Archive for the ‘Gardens’ Category

The Poinsettia Room at the United States Botanic Garden

The Poinsettia is particularly well known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays.  No flower says Christmas like the beautiful Poinsettia.  I particularly remember them being used to decorate the pulpit and front of the sanctuary in church when I was growing up.  Our family’s church would sell them during December to help raise money during the holidays for the poor.   The people who bought them would then pick them up after the Christmas Eve worship service to take them home.  And each year my parents would buy several, including one for an elderly widow in the church, who would take it home and eventually plant it in her garden.  A particularly difficult plant to keep alive when planted outdoors in areas that experience colder climates, the widow not only planted it each year, but they thrived.  She had a garden full of the Poinsettias my parents had given her.

During this lunchtime bike ride I made a stop at the United States Botanic Garden.  I was unaware of it until I was actually in it, but they have a Poinsettia Room.  And I was used to Poinsettias with traditional dark red blooms and green foliage, but the Botanic Garden Poinsettia Room is full of a wide variety of different Poinsettias of varying colors.  Though once only available in red, there are currently more than 100 natural and hybrid varieties of Poinsettias available in burgundy, pink, white, yellow, purple, salmon, and multi-colors. They have names like ‘Premium Picasso’, ‘Monet Twilight’, ‘Shimmer’, and ‘Surprise’.  The showy colored parts of poinsettias that most people think of as the flowers are actually colored bracts, which are modified leaves.  The colors of the bracts are created through “photoperiodism”, meaning that they require darkness for 12 hours at a time for at least five days in a row in order to change color.  Then, once Poinsettias finish that process, the plants require abundant light during the day for the brightest color

The word Poinsettia is traditionally capitalized because it is named after a person.  Poinsettias received their name in this country in honor of Joel Roberts Poinsett, who introduced the plant into the country in 1825.  Poinsett was a botanist, physician and the first United States Ambassador to Mexico. Poinsett sent cuttings of the plant he had discovered in Southern Mexico to his home in Charleston, South Carolina.  The poinsettia is a perennial shrub that will grow 10-15 feet tall in their native Mexico, where they are found in the wild in deciduous tropical forest at moderate elevations from southern Sinaloa down the entire Pacific coast of Mexico to Chiapas and Guatemala.  They are also found in the interior of Mexico in the hot, seasonally dry forests of Gurerro and Oxaca.  In Mexico they are known as “”La Flor de la Nochebuena”, meaning “Flower of the Holy Night, or Christmas Eve.

Paul Ecke, Jr. is considered the father of the Poinsettia industry due to his discovery of a technique which caused seedlings to branch. This technique allowed the Poinsettia industry to flourish, and for the Ecke Ranch in California to nearly corner the market.  Today Poinsettias are the best selling potted plant in the United States and Canada, and the Ecke Ranch grows over 70 percent of all Poinsettias purchased in the United States and about 50 percent of the world-wide sales of Poinsettias.

A popular rumor over the years resulted in the misperception that Poinsettias are poisonous if eaten.  However, scientific studies have determined that, for example, a 50-pound child would have to eat more than a pound-and-a-quarter of Poinsettia leaves, which is the equivalent of between 500 and 600 leaves, to have any side effects. The same is true with animals. The most common side effects that have been reported from Poinsettia ingestions are upset stomach and vomiting. The leaves are reportedly not very tasty, so it’s highly unlikely that kids or even pets would be able to eat that many.

Today is Poinsettia Day, which marks the anniversary of the death of Poinsett in 1851.  So enjoy the following photos of some of the different Poinsettias I saw today.  And I encourage anyone who is able to stop by the Botanic Garden between now and January 1st to see the Poinsettia Room and all of the other holiday decorations and displays.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The Mary Livingston Ripley Garden

One of my very favorite gardens in D.C., and one which I stop by frequently during my lunchtime bike rides, is the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. Conveniently located on the south side of the National Mall in the city’s Downtown neighborhood, the garden is tucked neatly in-between the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building and the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (MAP), in an area which had previously been slated to become a parking lot.

The half-acre curvilinear-shaped garden was designed by local architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen as a sensory garden, with raised planting beds and greater accessibility for handicapped and other visitors. Many of its original plants were brought in from the Litchfield, Connecticut home of Mary Livingston Ripley, an avid lifelong plant scholar-collector, active gardener, and wife of the S. Dillon Ripley, the Smithsonian Institution’s eighth Secretary.  The garden opened in 1978, and a decade later it was renamed in Mrs. Ripley’s honor by the Smithsonian Women’s Committee, a philanthropic group she helped found.

