Posted tagged ‘garden’

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!

 

A Visit to Kenrokuen Garden

December 1, 2016

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.

Perfect Gardens in Virginia’s Piedmont Area

October 23, 2015

In mid-October, the Association of Professional Landscape Designers held their national design conference here in Washington, DC. In addition to a full day or more of sessions on sustainability in gardens, marketing, design topics and the like, the conference included three full days of visiting gardens, two in the DC suburbs and one in the Piedmont region of Virginia, outside Charlottesville.

I had been involved in helping select the Maryland and northern Virginia gardens conference-goers visited, so I didn’t sign up for those two days. But I was really curious about two gardens scheduled for the Monday ‘Piedmont region’ extension of the conference, and so joined a number of good friends for a day trip to see them.

Our first stop was Mt. Sharon Farm, in Orange, VA. Designed by landscape architect Charles Stick in collaboration with the owners (Mary Lou and Charlie Seilheimer), the garden sits on a hilltop overlooking beautiful vistas that Mrs. Seilheimer described as thinking she is “lucky to come home to” every day.

Association of Professional Landscape Designers, Mt. Sharon Farm, APLD

One of the views from a path at Mt. Sharon Farm.

The garden itself was begun in 2000 but feels as though it has been there for many decades, in part because of the massive boxwoods that help create several ‘rooms’ and which Stick insisted should remain (another landscape architect whom the Seilheimers interviewed recommended removing all the boxwoods on site; he was not hired). Stick designed the garden with the principle in mind that all aspects of it should relate to the surrounding views outward, and it shows, even in spaces like the rose garden and the adjoining boxwood parterres.

Mt. Sharon is probably at its loveliest in the spring, and occasionally has been open to visitors during Virginia’s Garden Week. For more images of it during that time of year, visit Roger Foley’s website or check out his wonderful book, A Clearing in the Woods, which includes a chapter on Mt. Sharon.

After a too-short stay at Mt. Sharon, our bus took us onward to Warrenton, where we visited Marshfield, a 40-acre estate whose 12-acre garden has been designed by C. Colston Burrell. The current owner’s grandmother, Mrs. Samuel Appleton, was a founding member of the Garden Club of America, and so the gardens have been named the Appleton Gardens in her honor. The modest brick house at the top of the drive is tucked in among old oak trees and Japanese maples, but it was Burrell’s magic farther away from the house that drew me and my camera. We had plenty of time here, and ate dinner outside in the outer reaches of the garden. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves, but this was for me the highlight of the trip.

The Guests That Won’t Leave the Garden

June 12, 2015

Now that I can work in the garden again, I am overwhelmed. Spring’s abundant rains here have encouraged lush new growth not only of hydrangea buds (which were sadly absent last year)

Hydrangea 'All Summer Beauty,'

Hydrangea ‘All Summer Beauty’ began to bud last week.

but also of what I call “garden rogues” – plants I planted in small numbers (or not at all) which have become travelers all over my garden. There used to be a modest bed in my side yard between my arbor and a thriving Styrax tree, originally planted with selected shrubs and hostas, Carex, a few Heuchera, and a couple of toad lilies purchased from a local nursery. The other day I photographed it stuffed full of those plants and a million ‘volunteers.’

Mayhem in the borderl

Mayhem in the border

The toad lilies have gaily seeded themselves everywhere, as have a species Geranium (G. maculatum). Both have the good grace to be easy to remove (once the temps drop below 92, I’ll think about it . . .). What bugs me most is the constant proliferation of spiderwort (Tradescantia), which spreads by runners all over the damned place. It’s the blue-flowered perennial below. You can’t get rid of it without digging out the roots, which is an almost impossible task. I’ve settled for cutting it back at the base, knowing it will come back.

Tradescantia (spiderwort) and Indian pink have spread in this border without any encouragement from me.

Tradescantia (spiderwort) and Indian pink have spread in this border without any encouragement from me.

I’m happier about the spread of the Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica), shown above with the red blooms. I ordered three plants of it many years ago from an online nursery. Today I find it throughout the garden. It likes shade – what a surprise to see such a strong red color in a shade garden!

Felix-femina 'Lady in Red'

‘Lady in Red’ fern has red stems.

Another perennial with a little red in it that has spread unexpectedly in my garden is the fern ‘Lady in Red’ (Athyrium felix-femina ‘Lady in Red’). It was a new introduction when I splurged on it (having lots of deer who wander through the garden has increased my interest in and respect for ferns, which they avoid). But now I’ve found it a hundred feet away from where I first planted it. No problem for me.

