A Visit to the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouses

Posted April 15, 2018 by Melissa
Categories: Environment, landscape, Landscape design solutions, museums

Tags: , , , ,

Last year, I had the honor of becoming a docent (a volunteer museum tour guide) at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (which we fondly call SAAM) in DC. One of the first things I noticed about the building’s interior was the always picture-perfect plantings in the raised marble planting beds in the Kogod Courtyard.

Earlier this year, a group of SAAM docents took a field trip to the Suitland campus of Smithsonian Gardens. It used to be called the Horticultural Division, with its greenhouses located on Capitol Hill, but in 2010 the facilities were relocated to new buildings in suburban Maryland.

In addition to maintaining all of the plant material for the gardens, grounds, and horticultural exhibits throughout the Smithsonian Institution, the SG staff work regularly with SI landscape designers to come up with plans for what will be planted in the various garden areas surrounding each of the museums. (The Zoo has its own Horticultural Division.)

According to its website, every year the Production Section provides more than 100,000 annual bedding plants, 200 hanging baskets, and 2,000 poinsettias.  Greenhouse Manager Vickie DiBella told us that plans have to be drawn up nine months in advance so the Propagation Division can grow the necessary annuals and perennials, either from seed or plugs. In the spring alone, over 20,000 annuals are needed for the garden areas, on and off the Mall. And in the fall the Tropical Division staff meet with the museums’ horticultural staff to see what will be needed over the winter.

Eighteen volunteers help augment the greenhouse facility staff of seventeen. In all, they are responsible for the divisions already mentioned but also the Butterfly Collection (for the exhibit at the Museum of Natural History), the Orchid Collection, an snow removal activities on the Suitland grounds.

Our group got a fascinating tour led by DiBella, the Greenhouse Manager. We covered a lot of ground and learned about how the SI Gardens staff and the various museums interact financially as well as in terms of planning displays. Each museum pays for plant material but not maintenance – except for my “home museum,” whose Kogod Courtyard is underwritten by SAAM and the National Portrait Gallery, which share the building space. By the end I was incredibly impressed by the work DiBella and her staff do – and looking forward to the 2019 Orchid Exhibit, which will be held at SAAM next winter.

For more information about the Smithsonian Garden Greenhouse facility, you can visit its location on the SI website here. And if you live in the DC area, they’d love to talk to you if you’re interested in volunteering!

 

A Visit to Kenrokuen Garden

Posted December 1, 2016 by Melissa
Categories: Environment, Japan, landscape, Travel, Uncategorized

Tags: , ,

Last month, I took a photography trip to Japan led by the incomparable Sam Abell. Our itinerary was unusual since most of the cities we visited were off the beaten track for most tourists, and I didn’t expect it to include any memorable gardens, especially since we weren’t headed to Kyoto, known for its stunning public and private gardens.

To my delight, I quickly discovered how wrong I was. In almost every city we visited, there was at least one breathtaking garden, often associated with a local temple, whether small or large. And in Kanazawa (located on the Sea of Japan in north central Honshu island), we spent most of a day exploring Kenrokuen, which is considered one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens.

In 1985, Kenrokuen was designated as a National Site of Special Scenic Beauty by the government (having been merely a “place of scenic beauty” for several decades prior to that). Its construction began in the late 1600’s as part of the feudal lord Maeda Tsunanori’s creation of a garden adjacent to Kanzawa Castle. “Kenrokuen” means “having six factors,” and refers to six attributes considered by the Chinese and Japanese to create a perfect landscape: spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water sources, and a magnificent panoramic view. This garden, which extends over 25 acres in size, has them all.

Although we encountered rain off and on during our visit (not surprising given Kanazawa’s reputation as a “distinctly wet” city with over 190 days of rain a year), we enjoyed taking in the peak fall color of the leaves and watching the gardening staff taking part in yukitsuri. Yukitsuri, which literally means “snow hanging,” is the name for the annual process in which garden staff erect ropes in a conical shape over garden trees and shrubs in order to create structure to keep their branches from breaking in the wet, heavy snow the region gets every year. The resulting structures are not only practically useful but aesthetically appealing – a ‘win-win’ situation for garden visitors. The pine trees, in particular, are carefully taken care of; there is one that is over 200 years old and has many of its lower branches supported by sturdy wooden ‘props.’