The garden has evolved over the years, with more recent efforts focused on exposing visitors to the widest variety of plants and flowers possible, many of which are grown in the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Complex in Maryland.  Currently there are more than 200 varieties of plants in hanging baskets, borders, raised serpentine and circular beds, and even growing vertically on plant walls.

The garden is also adorned with a number of 19th-century cast-iron furnishings. These furnishings are part of the historical collection belonging to Smithsonian Gardens, and include a large Acanthus fountain anchoring the middle of the garden, ornate light posts interspersed along the paths, and benches that are far away enough from each other that they provide a sense of intimacy with the person you’re sitting with rather than people on the next bench.

Another asset of the Ripley Garden is horticulturist Janet Draper and her staff.  They not only maintain this incredible garden, but are also friendly, helpful if you have a question or need assistance, and even offer an informal walking tour of the garden every Tuesday at 2 p.m. through October, weather permitting.

For anyone who hasn’t yet been there, I highly recommend it.  And I would encourage you to spend some time there and be attentive, unlike the commuters and other pedestrians who simply use the garden as a cut-through between Independence Avenue and the National Mall.  And if you’re able, I would suggest going several times, perhaps at different times during the year.  It is worth repeated visits not only for the quantity and variety of plants. but because the garden is ever changing.

         

         

         

         

The following are some of my favorite photos, mostly of of flowers and plants, that I took over the past year
or so in the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden.  Click on each to see the full-size version.  Viewing them on a
high definition screen is suggested in order to better see the complexity and intricate beauty of each.

         

         

         

         

         

         

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Sign hanging in the Ripley Garden

View of the Folger Rose Garden from the Smithsonian Castle

As I was riding around near the National Mall on this lunchtime bike ride, the bright colors of flowers in a garden near the Smithsonian Castle caught my attention.  So, of course, I rode over for a closer look.  The flowers were roses, and I was surprised to see so many of them in bloom so late in the season.  So I decided to look into it and find out more about roses and the garden.

There are many different kinds of roses, and they have been around for a long time.  At last count, there were roughly 150 known species alone, and the garden hybrids of those currently number in the thousands.  And although they are over 35 million years old, every year new varieties are developed and tested, and some are eventually introduced.  And if what I saw on this ride is any indication, a great resource for viewing roses is the Kathrine Dulin Folger Rose Garden, located downtown at 900 Jefferson Drive (MAP), in front of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building and to the east of the iconic Smithsonian Castle.

The Folger Rose Garden embodies the best practices in modern rose care and culture. When planning for this project, Smithsonian Gardens staff spent months carefully selecting rose varieties that are fragrant, disease resistant, and–whenever possible–“own-root roses” meaning they are grown from cuttings rather than grafted onto another rootstalk. Good selection is critical to maintaining a beautiful and scented garden without constant disease pressure and pesticide application.

The Folger Rose Garden features a bed of roses in a rainbow of colors, along with selected companion plants, annuals, perennials, and groundcovers chosen for year-round interest.  Specimen conifers and evergreens also punctuate the garden and anchor it during the winter months.  Because of it’s prominent and conveniently accessible location, the garden provides an engaging space for visitors on their journey around the Smithsonian museums.  You often see people walking by stop to smell the various fragrant roses, read the plant name tags to gather ideas for their own gardens, and to enjoy the spectacular view.  And with educational signage interspersed throughout the garden, it also provides an opportunity for visitors to better understand roses as a part of a larger ecosystem.

The garden also includes a number of pieces of cast iron adornment, several of which are part of the Smithsonian Gardens’ garden artifact collection.  The cast iron pieces include four benches and a large urn, but the centerpiece is the cast iron original 19th century, three-tiered Keith Fountain at the western end of the garden.  The fountain, manufactured by the J. W. Fiske Iron Works Company in New York, formerly belonged to the Ellerslie Farm in Petersburg, Virginia.

The garden was made possible by a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Lee M. Folger, in honor of their mother, Kathrine Dulin Folger, and the widow of John Clifford Folger, a prominent Washington investment banker, civic leader, fund-raiser for the Republican Party and former U.S. ambassador to Belgium.  The restoration of the fountain was made possible by contributions of Narinder K. Keith and Rajinder K. Keith.

         

          

          

         

         

         

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Paradise In Pots

During today’s lunchtime bike ride I stopped to take a break at the Enid Haupt Garden, located just behind the Smithsonian Castle, just off the National Mall at 1000 Jefferson Drive (MAP).  As I was entering the grounds I saw a sign for an outdoor potted plant exhibit located on the garden’s western patio entitled Paradise In Pots.  The exhibit included hundreds of tropical and warm weather plants, most of which are currently in bloom despite the increasingly cooler autumn temperatures.

