Posts tagged ‘Garden Club of America’

A Summer with the Archives of American Gardens at Smithsonian Gardens

Within Smithsonian Gardens is the Archives of American Gardens, a repository dedicated to collecting documentation on historic and contemporary American gardens. AAG was founded in 1987, the same year the Garden Club of America (GCA) donated its extensive slide collection documenting American gardens throughout history to the Smithsonian Institution.

Thanks to a GCA scholarship, I was able to join AAG for a 10-week Garden History and Design Internship this summer.  Prior to this internship, I knew little about this archive or its collections. Nevertheless I was eager to learn more about AAG and Smithsonian Gardens plus excited to have an internship with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. My name is Kathryn Schroeder and this past May I received a Master of Library and Information Science and Graduate Certificate in Archival Administration from Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan.

Right away, I was happy to see that my internship would be a diverse experience working on a variety projects exposing me to much of what AAG does. One of the main projects I worked on was processing the Mary Riley Smith Collection. Smith, a Manhattan-based landscape designer, laid out scores of private and public gardens including design work and supervising installation of planting beds at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in New York City for 20 years. I went through the collection folder by folder, noting the client or garden name, location, and folder contents in an inventory. In addition, I re-housed the materials and photocopied certain items for preservation purposes. Utilizing the knowledge I acquired of the collection during this process, I wrote a scope and contents note describing the collection as well as a biographical note about Mary Riley Smith. These notes will be incorporated into a comprehensive finding aid for the collection so interested individuals can learn more about it.

Kathryn processing the Mary Riley Smith Collection at the Archives of American Gardens

Kathryn processing the Mary Riley Smith Collection at the Archives of American Gardens

Having specialized in digital content management during my graduate program, digitization is something that greatly interests me. I was able to apply this interest during my internship by digitizing letters from the W. Atlee Burpee & Company Records. The letters I digitized were from a 1925 contest where customers shared their success stories using Burpee’s seeds. These digitized letters will be uploaded to the Smithsonian Transcription Center where they will be available for transcribing by virtual volunteers whose efforts will enable them to be readily searchable online.

This letter from the 1925 Burpee seed contest was one of hundreds digitized by Kathryn during her internship.

This letter from the 1925 Burpee seed contest was one of hundreds digitized by Kathryn during her internship.

I also had the opportunity to catalog digital images documenting gardens submitted to AAG by volunteers from the Garden Club of America. Using a database designed for cataloging, I created records describing the garden as a whole as well as specific sections of it. The records I created are now available to the public on SIRIS, an online catalog containing millions of records describing holdings in the Smithsonian collections. Another exciting aspect of my internship was researching the history behind a number of garden features and writing ‘One Minute Reports’ to be distributed to GCA chapters across America, blogs, and social media posts. This enabled me to become more familiar with gardening, a subject I did not know much about prior to my internship. I particularly enjoyed researching and writing about the history of swimming pools.

The various projects I worked on throughout my internship allowed me to acquire skills and knowledge that will be valuable tools as I advance in my career. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to spend 10 weeks with the Archives of American Gardens and Smithsonian Gardens, and thoroughly enjoyed my time in Washington, D.C.

Kathryn Schroeder, Summer 2015 GCA Garden History and Design Intern, Archives of American Gardens

August 21, 2015 at 2:41 pm 1 comment

Winter Gardening Tips

The most important winter task is to take stock of your garden’s successes and failures. Mental notes are good, journal entries are better. There are plenty of mistakes to make, why repeat one?

Did you faithfully fertilize your garden during the growing season? If so, where are the leftovers? Don’t store them on your potting bench or your garden shed; bring them into an area that will remain above freezing. Some liquid fertilizers and pesticides become ineffective after freezing and thawing.

The winter months are the perfect time to take stock of the condition of your garden. Bonaire, West Orange, New Jersey, circa 1930. Ellen Biddle Shipman, landscape architect. Collection of the Archives of American Gardens.

The winter months are the perfect time to take stock of the condition of your garden. Bonaire, West Orange, New Jersey, circa 1930. Ellen Biddle Shipman, landscape architect. Collection of the Archives of American Gardens.

