Posts tagged ‘plants’

Things are getting fat in the Ripley Garden!

Fat in a succulent sort of way, that is!

Two years ago, I started playing around with growing plants vertically using a system of trays specifically designed for such use (Going Vertical in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden). During that first year, I planted the trays with creeping thymes, and other low-growing selections in an effort to create a mosaic of colors and form. This was successful, but I knew it could be better.

The next year I used all sun-loving succulents in an awe-inspiring range of colors, textures, and forms which allowed me to have fun creating a living tapestry that would thrive with low-water usage.

Succulents Greenhouse

Succulents overwintering in our greenhouse facility.

The response to my succulent experiment was so positive that I knew it had to come back. So before deadly frosts arrived, I dismantled the wall and sent it back to the care of our wonderful growers, Joe Curley and Jill Gonzales, to overwinter in the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Facility. The plants flourished under their care and the wall is back this year, bigger and better than before!

Succulent wall

2016 Green Wall 

But what else can be done with succulents? Could I create succulent topiary-like balls? Why not try?!  Again with the help and support of our greenhouse staff, this past winter, I purchased some pre-made metal frame spheres that were stuffed with sphagnum moss and secured with fishing line.

Moss spheres

Sphagnum moss spheres ready for succulent additions.

I got various sizes of these spheres and plugs (small rooted plants) of assorted succulents.  The first thing I did was submerge the dry spheres in a bucket of water to soak the moss thoroughly.  Then I started playing with the little plugs and began creating artistic designs of color and form all over the spheres. I added holes in each moss ball and placed starter plants in, securing them with florist pins when necessary.

Succulent plugs 2

Succulent plugs

succulent balls - me

Me, enjoying design experimentation with the succulent spheres

After creating the spheres, they were once again in the hands of our great growers who cared for and nurtured them until they were established enough to put on display in the garden.

succulent balls 3

Early phase succulent sphere 

They are now scattered throughout the Ripley Garden, hanging from various structures and lamp posts.  Come on by and check them out—I think they turned out pretty well and am excited to see them completely filled in.

Succulent balls in the garden 2

The succulent spheres at home in the Ripley Garden!

I check them frequently to see if they need watering since the sphagnum moss dries out quickly, but succulents are engineered to handle times of drought, so they should continue to thrive in the absence of much water, though I am not sure just how much!

So, once again, I am experimenting and learning new things all the time.  I have no idea how the succulent spheres will do this summer, but that is part of the fun of gardening, isn’t it?

Happy Gardening!

– Janet Draper, Mary Livingston Ripley Garden Horticulturist 

July 18, 2016 at 10:05 am Leave a comment

Let’s Talk Gardens!

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.

Let's talk gardens series logo with time and location

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.

 

 

May 6, 2016 at 10:31 am Leave a comment

On Display: Highlights from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection

In keeping with my greatest goal in life of turning everyone into an orchid lover (I believe we would achieve world peace if that actually happened), I am starting a series of blog posts about the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection. I’m excited to share images and stories about our incredible orchid collection with you.

Last week, I convinced Alex, one of Smithsonian Gardens’ interiorscapers, to exhibit some really special orchids in display cases at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. If you are in Washington, D.C., I hope you’ll visit the cases on the first level of the museum near the Warner Bros. Theater before the display is changed the week of December 21st. If you’re too far away, I hope you’ll enjoy the images of these beauties orchids included here.

Angraecum sesquipedale var. angustifolium

Angraecum sesquipedale var. angustifolium on display at the National Museum of American History.

Angraecum sesquipedale may very well be the most famous of all orchids. This beauty is written up in every botany textbook due to its compelling pollination story. A native of Madagascar, this outstanding species bears truly lovely, white, star-shaped blooms that emit a delicious fragrance to attract its moth pollinator on moonlit nights. Not just any moth, but the equally famous Xanthopan morganii praedicta, so named because its existence was predicted by Charles Darwin before it was known to science. Darwin theorized upon seeing the flowers’ prodigious 12-inch long nectar spurs that a moth with an equally long proboscis had to exist in order for the plant to be pollinated. It will always be one of my favorite orchids because, well, it’s just plain cool! The variety on display, Angraecum sesquipedale var. angustifolium,  is a bit more succulent and smaller in stature than the typical form, but it is easier to grow and quite floriferous.

Angraecum sesquipedale var. angustifolium and a hawk moth

L to R: Angraecum sesquipedale var. angustifolium from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection; Illustration of a hawk moth visiting an Angraecum sesquipedale by Emily Damstra for the Smithsonian Institution; a Xanthopan morganii praedicta (hawk moth) with extended proboscis © kqedquest

A couple of well-bloomed plants from a sister genus, Jumellea, grace the display case opposite the Angraecums. Even though their flowers are smaller, they are plentiful and have an outstanding fragrance. Jumellea flowers are similar in all of their species, even though the plants can vary wildly. They, like the Angraecums, exhibit a moth pollination syndrome, bearing flowers of the purest white color with strong nocturnal fragrance and nectar spurs. This time the spurs are much shorter, about an inch or so in length, indicating a very different moth species as its pollination partner. Jumelleas are also used to make a kind of aromatic tea, known as Faham tea, which was once very popular in Europe.