Other plants I’ve been happy to see self-seed in my garden include dwarf goats-beard (Aruncus aesthusifolius), another stalwart for the shade, and – to my great delight – the lacecap hydrangea H. macrophylla ‘Blue Billows,’ which has appeared in two locations other than the two where I originally planted it. Now there’s a real bargain.

 

Hydrangea serrata 'Blue Billows'

‘Blue Billows’ in my back yard, with ferns and a variegated boxwood in the background.

 

High Summer at Green Spring Gardens

July 18, 2014

It’s high summer. Hot as you know what. Here in the metro DC area, gardens are starting to struggle (including mine). So  recently I decided to venture out to Green Spring Gardens, in Alexandria VA, a  Fairfax County public garden known for its great plantings (as well as its excellent educational offerings for gardeners). I wanted to see what was blooming, or otherwise looking good, despite the challenging summer climate. Here’s what I found – an impressive mix of annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. If you live in the area, take a road trip for yourself!

 Garden Shoots will be on vacation until after Labor Day. See you in September!

New Year, New Horizons

January 17, 2014
Fall impressions in my neighborhood.

Fall impressions in my neighborhood.

A new year stretches ahead. I’ve shifted gears again. In late December, I left my position as a landscape designer at Landscape Projects, where I’d worked for almost twelve years. Taking early retirement has been a dream for a long time, and suddenly here I am. Now I will work as a part-time marketing consultant to my old firm and some designer colleagues who want a little help with media sites. But mostly I will be a photographer, of gardens and other subjects.

This blog has helped me sell photos, now and again. In 2013, I sold images to White Flower Farms (have you gotten the spring catalog yet? Look on page 57 and 132 for photos of Hosta ‘Elegans’ and Dutchman’s Pipe), Phaidon Press (a half-page image of Opus 41 in New York for their tome Art & Place, and some landscape architects across the country. Another image sale for the cover of a book on California gardening is in the works.

This year I hope to work with at least three or four landscape designers to photograph their work for their websites, Houzz sites, or whatever else is needed. But what I’m most excited about is the chance to stretch myself as a photographer by trying new techniques and visiting new places. Cuba is on my itinerary for February – so I’ll have to overcome my reticence about photographing people I don’t know. I chose the trip because of my love of photographing architecture and colorful street scenes, like I was able to capture in Mexico in 2009. Stay tuned for a report and photos when I return.

In the meantime, I want to share a couple of images inspired by a fellow photographer (a real pro) named Sarah Salomon, who specializes in “motion” images. First, here’s the “straight shot” – of a gorgeous Japanese maple I happened upon one day while out visiting a client.

An enormous dissected Japanese maple in front of a house in northwest DC.

An enormous dissected Japanese maple in front of a house in northwest DC.

Well, OK, I thought after viewing it in the camera’s LED screen. Kind of ho-hum. So I experimented:

My first attempt – a bit shimmery but not quite what I felt I was after.

I also didn’t like the little white streaks marching along the bottom edge of the image. And I wanted more of the house visible on the left, as an anchor.

That's better. Tweaked a bit in Lightroom and Photoshop.

That’s better. Tweaked a bit in Lightroom and Photoshop. The white streaks are still there but don’t bother me as much for some reason.

Since then, I’ve experimented more with this technique, discovering along the way that for every “keeper,” there are many, many shots I delete (thank God we’re in the digital age, I can’t imagine doing this with film). And on Veterans’ Day, on my way to the office, I stopped in a mundane residential neighborhood and took this, which I quite like.

At Sarah's suggestion, I desaturated the yellows so they wouldn't overwhelm the rest of the image.

At Sarah’s suggestion, I desaturated the yellows so they wouldn’t overwhelm the rest of the image.

So, head’s up that the coming year’s posts may be a bit different than before. Although gardens will always be my first love, I’ll be traveling down some new roads. Five years plus after my first post (December 2007), maybe that’s not such a bad idea.

The National Sculpture Garden

October 12, 2013

Recently I ventured into downtown DC (something I hope to do more frequently next year when I take early retirement), camera in hand, to visit the East Wing, the National Gallery, and the National Sculpture Garden. I saw a wonderful exhibit at the East Wing, “Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes,” which has enchanting costumes and film clips of revivals of some of the ballets from that time. (Barishnikov! Nureyev! But I digress . . .)

My afternoon ended with a stroll through the National Sculpture Garden, full of amazing works of art, carefully manicured shrubs, large trees and some annuals, and a large fountain great for people-watching. Here are some of the images I captured. Plan a visit on your next trip to Washington!


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