Take advantage of warm winter days; clean up garden debris. Pests and diseases can overwinter on and in dropped fruit, vegetables, leaves and stems. Keep the garden clean and reduce the chance for re-infections. Being neat has the added benefit of reducing the amount of chores necessary in the spring.

When you are cleaning up the garden, don’t cut back the stems of subshrubs: lavender, Russian sage, perennial salvias, etc. The stems provide protection and a bit of insulation for the crown and the dormant buds. Wait till you see new signs of growth in the spring before pruning.

Talk a walk around the garden periodically to check on plants that may have “popped out” of the soil. Fluctuating soil temps – freezing and thawing – can push the perennials and pansies you planted in the fall right out of their holes. Dig the hole a bit deeper, replant and then smooth mulch around the plant’s base. This should keep the plant firmly grounded.

Use branches of pruned evergreens to protect tender perennials from wintry blasts. Maybe your rosemary plant will finally survive the winter!

Careless use of deicing products can damage both the home and the environment. To prevent damage to your home and the environment, choose a deicer carefully. Use deicers according to the directions listed on the package, if possible use even less than is recommended. Do not use fertilizer to melt ice and snow – the nitrogen and phosphorus in fertilizer can harm your local streams and the Bay. Plant damage caused by deicers can often be treated by soaking the affected area with 1-inch applications of water three to four times in the spring. As an alternative to deicers – use sand, ashes, or kitty litter to improve traction on icy areas.

Remember to water plants on warm days in January, February and March especially if there has been a dry autumn. Evergreen plants, particularly those planted in the fall, are most susceptible to desiccation.

Remove snow before it can accumulate by sweeping the branches upward with a broom to lift off the snow without further stressing the limbs.

Motivated to grow ‘green’? Use organic seed in next year’s garden. Check with the National Sustainable Information Service ( for a list of suppliers of Certified Organic seed. Several seed catalogs located in Mid-Atlantic States appear on the list, including: Southern Exposure Seed Exchange ( in Mineral, Virginia, Landreth Seed Company ( in Baltimore, Maryland, and Seedway ( in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.

-Cynthia Brown, Horticulture Collections Management & Education Manager


February 19, 2013 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

25th Anniversary of the Archives of American Gardens

Thanks to a grant from the Smithsonian’s Collections Care and Preservation Fund and just in time for its 25th anniversary, the Archives of American Gardens (AAG) recently completed a project to digitize nearly 3,500 historic glass lantern slides dating from the 1920s and 1930s in the Garden Club of America Collection.  These images are some of the most popular ones in the archives and document a wide range of gardens throughout the U.S., many of which no longer exist. 

Pullman Garden

Pullman Garden in Lake Forest, Illinois, c. 1930s. Because they were hand-tinted, glass lantern slides like this one were not always historically accurate. Note the autumn foliage together with colorful spring blooms! This is just one of nearly 3,500 lantern slides recently digitized thanks to a Smithsonian preservation grant.

 Glass lantern slides were projected on a screen with a ‘magic lantern’ to illustrate lectures.  (You might think of them together as the precursor to the now-rare slide carousel.)  No two slides were alike as each was hand-tinted, sometimes with colors that weren’t historically (or botanically) accurate.  Given the garden owner’s wishes or the colorist’s artistic license, a batch of flowers may have been transformed from their actual yellow tint to a livelier red with the stroke of a paintbrush.  In spite of their fragile nature (and any capricious colors), the glass slides are sometimes the only evidence left of a once opulent and fastidiously maintained garden.  Without these handsome artifacts, important components of America’s garden heritage would go missing.           

High resolution scans of all of AAG’s glass lantern slides—as well as thousands of other historic and contemporary garden images–are readily available on the Smithsonian’s Collections Search Center at .  The images provide an invaluable resource for landscape designers, historians, preservationists, scholars, students and garden enthusiasts engaged in the study and appreciation of gardens and garden design.  By capturing the changing uses, trends, fads and popular traditions embodied in gardens, AAG holdings foster a better understanding of gardening’s far-reaching contributions to America’s social and cultural history.

By the time Smithsonian Gardens’ Archives of American Gardens celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2062, who knows what current image format will be considered as fragile—and as valuable in terms of the lost information it holds—as the glass lantern slide?  

-Joyce Connolly, Museum Specialist

December 7, 2012 at 10:30 am 1 comment

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