The exhibit is only temporary, however, because they will have to take the plants in before the really cold weather arrives.  When they take the plants in, they will be taken back to an off-site facility in Suitland, Maryland.  The facility, known as the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse Complex, actually includes fourteen greenhouses and serves as the production and maintenance facility for thousands of seasonal plants that are displayed in gardens, grounds, and indoor and outdoor horticultural exhibits throughout the Smithsonian Institution museums and properties.  The Suitland complex also houses the Smithsonian Orchid Collection, tropical plant specimens, interior display plants, and thousands of annuals, perennials, trees and shrubs, plus hundreds of poinsettias and other holiday plants.  They grow the nectar plants as well for the Butterfly Pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History.

So the next time you step outside your office or visit the museums downtown, take notice of all the plants – inside and outside the buildings. It is most likely that every one of them came from your newest neighbors on the Suitland Campus; the staff at the Greenhouse Nursery Branch!

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

    
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Titan Arum

Three corpse flowers (Amorphophallus titanium), also known as titan arum or the stinky plant, are currently in the process of blooming at The United States Botanic Garden on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building here in D.C.  I have been stopping by daily for the past couple of weeks to monitor their progress.  But on today’s bike ride I was pleased to see that the largest of the three plants is now in full bloom.  Peak blooms for the second and third plants are currently predicted to be between tomorrow and August 30th.

The three plants currently on display, which vary in age from five years up to 12 years old, have never bloomed before.  And this appears to be the first time in North America that an institution has three corpse flower plants all blooming at the same time.

For more information about corpse flowers in general, please see my blog post about the most recent previous bloom at the Botanic Garden, which occurred in 2016.

         

    
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Nature’s Fireworks

Posted: July 5, 2017 in Gardens, Miscellaneous

Nature’s Fireworks

I took this photograph recently near the Smithsonian American History Museum on the National Mall.  I entitled it “Nature’s Fireworks” because for me it brought to mind fireworks shows like the one that took place in D.C. last night.  I hope everyone had a happy and safe Independence Day.

May Flowers

There’s an old saying that goes “April showers bring May flowers.”  Actually, the entire proverb goes something like, “March winds and April showers bring May flowers and June bugs.”  It is a lesson in patience.  It means that a period of discomfort can provide the basis for a period of happiness and joy.

Well, I can do without the early cold winds, and June bugs that come later on.  And I’m not all that fond of the rain either.  But I guess the traditionally rainy period in April is necessary to provide the water that nourishes the plants and allows them to subsequently bloom.  And based on the beauty and magnificence of many of the flowers I saw during my lunchtime bike rides during the past month, I’d say this year’s rains were well worth enduring.

As I rode around in some of the city’s various residential neighborhoods, a number of flowers and plants and private gardens caught my eye.  Some were at homes which are very large, and clearly belong to more affluent people.  Some of those homes are even on the National Register of Historic Places.  Others were located on the property of more modest houses.  A few were actually from abandoned properties.  And I even saw some plants and flowers in medians in the road,  or in plantings outside of small, local businesses.

Unlike the early season wildflower blooms I recently saw on a ride to the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge earlier this month, all of these flowers were purposefully planted by the property owners.  And none were from places in D.C. where you would normally expect to find such beautiful blooms, such as the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory, the Smithsonian’s Enid A. Haupt Garden, or other similar places.

The photographs in this blog post are some of the ones I took during the month of May.  And I took a lot of photos in the last month.  There are one hundred photos included in this post.  I chose them based on the photo itself, and not just the flower in it.  But I also tried to include photos of a variety of flowers so as to show the diversity and beauty of the gardens and grounds of many of this city’s homes.

I’d also like to remind you, however, that I am not a professional photographer and I do not have a fancy camera.  These photos, like all the ones in this blog, were taken with my cell phone.  I think they turned out fairly well though.  So be sure to click on the thumbnails for the larger versions so you can see the intricacy, complexity and the full beauty of the flowers.  And I hope you enjoy these photographs as much as I enjoyed riding around and taking them.

         

          

         

         

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

Early Season Wildflower Blooms

They are predicting a 70 to 90 percent chance of rain every day for the coming week.  And although it was slightly overcast yesterday, the weather was cool and dry.  So I decided to go for a late afternoon weekend bike ride to the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which is located approximately 25 miles due south of D.C., at 13950 Dawson Beach Road (MAP), where the Occoquan River meets the Potomac River in Prince William County, Virginia .

Having been there before, it occurred to me as I was initially riding through the refuge that there was very little color compared to the last time I was there.  This is evidenced by the above photo.  The green has returned with the Spring.  But most of the other colors have yet to follow because many of the larger blooming plants do not peak until later in the summer.  But as I continued riding I looked more closely and was intermittently able to find a variety of color in small flowers and leaves along the way.

