Posted tagged ‘Washington DC’

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!

 

Awestruck at the Library of Congress

February 21, 2015

The first time I visited the Library of Congress was in late 2005 (ten years ago, yipes!), when my camera club was able to arrange a field trip for us, complete with tripod permission. I didn’t know what to expect. When I walked in, I was speechless. So when I returned last month for another field trip, I understood completely when a young Australian  woman who had just entered said simply, “Oh my God” on looking up.

Jefferson Building, Library of Congress

One of two bronze statues on the ground floor of the Jefferson Building, Library of Congress.

The Library of Congress opened in 1897 and serves as the research arm of Congress. The Main Reading Room is open to members of the public only two days a year; the rest of the time, you need a Reader Identification Card which is valid for two years and obtainable on application. Photography is allowed (without tripods) on the floor on the two Visitors Days each year, and from a gallery above during other times.

There is an abundance of information online about the Jefferson Building’s artistic glories so I will not try to reproduce all of it here. Suffice it to say that the building is a marvel in both substance and aesthetics. Do not miss it if you are headed to our nation’s capital.

Red, White & Blooming at the White House

April 23, 2011

In mid-April, some friends with an extra ticket to the White House Spring Garden Tour asked if I’d like to join them. I was thrilled – I’ve never been on the White House grounds before, Congress had just come to its senses (well, at least partially) and averted a government shut-down, and I was longing for a jolt of spring. I had no idea how much we’d get to see but I chose my Nikon 24-120mm f/4 lens for the D300 and we headed downtown.

White House Spring Garden tour

The ticket and our guide to the gardens!

The White House Grounds (according to our brochure) are “the oldest continually maintained landscape in the United States” and are open to the public twice a year, for Spring and Fall Garden Tours. Over the years, the grounds have been “enhanced” by a series of landscape architects “to seem idealistically natural” (again the brochure).  I can’t say that everything I saw quite fit with that concept (for example, on a large hill in the center of the South Lawn I saw a group of massive Camellia japonicas in bloom – beautiful, but hardly “natural” looking).  Here and there, usually on the periphery of the more formal areas, however, were stands of trees in bloom or leafing out that looked more like a woodland grove if you averted your eyes from the buildings behind them.

White House Gardens

Blooming redbuds and magnolias near the Northern Red Oak planted by President Eisenhower greet visitors as they enter the South Lawn area from East Executive Park.

The tour  sent us through paths along the South Lawn, and up towards the South Portico, where on the porch a military band was serenading the crowds. I was more entranced by the neatly clipped wisteria growing up the side of the Portico and along its beautiful ornate iron railings.

White House, South Portico

Wisteria growing up the side of the South Portico porch. See the bandleader on the left side of the porch? And check out the patriotic color scheme of the red tulips and blue hyacinths against the white building.

White House Gardens, wisteria

Couldn't take my eyes off this wisteria. Look closely - it's about to bloom! If only this tour had been a week later - with lots of sun in the meantime.

Moving away from the South Portico, we caught glimpses of the Rose Garden and the Oval Office as we headed down for a glimpse of the Kitchen Garden and the views around the central fountain that faces E Street N.W.  The Kitchen Garden was neatly planted (and mulched) with lots of lettuces and herbs – cool weather crops very appropriate for the kind of temperatures we’ve been having.

White House Kitchen Garden

The Kitchen Garden, with a cherry tree (?) in bloom in the background.

White House Gardens, White House grounds

The Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial are visible from the hill on the South Lawn. Pity about the bald sky, but you can't have everything.

The magnolias, most of which were still at peak bloom, were probably my favorite trees (along with a number of huge, magnificent dissected Japanese maples just leafing out). Here’s a favorite shot of one next to some more formal plantings near the fountain.

White House Gardens

A saucer magnolia in bloom softens the clipped yew hedge and bedding bulbs surrounding it on the South Lawn.


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