Posts tagged ‘Ripley Garden’

It’s official: Spring is coming soon!

One of the most glorious harbingers of spring, Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ is in full glorious bloom in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.  The blooming of the Witch hazels is a sure sign that the end of this dreadful winter is near.

Hamamelis 'Arnold Promise'

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’

You cannot miss these beauties—they are often referred to as trees, but in actuality they are mature shrubs.  The specimens in the Ripley Garden are probably over forty years old and are about twelve feet tall and fifteen feet wide and covered in small golden spider-like flowers.  What I find so magical is that the flowers will curl the petals up on a cold day and unfurl once again when the sun hits them.  Although they look dainty, they are built for cold temperatures.  I have often seen them blooming while covered in snow.

Witch hazel in bloom in the Ripley Garden.

Witch hazel in bloom in the Ripley Garden.

Hamamelis 'Arnold Promise' (with yellow flowers) and Acer 'Sangu Kaku' (with red stems)

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ (with yellow flowers) and Acer ‘Sangu Kaku’ (with red stems)

Oh, and did I mention the fragrance?  Exquisite, dreamy sweetness.   The entire south end of the garden is perfumed.

Also in bloom, but a little more subtle:

Adonis amurensis

Cheery Adonis amurensis

-A couple of newly-planted Adonis amurensis have recently bloomed. Golden two-inch flowers peak out just above the soil on naked stems. After the flowers start fading the lacy foliage will emerge for a few months then go dormant in the summer.

-Dainty little yellow Eranthus hyemalis—this ground-hugging Winter aconite looks like little yellow bubbles above a ruff of foliage.  The “bubbles” are actually the five-petaled flowers curled up before they fully open.

-The first signs of Daffodil ‘Rinjvelt’s Early Sensation’ –not a prize daffodil, but one of the earliest, so thus it is very special to me!

-And a few Crocus tommasinianus, the sweet, self-sowing, little ‘Tommy Crocus’ which I have planted under a mature Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana).

Come on out – I am sure every day something new will be emerging from a snowy slumber. We will post more photos of the Ripley Garden soon.

-Janet Draper, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist


Did I jinx myself by saying that I had seen the Witch hazel in the snow?  Guess what is happening in Washington, D.C. right now?. Yep,  More snow. YUCK.  (But, I must confess, right now it is pretty magical out there.)

Just of few things that caught my eye:

Galanthus (Snowdrops)

Galanthus (Snowdrops)

Hamamelis 'Arnold Promise' braving the snow.

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’ braving the snow.

Young stems of Acer 'Sangu kaku' -(Coral Bark Maple)

Young stems of Acer ‘Sangu kaku’ -(Coral Bark Maple)

Ripley Garden wit ha dusting of snow on February 25, 2014.

Ripley Garden with a dusting of snow on February 25, 2014.

Eranthus hymalis flower "bubbles"

Eranthus hymalis flower “bubbles”

February 25, 2014 at 10:30 am 2 comments

Janet and the Beanstalk

Some things start innocent enough—and that is how this story begins.

Last year, the horticultural staff from Monticello came up from Virginia for a tour of the Smithsonian Gardens and brought me a goody bag of seeds they thought I might find interesting.  Somehow they knew I have “a thing” for plant oddities. The goodies included things like Medicago or ‘Snail Clover,’ which has these BEAUTIFUL spiral seeds which look like beads, and Mimosa pudica – a sensitive plant that folds up when you touch it, and something mysterious called ‘Guinea Bean’ or ‘Snake Gourd’.

I had never heard of Guinea Bean so I looked it up and learned that it is actually a gourd, native to Mediterranean areas.  In Italy it is known as “Cucuzza” which translates to something like ‘super long squash’. The descriptions all say it is edible and looks like a zucchini, gets 15” to 3’ long and is treated much like a zucchini.  Harvest it small and it tastes like green beans, harvest it later and has more solid flesh. Unlike a zucchini, it does form a hard outer shell when left on its own.

Armed with that information, I was willing to try it, especially because part of the Mary Livingston Ripley garden is behind the construction fencing for the Arts and Industries Building restoration project so I could grow it on the fence, out of public view.

I really did not think much of these little squash-like plants when I put them out in early spring. I honestly forgot about them until the weather got warmer and the plants started putting on growth, which required me tying them to the lattice fencing. I thought they would get to the top of the 6’ fence and stop there. Boy, was I ever wrong!

I first noticed sometime in July that a couple of the plants had reached out and grabbed onto the protective netting beyond the fence that was surrounding the scaffolding on Arts and Industries Building. I thought it was cute, and would add ammunition to my perpetual prank battle with the construction crews. It took just a few days until I started getting  ’threats‘ of a bill coming from the scaffolding company for use of “their” trellis.  And the plant kept growing. Soon I started getting all kinds of inquiries from the construction guys asking what it was. They could actually measure the growth of the vine from morning until the end of their shift! It was literally growing 1-3 feet a DAY! Everyone wanted to know what it was and how big it would get. I relayed what I had gleaned from my quick search, but noticed that no one was saying how big the plants grew . . . hmm . . . wonder why?

