Posted tagged ‘Environment’

A Visit to the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouses

April 15, 2018

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!


Ghost Forest

December 17, 2011

On my last day of vacation in England in August, it rained. The friend I was visiting had a morning appointment, and so I found myself dodging raindrops in dowtown Oxford, visiting museums rather than gardens. I left my D300 at home but packed along my trusty Canon G11. Sure enough, I found plenty to shoot, starting with “Ghost Forest,”  a remarkable installation  at the Oxford Museum of Natural History and Pitt Rivers Museum.

Ghost Forest installation, tree roots, Wawa tree, Oxford Museum of Natural History

The outdoor installation of enormous tree roots called "Ghost Forest" outside the Oxford Museum of Natural History. On the left is a denya tree, the largest specimen in the installation.

The artist, Angela Palmer, sourced the tree stumps on display from fallen rainforest trees in Ghana, which have been decimated by illegal logging over the years (Ghana, which supports the artwork on display, became the first African country to sign an agreement with the EU outlawing trade in illegally felled timber, according to the British newspaper The Guardian.) Palmer has put on display ten tree stumps from commercially logged areas in the Suhuma rainforest areas of western Ghana. Three were trees that had been felled, and seven had toppled over during storms. I couldn’t decide which was more impressive – their size, or their beauty. But why choose?

Ghost Forest, Oxford Museum of Natural History

The massive tangled roots of one of the trees from Ghana.

The installation has also appeared in Trafalgar Square and in Copenhagen for the U.N. Climate Conference. When I visited in Oxford, signage indicated the installation was about to close, but its run there has apparently recently been extended through July 2012.  For more information and extensive photos documenting this project, visit the Ghost Forest website or archived photos from The Guardian.

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