Jumelleas

Jumelleas from the Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection on display at the National Museum of American History

These are remarkable orchids that Smithsonian Gardens proudly displays to encourage and educate Smithsonian visitors. We hope you will visit the National Museum of American History and see these botanical marvels for yourself!

– Tom Mirenda, Smithsonian Gardens Orchid Collection Specialist

December 18, 2015 at 10:00 am 2 comments

The Botany of Survival – Plants that Saved Arctic Expeditions

The heyday of arctic exploration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries represents a significant period in our national history and helped to shape our identity as Americans. While a series of expeditions marked a time of scientific advancement, a deep sense of international competition also fueled the age. Many attempts to push further north resulted in shipwreck and disaster. However, many more of these missions would have failed if it were not for a handful of plants that played an important role in saving them.

Saskatoon berries

Saskatoon berries. Lynette Schimming, photographer.

Berries

The Polaris Expedition of 1871 faced ruin after adverse weather conditions and the sudden death of the captain, Charles Francis Hall, left nineteen crew members stranded on a drifting ice floe. Fortunately for the sailors, their late captain’s foresight gave them a fighting chance. For six months they floated through the Arctic, surviving on a ration of biscuits, chocolate, and pemmican—a mixture of dried meat, animal fat, and berries. Pemmican was a traditional American Indian food renowned for its nutritional content and ability to last without refrigeration. The dish was high in protein, and its berries (usually Saskatoon Serviceberry Amelanchier alnifolia or chokecherries Prunus virginiana) provided necessary vitamins and flavor. Captain Hall, a seasoned explorer, prudently equipped each of his expeditions with a large stock of pemmican. Even though Hall did not survive the journey (and was possibly murdered by his own crew), his pemmican sustained the men of Polaris until they were rescued.

Pemmican is still used today! Its high-energy value has made it a go-to food for backpackers, hikers, and survivalists. Do you have a pemmican recipe to share?

Pemmican container

This pemmican container was discarded by the Lost Franklin Expedition of 1845 and recovered by the Polaris Expedition decades later. National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center. Brett McNish, photographer.

Moss from Bennett Island, Russia

Moss specimen obtained from Bennett Island, Russia, by the crew of the Jeanette Expedition. National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center. Brett McNish, photographer.

Moss

The 1881 Lady Franklin Bay Expedition was led by Adolphus Greely—a man with no arctic experience. After multiple failed resupply missions, Greely and his crew waited three years for rescue as their food stores dwindled. The crew survived on foraged material, including moss (Polytrichum sp.) and lichens—some of the only things able to grow in the severe environment in which they were stranded. Though starvation seemed certain, this plant enabled Greely and five of his crew to return home. Greely and his men were not the only explorers to dine on moss. The moss specimen in the National Museum of American History collection was obtained from Bennett Island, Russia by the crew of the doomed Jeanette Expedition during their attempt to reach the North Pole from the Bering Sea.

SS Proteus

SS Proteus of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition. Brainard Collection of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition, 1881-1884. College Park, Maryland: National Archives.

Prunes

In 1908, seasoned explorer Robert E. Peary began his final expedition to the Arctic. Peary’s lifelong obsession paid off, and he became the first man to reach the North Pole. Though recent historians believe he fell a few miles short of the actual pole, Peary’s feat marked a great success for America during the height of arctic exploration. Peary’s team required highly nutritional food that could also remain fresh for months on end. Among the supplies, Peary brought 608 pounds of dried plums, better known as prunes (Prunus domestica). Prunes provided an excellent source of fiber for the crew, ran little risk of spoiling, and added a sweet relief to a monotonous diet of meats and fats. Peary and his men returned from the expedition the following year, successful in their goal.

robert-peary-NPG.93.353

Robert Peary. 1908-1909. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.93.353.

Crate for transporting prunes

Prune crate similar to the ones used by Peary on his exhibition. National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center, 1979.0441.336.

– Brett McNish, Supervisory Horticulturist and Sara Kuhn, Smithsonian Gardens Intern

September 10, 2015 at 3:13 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

What Happens When a Bunch of Horticulturists Get Together?

They all go to Cultivate ’14 in Columbus, Ohio in July.

I had the wonderful experience of attending Cultivate ’14 in Columbus, Ohio July 12 – 15, 2014. Formally known as the Ohio Short Course, the symposium is one of the largest events in North America. The show is attended by over 9,000 garden retailers, greenhouse growers, landscapers, interior designers, educators, researchers, and many other professionals involved in the green industry.

