Posted tagged ‘flowers’

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!


Redbuds in Bloom

April 16, 2011

It has been a cold and rainy spring here in the Washington area so far. The Tidal Basin Yoshino cherries bloomed late, forcing the mobs who wanted to stroll under their gorgeous branches to bundle up as if it were still late February.

Now it’s mid-April, and the weather is warming up a bit. My crabapple is getting ready to burst into bloom (the parts that don’t have fireblight, that is . . . sigh). In the meantime I’ve been admiring another one of my favorite spring trees, the Eastern  redbud (or Cercis canadensis).

Cercis canadensis

A redbud tree as a specimen in a suburban DC front yard.

This tree’s buds form directly on the branches, before the leaves come out, and are usually a very intense purple-pink shade.

Cercis candensis, Forest Pansy

Cercis canadensis buds on a tree limb in early spring.

Before you know it, the limbs are literally covered in these buds, which expand into small blossoms.

Cercis canadensis

Cercis candensis in bloom

A favorite type of redbud for designers around here to include in residential gardens is called “Forest Pansy.” Its leaves are burgundy, as opposed to green, unless the weather gets too hot, in which case the unusual color can fade.

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy', redbud, foliage

The foliage on a Forest Pansy cultivar has a reddish tint. Note the heart-shaped leaves.

These trees have stout trunks and a spreading habit – give them room when siting them. They rarely grow over 25′ tall, and have life spans of 35-40 years – nothing like an oak or maple. But in the right place in the landscape they can add a lot in spring.

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy,' redbud

A Forest Pansy redbud brightens an early-spring landscape.

For those who crave something a little more exotic, you can look for a Chinese redbud, or Cercis chinensis. The National Arboretum developed a cultivar of this rarer version of the redbud some years ago, called ‘Don Egolf,’ but I haven’t been able to find it except occasionally from mail-order firms. When I was down at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden the first weekend in April, however, I spotted several C. chinensis ‘Avondale’ trees.

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Cercis chinensis 'Avondale', Chinese redbud

A Cercis chinensis tucked into a mixed border at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Their habit is very different from that of a regular redbud – much more upright in shape, making them ideal for including in tighter spaces. When I saw one on its own around the corner from this one, however, I didn’t care for the way it looked as a specimen standing alone – it seemed like a bunch of large redbud branches stuck into a vase, like a crape myrtle trying to sprout pink buds along its branches from the ground up. Still, I wouldn’t mind finding a way to include one in a mixed border of trees, like here. Especially in the garden, variety can add spice to life.

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