Guinea bean on the side of the A&I building

The Guinea Bean plant shot straight up the side of the Arts & Industries building scaffolding.

As the summer progressed the guys continued to report in their findings, including a baseball bat-sized gourd hidden on their side of the fence. Wow – it was a honker – much larger than the 3’ maximum . . . how much bigger could it get?  So of course, we left it to grow.

By August the plants had almost reached 30 feet tall, and I saw that the scaffolding crews were removing the netting from the scaffolding.  Bummer!  The plant would not have the chance to make it to the top of the building.  But I was delighted that, without even consulting me, they removed all the netting except the one with the gourds! They wanted the plants to make it to the top also!

So . . . did the ‘Snake Gourd’ make it? Yes! Our Jack-and-the-beanstalk plant climbed to 50 feet to reach the top of the scaffolding.

Janet with Guinea Bean gourds.

Janet poses with three of her very long Guinea Bean gourds grown in the Ripley Garden.

Only three gourds actually made it—the big honker we found early in the season matured to a little over 5 feet long, with a solid outer shell, plus a skinny wobbly 5’ long one plus a soft tender 3’ gourd.  All of which I dragged home on the Metro which caused much bewilderment to all who saw me and information and education for those who were curious enough to inquire.

And this all started with the sharing of some innocent looking seeds. Thanks for the adventure to my friends at Monticello! Remember, January is National Mail Order Gardening Month. What are you ordering to plant in your garden?

-Janet Draper, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist 

January 16, 2014 at 7:30 am 6 comments

The Story of the Finial in the Ripley Garden

For a long time I have been thinking that the Ripley Garden needed something special to replace the birdhouses that have been at the Northern Entry of the garden for many years. The birdhouses have been great—the public loved them and those ‘in the know’ appreciated the nod to Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley (he was an ornithologist). However the birdhouses were looking a bit worn and I was ready for something different. But what could I put there? I wanted it to be unique to the Ripley Garden and have meaning, but what? I had no idea, but was hoping I would know it when I saw it.

There it was – it literally flew over my head – attached to a 200 ft construction crane.

For the past year I have been mesmerized with the entire process of the restoration of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building. I have always loved this historic building and watching the restoration process has been incredibly educational. It seems like every day something fascinating is happening.

I had been watching the various pieces of ornamentation coming down off the rooftop and was totally astounded by not only the size, but the beautiful details and complexity of some of the pieces. For example, the finials for the corner towers soar to over 9’ tall and that doesn’t include the cap that slides over the point!

After working adjacent to this building that I adore for over a decade, I thought I knew it, but I was seeing things that I had never noticed before. I had not realized that there were so many different types on ornamentation on the roof. Amazing! And I also did not realize that they were all made of galvanized sheet metal! Even the sculpture of Columbia which stands atop the North Door is made of metal! I always thought they were carved out of stone.

Bingo. The special piece I was looking for which was beautiful, but also with a story behind it, was a finial off the Arts and Industries Building! This would help tie the Ripley Garden to the museum it nestles up against, and also give me a chance to tell the public about this gorgeous building and the wonderful restoration process that is ongoing. It would be PERFECT!!

Only one problem; the reason the finials were being removed was so they could be sent out for restoration before being returned to the roof. And yes, they would miss one. (Don’t worry, I asked!)

So, I asked one of the restoration specialists what it would cost to create a new one for the garden. (Never hurts to ask you know!) His ballpark estimate of the number of man-hours it would take to replicate the ornate details squelched any further inquiry on my part. It was out of the question due to cost. My dreams of a finial in the garden were fading fast.

However, Pat Ponton, the Smithsonian liaison for the project, told me that there was one piece that would not be going back up and that he might be able to get it for me. He told me that it was lacking the detail of many of the others, and was not a historical piece. Apparently, there had been some construction in the 1970’s on the roof and one of the original finials had to be replaced so something similar, but not as detailed as the original, was created very quickly. This is the piece that Pat was thinking about.

Although it had left the property, through much perseverance Pat was able to retrieve this finial and have it returned to the site. On the morning of June 21st, with the able assistance of Sammy, the Tower Crane operator, and a couple of members of the wonderful Grunley Construction team, the piece of ‘Architectural Salvage’ from the Arts and Industries Building found a new home a little closer to the ground.

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There are still a few mysteries behind this piece, including why is it missing the top point, but I am so delighted to have this little piece of history on the ground!

None of this would have happened without the efforts of my new friends who are restoring a historical gem. I am very thankful to the crew working on the Arts and Industries Building who have been so kind to me and careful with the garden.

Janet Draper
Smithsonian Gardens

December 14, 2012 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

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