Turning a New Leaf

Every six months Smithsonian horticulturists give the Haupt Garden a makeover from the roots up

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Everything is blooming these days in the Enid A. Haupt Garden behind the Castle.

The parterre's geometric patterns are brilliant with masses of orange flowers and arresting foliage. Cascades of red and white blossoms spill from hanging baskets, and the garden's array of urns and planters are filled with all sorts of botanical wonders. Visitors relax on benches or wend their way along the paths, stopping to take pictures, inspect a fetching flower or breathe the fragrant air.

"I met a man who said he couldn't go to work unless he went through the garden first," said Shelley Gaskins, a member of the horticulture team that labors to keep the garden in tip-top shape. "So we need to keep changing it a lot."

A year ago this was a garden in the mind — to be precise, a garden in the minds of head horticulturist Michael Riordan and his colleagues, who right now are already thinking about next year's flowers. The team plants what amounts to a new garden every six months and completely redesigns the parterre about every five years. In addition to the formal parterre, the 4.2-acre Haupt Garden has shady nooks, fountain gardens and other inviting spaces.

With their elaborate designs, parterres remind me of plush decorative carpets. The nice feature about the one in the Haupt Garden is its ever-changing pattern; large diamond shapes and several scallop-shell designs dominate this summer's garden. The ridges of the shells are planted with small, round, greenish blue succulents called echeveria, and a green-and-white slender-leafed calico plant. Orange gazanias define the big diamonds.

"We try to think of unusual combinations of attractive colors and textures," said Meghan Brewer, another horticulturist. "This year the focus is on texture and foliage."

As they dug up the flower beds in late spring, I could tell the winter scene had been gorgeous. There were tulips, heather and more than 3,000 pansies — the workhorse of all winter gardens. Available in a rainbow of colors, these velvety-petaled flowers bloom through mild winters.

"We're always looking for something else for winter," said Riordan, "so often we use a lot of heather. It is hardy, it has an interesting form and it provides weatherproof color."

The pansies were spent, but the gardeners carefully uprooted the heather and placed it on carts to be returned to the Institution's greenhouses; eventually it will be replanted in some other Smithsonian garden.

The summer 2000 look began to take shape in early May, when trucks arrived at the Smithsonian's 11 greenhouses in northwest Washington to pick up hundreds of plants. There, among the vast rows of seedlings, the flowers that the horticulturists had planted several months earlier were coming into their own, ready to be moved to the containers or major beds of the Haupt Garden.


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