Kenrokuen is visited year-round by many people, especially now that bullet train service is available from Tokyo. In the winter, the landscape must be breathtaking in snow. Spring brings cherry trees, azaleas and irises in bloom, and in summer the landscape views are all green and lush. In fall, when we visited, the trees are ablaze with golds, reds and yellows of countless varieties of Japanese maples. And year-round there are ponds to visit, paths to stroll, and teahouses placed for their views and to offer sustenance and contemplation for the visitor. By the time I left, at the end of the day, I had resolved to return in another season, and I hope you will be intrigued by these images to consider a similar resolve.

Kenrokuen Garden is located in Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan. It is open year-round from 7 am to 6 pm during March to mid-October, and from 8 am to 5 pm from October 16th to the end of February. Admission fees vary (free for senior citizens with ID). More information can be found on its website.

Looking Back, Moving Forward

Posted January 2, 2016 by Melissa
Categories: General, photography

One of my first posts on this blog had the same title as today’s. Something about the arrival of a new year prompts me to think about what I want the months ahead to bring, and this year is no different.

I started this blog almost exactly seven years ago, originally posting twice a week. Most recently, I’ve posted twice a month with time off for holidays, travel and (once) a broken hand. I’ve enjoyed sharing my thoughts and photographs with the outside world, but I’ve decided it’s time to give Garden Shoots an indefinite hiatus. I’m no longer as intimate a part of the gardening world as I used to be, and it’s been a challenge in the last year or two to come up with topics for posts that I think will appeal to my audience of friends and occasional readers.

Thank you to everyone who has read my posts, especially those who’ve taken the time to comment. I’m not disappearing forever from the blogosphere, just taking time off from regular posting. Look for the occasional article when I visit new places, especially if they’re garden-related. For those of you who may be interested in my photography business, you can always find me on Facebook. And below, I hope you enjoy a favorite photo of mine from Tuscany this past May – not a garden, but a beautiful landscape vista.

Launching and maintaining Garden Shoots has been a wonderful experience. Thanks again to everyone who was along for the ride!

Melissa

Val d'Orcia, Tuscany

Vineyard at Dawn, Val d’Orcia

 

 

A Longwood Christmas, Redux

Posted December 4, 2015 by Melissa
Categories: photography, Travel

Tags: , ,

Longwood Gardens

Winterberries and cranes in a central fountain in one of the Longwood Conservatories

Garden Shoots is taking a winter break until January. In the meantime, I’m offering a re-posting of some seasonal images from Longwood Gardens several years ago. Hope you enjoy them!

Most avid gardeners on the East Coast know Longwood Gardens, near Philadelphia. Even in the winter, it’s well worth a trip. Two years ago, in early December, my camera club planned a field trip to photograph in the Conservatories, and I went along.

At this time of year, tripods are allowed in the Conservatory areas only in the mornings, so we arrived at 9 am sharp when the doors opened.

Longwood Gardens
Holiday plantings in the Conservatories are on a large scale for maximum impact.

Lighting in these areas is tricky. If the sun is out you can get gorgeous shadows made by the columns and the plantings, but the window areas blow out. If it’s overcast, the lighting is flat but you have fewer problems with shadows and highlights.

Winterberry shrub with poinsettias and decorated trees in the Conservatory at Longwood

We had both kinds of light, but my best images turned out to be those I took when the sky was overcast.

Longwood Gardens
Even the Christmas trees at Longwood are full of surprises – like yarrow as an ornament.

Outside of the main Conservatory halls, there were smaller vistas and views to take in and capture – like the Christmas tree ornaments above. So in the spirit of the holidays, here are some of my best images from that trip. If you haven’t been to Longwood, plan a trip soon.


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