficult to sustain. For instance, in the Washington, D.C. area desert plants are not able thrive during our cold and sometimes snowy winters. The desert dish garden in our home has successfully survived multiple harsh winters. Watering and sunlight needs vary depending on the plants one chooses to use in a dish garden, but it’s a great way to grow plants you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

I’ll be sharing some behind-the-scenes and DIY tips in future blogs. Be sure to catch these plant vignettes in the Ripley Center before exhibit closes on January 31, 2016. I and everyone at Smithsonian Gardens hope you enjoy the exhibit and take away some ideas you might be able to use in your own indoor or outdoor garden.

– Alexandra Thompson, Horticulturist, Interior Plants, Smithsonian Gardens

September 18, 2015 at 9:25 am Leave a comment

Container Gardening Basics

Container gardening is fun for everyone and easier than most people think. Containers are easier to maintain in areas where space is limited, easy to move around depending on the light requirements, can be rotated depending on the season, and will break up the monotony of a deck, patio, or terrace.

It is entirely up to you, the gardener, whether to select the container before or after the plants are chosen.  Just make sure the plants and the container complement each other in size and color and remember that drainage in the container is a must!

Container gardens require a soil mix that is light and well drained.  Many potting mixes also have fertilizer added and contain ingredients to help retain moisture, both of which are helpful for container plants.  It is best to purchase soil labeled exclusively for container gardening.  These mixtures are usually made from ingredients that—oddly enough—don’t include soil, thereby making them “soilless” mixes.  If you find the bag too heavy to pick up it’s probably too heavy to use in a container.

Haupt Garden container garden

A variety of heights, colors, and textures in this Enid A. Haupt Garden urn make for an exciting container garden.

Plants with the same growing conditions and water and light requirements should be planted together.  Consider using non-flowering plants for unique leaf texture and color along with flowering plants, perennials, herbs, and even vegetables.  This type of planting is called “fusion” gardening in the green industry.   Perennials used in containers during the season can then be planted in the garden bed for the following year.

For a great looking display, a mixture of tall, medium-sized, and trailing plants is important.  Tall plants can be planted in the center, off to the side, or at the back of the pot.  Shorter plants can be placed around the tall plants and trailing plants close to the outside edges.

Smithsonian Castle hanging basket

Short on space? A hanging basket is the perfect solution if you’re lacking in square footage. This simple but colorful summer arrangement gussies up a lamppost next to the Smithsonian Castle. Eric Long, photographer.

The plants will only receive nutrition from you so using a well balanced fertilizer is important for overall plant health.  Top dressing with a slow release fertilizer helps get the plants off to a good start. The more water you add to the soil, the more fertilizer the plants will need.  An all-purpose food mixed with water is an easy and fast way to feed your plants.

A daily watering check is a must, especially if the container is displayed in full sun during the summer months.  Watering in the morning is best.  Plants will be able to quench their thirst through the warmer parts of the day and the risk of foliar diseases will decrease if the leaves are kept dry in the cooler temperatures at the end of the day.

Many varieties of plants need to be deadheaded to remove spent flowers and encourage more branching and new flowers.  Routine maintenance will also alert you to any diseases or pest problems that may occur in the container garden.

Inspire yourself to bring color and excitement to every area around your home through the wonderful world of container gardening.  Start out small and simple.  Gardening is a perfect way to achieve some quiet time and interact with nature.  Discover how fulfilling and fun container gardening really can be!

-Jill Gonzalez, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist

April 15, 2014 at 8:15 am 1 comment

The Rooftop is Bloomin’

Smithsonian Gardens and Mitsitam Café Chef, Richard Hetzler continue their partnership to provide delicious, locally grown food in the National Museum of the American Indian Mitsitam Café. This year, we have expanded the crop growing space to include more plants than ever before by “jumping”onto the museum’s rooftop!

Two varieties of tomatoes, Cherokee Purple and Manyel, tower over their potted companions. New Mex Big Jim Peppers and Serranno Peppers are a dynamic duo that keep things spicy on the rooftop and in the cafe’s recipes. These two staples of summer can be married in a great salsa.

The leaves of an herb found in the containers, Hyptis suaveolens, commonly known as Chan in Latin American countries, can be used in a refreshing drink. Its minty aroma is sure to perk up any midday slump.

The National Museum of the American Indian’s Rooftop with Wyatt Carpenter

Also included in the containers is Tagetes lucida, an herb also known as Mexican Mint Marigold, Texas Tarragon and Yerbis Anis. The lemon colored flower is used in Day of the Dead celebrations and the leaves are used as a heat tolerate culinary substitute for French tarragon.

The beautiful orange blooms of Mexican Marigold (Tagetes erecta), native to Mexico and Central America, are dried and used in traditional Day of the Dead (November 2) celebrations. It is known as flor de muertos (flower of the dead.)

Veggies on the Roof

Amaranthus spp. ‘Hopi Red Dye’ is an annual with burgundy stems and maroon foliage. The edible black seeds can be ground to make a high protien flour. Young leaves can be eaten raw or steamed for a nutritious  vegetable. Traditionally, Amaranthus is used by the Hopi Indians as a ceremonial dye used to make red cornbread.

Dysphania ambrosioides, espazote, is a small plant with lots of flavor. Commonly used to season bean dishes, epazote can also be used in chili, tamales, mole and enchiladas. Epazote is believed to cure flatulence, which is why it is often paired with beans.

The seed of Carthamus tinctorius or safflower is used to make culinary oil, yellow dyes and seasonings. Long utilized in textiles, dyes from Safflower has been found in the tombs of ancient Egypt!

Wyatt Carpenter, National Museum of the American Indian Horticulture Intern

August 24, 2012 at 2:00 pm Leave a comment

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