April 6, 2011
It seems that the weather is finally breaking and spring temperatures might be here to stay. So, the ATM blog team has come up with a list of the five best kept secret gardens and getaways around the Smithsonian Institution. Get the jump on summer and discover some great new places to take in the beautiful weather, warm your face with sun, enjoy a meal with a co-worker, or rest a bit between museum visits. The warm weather rush is upon us, so get out there and explore.
1. The View From Outside- It is said that the gardens around the Smithsonian Institution are more like “living museums,” whose beauty and design augment and complement the brick and mortar structures surrounding them. Nowhere is this more evident than at the Courtyard at the Freer Gallery of Art. Commissioned by Charles Lang Freer and designed by Charles A. Platt in the American Renaissance tradition, this garden is visible from the galleries inside and provides a quiet respite for visitors passing through its doors. Come for the art, stick around for the ambiance.
2. A Plant Lover’s Dream- When visiting the museums, take some time to just walk around and enjoy the scenery. Meander between Independence Avenue and the Mall, and you may find yourself in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. Tucked between the Arts and Industries Building and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, this courtyard promises a quiet retreat from the crowds on the street. Named after Mary Livingston Ripley, wife of former Smithsonian Secretary S. Dillon Ripley, this garden was envisioned as a “sensory garden for the enjoyment of handicapped and other visitors to the Smithsonian.” The brick walkways encourage visitors to slow down, and with the variety of plants and bulbs—at last count numbering more than 1,000—there’s plenty more to smell than just the roses.
3. Plants and Animals- The next time you’re at the National Zoo, visiting some of your favorite animals, don’t forget to check out the diverse plant life that coexists with them. Attached to the Invertebrate Exhibit is the Pollinarium, a greenhouse with twoflower passionflower, blue porterweed and other flowering plants pollinated by bees and hummingbirds. (If you don’t know what any of those flowers are, that’s all the more reason to go). Step right outside and into the Butterfly Garden, where you never know what butterfly species you might see.
4. In Case of April Showers- If you do find yourself trying to dodge those sporadic April showers, duck into the Robert and Arlene Kogod Courtyard at the Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture. Enjoy a cup of coffee or a snack while admiring the amazing architecture in a place that Walt Whitman once called, “the noblest of Washington’s buildings.” The glass and steel canopy holds 864 panels of blown glass from Poland—no two of which are a like. The courtyard itself is surrounded by marble planters filled with trees, shrubs and flowers. Warm and dry all year around, it’s an ideal great way to wait out the rain.
5. Escape from New York- New York City is known for never sleeping or slowing down. But even native New Yorkers would be hard-pressed to walk by the Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum and not take a peek inside. Located on Fifth Avenue at Ninety-first Street, visitors and passersby can enjoy the lush gardens once lovingly tended to by Louise Carnegie. So, take a load off, the bustling city will be there when you get back.
The Mall is teeming with amazing gardens and out of the way courtyards. Take some time to explore exhibits outside the museums, tour the gardens, and see what other secrets the Smithsonian is hiding in plain sight. What fun would it be if we gave them all away?
February 14, 2011
Hey Valentine, did your honey send you a romantic bundle of red and pink rose buds this morning? Or maybe a secret admirer sent you 12 fragrant beauties. Either way, nothing says love more than the classic Valentine’s Day gift: the bouquet of roses.
We asked Melanie Pyle, a Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist for tips to create a table flower arrangement from a bouquet of one dozen roses.
Before you start arranging your bouquet into a vase, Melanie says that you’ll need the right items. In a typical Valentine’s Day bouquet there are a dozen roses, about 9 fern fronds (a fern leaf is called a frond), some decorative leaves (often “Salal” leaves are found in bouquets), baby’s breath, and floral food.
In addition to the bouquet, Melanie says you’ll need the following items:
A glass vase, preferably ten to eleven inches tall and five to six inches wide
Floral tape to be used to stabilize the stems within the vase. (Floral marbles can be added to the water to achieve the same result.)
Follow these eight steps from Melanie for a bouquet that will last long past Valentines Day
1. Fill the vase three-quarters full with warm water. Add a packet of floral food (usually provided with the bouquet) to extend the life of the flowers.
2. Run four pieces of floral tape across the top of the vase—two from each side, equal distance apart, in a crisscross pattern.
3. Place three of the fern fronds in the vase to a triangle. Add three more fronds in the spaces between the first three fronds and any remaining fronds can be placed within the second layer spaces.
4. The decorative leaves should be layered within the ferns in the same triangular pattern.
5. Prepare three of the roses by cutting the stem at the bottom with sharpened clippers or scissors, making sure to make each stem one and a half times the height of the vase. The roses should be placed in the center of the greens in a small triangle about three inches apart from one another.
6. The remaining roses should be cut about one inch shorter than the first three. Place five angling out from the center and forming a ring around the first three roses.
7. Take the last four roses and position them in a ring between the other two groups of roses. This should give you a nice, evenly spaced presentation.
8. The baby’s breath is now added to complete the arrangement. After giving each stem a fresh cut, place them in any obvious holes. Only three or four stems should be used.
And there you have it! A beautiful table arrangement for your Valentine’s Day bouquet.
Melanie Pyle says her gardening mentors were her mother and grandmother who both had gardens filled with roses. Melanie’s expertise here at the Smithsonian Institution has evolved into interior plant exhibits and floral design. She is involved with the Philadelphia Flower Show and over the past 10 years has participated as a judge, exhibitor and stager.
January 27, 2011
For the last 17 years, the Smithsonian Gardens and the United States Botanic Garden have teamed up to host an annual orchid exhibition. And, each year, says Tom Mirenda, a museum specialist for the Smithsonian Orchid Collection, “We try to have a different aspect of orchidology that we feature.”
To the non-expert, it might seem like the theme would have quickly exhausted itself. But one conversation with Mirenda and you realize that orchids are remarkably diverse.
The plant family is one of the largest, if not the largest, in the world (some say the daisy family is a contender), and some 300 or 400 new species are discovered each year. They are extremely adaptable and are therefore found in habitats across the globe. Not to mention, says Mirenda, “They engage in something that you would almost have to call behavior.” When a pollinator lands on a hammer orchid, for example, the Australian flower uses its lip, a modified petal, as a cantilever to bonk the insect on its back and deposit pollen. A bucket orchid nearly drowns bees in its lip, full of liquid, before letting them out through an escape hatch in the back of the flower, where the pollen is conveniently located.
And, oddly enough, tiny orchids called lepanthes are structured in a way that resembles the female genitalia of fruit flies and fungus gnats, so poor, confused male insects attempt to mate with the flowers and spread pollen in the process. ”There are lots of weird and wonderful things,” says Mirenda. “I could go on and on.”
This year’s exhibition “Orchids: A View from the East,” opening Saturday, January 29, at the National Museum of Natural History, explores how the plant has been revered and cultivated in China for centuries. The show, featuring more than 200 live orchids from the Smithsonian’s collection, opens with a garden modeled after those that Chinese scholars grew 500 years ago. Displays inform visitors about how orchids were used in Chinese medicines and as status symbols in Chinese art. Then, the exhibition finishes with a bold, colorful display of orchids, like those popular today in Taiwan, where the flowers are genetically manipulated and produced in mass quantities.
“Orchids: A View from the East” is on view through April 24. An Orchid Exhibit Family Day, when visitors can talk with experts, take their picture with a life-sized orchid and pot their own plant to take home, is scheduled for Saturday, February 26. A companion show, “The Orchid in Chinese Painting,” is currently open at the Sackler Gallery through July 17, 2011.