The small size of the blooms gave me the chance to practice some selective focus photography. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts as shown in the photos below, there is no type of photography can capture their true beauty.  For that I recommend you get out there and see it for yourself.

The whole experience reminded me of how there is always beauty all around you.  It’s just that sometimes it’s not obvious.  Sometimes you have to look for it to find it.

          

         

         

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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A September 11th Memorial Grove

On today’s lunchtime bike ride I chose to ride to a local September 11th memorial.  On past anniversaries of the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon, the World Trade Center in New York, and United Flight 93 which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, I have observed the occasion by riding to memorials to those killed on that day.  I have been to the National 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon, as well as The Victims of the Terrorist Attack on The Pentagon Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.  But the anniversary this year falls on a weekend.  So on today’s ride to end the workweek I rode to one of a number of local memorials here in D.C. – the September 11th Memorial Grove, located in Historic Congressional Cemetery (MAP).

Within the cemetery, the grove is configured as an alley, originating across from the gravesite of John Phillip Sousa and continuing southward down a hill to the far edge of the cemetery near the Anacostia River. Because the Sousa grave is the most visited area of the cemetery, the grove draws people in and leads them on a short walk through the memorial site.

The purpose of the memorial at Congressional Cemetery is threefold. First, as a cemetery, it was a logical place to memorialize. And the trees were especially fitting for the cemetery, fitting into its memorial tradition of the use of cenotaphs, or empty tombs. The second reason is because the memorial helps in creating a renewed awareness of the cemetery, to bring more people onto the site, thus continuing the tradition of a cemetery as a gathering space. The third reason for placing the memorial grove within the cemetery was to be part of a landscape plan to re-tree the cemetery.

At the entrance to the grove is a maker containing a poem entitled, “Remembrance”.  It reads,

“For those who no longer hear noisy leaves
shimmering in the summer breeze …
For those who might have sought shelter from the
mid-day sun under a nave of gnarled hornbeams …
For those who would grieve in the quiet space
amid a grove of flowering trees …
For those who perished on September 11, 2001.”

The September 11th Memorial Grove at the cemetery is the first of a series of nine memorial groves planned for the city, with one central and eight ward-based neighborhood memorial tree groves created both to remember September 11 and to celebrate the community that surrounds it.  So I guess I know where I can go on the next eight anniversaries of that terrible day.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]

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A Titan Arum (Corpse Flower)

In this blog I usually write about the rides I take during my lunch breaks during the workweek.  But sometimes the destination of a ride necessitates going on a weekend.  That was the case for this ride, because I was going to go see a rare and unique amorphophallus titanum, also known as the titan arum, but most commonly referred to as a corpse flower, which is getting ready to bloom at the United States Botanic Garden (USBG), located at 100 Maryland Avenue (MAP) in the southwest area of the Downtown neighborhood in D.C.   It is predicted to bloom sometime between today and Tuesday, and when it happens the bloom will last only 24 to 48 hours before it quickly collapses.  So I didn’t want to wait until next week and possibly miss it.

It is the first bloom of this particular plant, which is six years old.  When it first went on display on July 22nd, the plant was only three and a half feet tall.  But since that time it has grown as much as eight inches in just one day.  In the past 12 days this magnificent specimen has grown an incredible four feet three inches, and is now over seven feet tall.

The blooming of a Titan Arum is rare because does not have an annual or even cyclical blooming process.  The time period between flowerings is unpredictable, and can span from a few years to a few decades.  And there have been only 192 recorded instances of cultivated bloomings since records began.  And because the gigantic flower is native to only the rainforests of Sumatra, Indonesia, it is even more rare to be able to see a bloom in the United States.  The plant is also unique because when it is at peak bloom it possesses an odor that many say smells like the rotting flesh of an animal carcass, with its putrid smell being most potent at night into the early morning.

Some people travel around the world hoping to see one at the moment it flowers.  For botanists and the public, being “in the right place at the right time” to see one of these magnificent plants in bloom can be an once-in-a-lifetime treat. But for me, I was able to see one bloom here at the Botanic Garden in 2013, so this will be the second time I’ve been fortunate enough to see one bloom.  So if you’re able to, I highly recommend a trip to the Botanic Garden to see this natural wonder.  However, if you’re unable to make it here, you can still check it out online at the livestream provided by the USBG.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

UDATE (08/02/2016):  The Corpse Flower bloom began to open this morning, and should be in its full, odiferous bloom by the end of the day.  The Botanic Garden will be extending their hours today until 11:00pm.

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UPDATE (08/05/2016):  The Corpse Flower has collapsed.

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