Top notch educators and speakers are invited to speak on over 140 topics about pest control, new plant varieties, growing techniques, interior design, and green walls. Attendees have the flexibility to attend as many of the seminars as they can. Attending these seminars is a great way to get new ideas on growing techniques, identifying common diseases and insects that may attack greenhouse crops, and even proper techniques on using yellow, sticky insect trap cards.

The trade show is the one of the largest around. I was able to walk around at my leisure and see all of the new and innovative products that are available or will be made available to our industry in the future. The trade show is also a great time to network with sales representatives that I talk to sometimes on a weekly basis. I also establish new relationships with salespeople trying to sell the newest and brightest products in the industry. Personally, the trade show is a wonderful opportunity to “hook up” with former coworkers and sales representatives I have known for over twenty years.

One of the highlights of the show is getting to see many of the new plant varieties and introductions. There are hundreds of new and exciting plants and colors at the show. Aisle after aisle of annuals and perennials line the lobby at the convention center. Many of these new varieties can be seen in the fabulous displays all throughout the show.   I gain a ton inspiration when looking at the wonderful new selections and then enjoy bringing all of my inspiration back to share with my coworkers at Smithsonian Gardens.

Another wonderful highlight of the trip is the bus tour to greenhouse operations in the Ohio area. I was able to tour two family owned production/retail facilities. Going on the tours allows me to see what other growers are doing and taking a peek at their innovative ways of producing large quantities of high quality plant material to be sold to retail garden centers.  The bus trips also establish relationships with other people in the industry. Conversations are started and soon everyone on the bus seems to know one another. Information and ideas are exchanged while spending most of the day on the bus. These people on the bus come from all over the country. My bus had people that came all the way from Canada and Hawaii!

The Franklin Park Conservatory

The Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio.

The really fun part of the trip to Cultivate ’14 was the visit to the Franklin Park Conservatory a couple of miles outside the city limits. Their display of Chihuly glass (more than 3,000 pieces in the permanent collection) was awesome! The plants displays were amazing as well. Highlights of the conservatory included a palm house, a rain forest, a butterfly house, lots of amazing bonsai, and a gift shop and café.

Attending Cultivate is always a wonderful experience. The event is truly a great opportunity to become motivated and inspired by all of the beauty and knowledge the show brings to the green industry and to me.

Jill Gonzalez, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist 

January 28, 2015 at 7:20 am Leave a comment

Spooky Plants Week

BOO! In honor of Halloween, we are celebrating another #SpookyPlantsWeek.  Here’s our round-up of the weird, creepy, gross, scary, and wonderful plants that we featured on Facebook this week. All can be found growing in our gardens at the Smithsonian museums or in our greenhouses in Maryland.

Tacca chantrieri plant

Tacca chantrieri, also known as the bat flower, is a member of the yam family and native to Southeast Asia. It has unusual black flowers and long whiskers. The “spooky” part about this plant (the name kind of gives it away) is that it looks like a bat. So it’s perfect for Halloween, and the fact that it’s blooming this time of the year makes it even more special. See it on display inside the Ripley Center kiosk entrance.

Brassavola nodosa  orchid

Also known as the “Lady of the Night” or “Flor de la Noche,” Brassavola nodosa has ghostly white flowers that emit a heady, nocturnal fragrance to attract night-pollinating moths. We have a few of these ethereal plants in the Orchid Collection at our greenhouses.

Cliff banana plant

The National Zoo has megafauna, but we have megaflora! Watch out, the Ensete superbum looks hungry . . . lucky for us, the plant only looks like it might be carnivorous. This herbaceous banana is native to India and more commonly known as the cliff banana. The plant may reach ten to twelve feet while blooming. This banana, unlike many others, does not produce suckers and only reproduces by seed. Our cliff banana caused many visitors to the Enid A. Haupt Garden to do a double-take all summer long.

Actaea pachypoda fruit

Found in the Urban Bird Habitat: Actaea pachypoda ‘Misty Blue.’ It is also called white baneberry or doll’s eyes because the fruits look like a cluster of eyes on red stems watching your every move in the garden. Some birds find the fruit to be a tasty treat, but beware, they are poisonous to humans. (Image courtesy of the National Museum of Natural History Collections.)

Solanum quitoense (naranjilla)

Solanum quitoense, known as naranjilla (”little orange”) is scary in looks only. Spines and purple hairs along the stems give this member of the nightshade family an otherworldly appearance that would be more at home in the Addams Family garden rather than the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden at the Smithsonian. If you can get past the strange looks of the hairy, orange fruit, a fresh glass of naranjilla juice is a sweet treat.

 

October 31, 2014 at 7:30 am Leave a comment

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