One of the benefits of working here at the Smithsonian is that not only do we arrive each morning greeted by Lindbergh's Spirit of Saint Louis and other classic museum keepsakes, but walking about the place usually involves strolling through a garden.
The Smithsonian campus on the National Mall stretches eleven blocks from 14th Street to 3rd, and includes ten gardens and specialized landscapes designed to compliment the museums they border. There's a formal Victorian-style parterre behind the Castle; a butterfly habitat growing at 9th Street; hundreds of exotic perennials line the pathways of the Mary Ripley Garden next to the Arts and Industries Building; and there's a magnificent cast of native plants, sedges and trees surrounding the American Indian museum. This year the American Public Garden Association and Horticulture magazine recognized the Smithsonian with its prestigious award for "Excellence."
Gardening is a growth industry. The National Gardening Association recorded in its 2010 survey that in just one year the number of flower buffs and lawn lovers increased by 2 million to 83 million households. And here at the Smithsonian, gardening aficionados who wander into the Smithsonian's courtyards and patios will often encounter a cadre of horticulture experts, who can be talked into sheathing their clippers to sit for a spell if it means an audience for sharing techniques and tips.
I like to putter in my garden whenever I can break away from the deadlines here at the magazine. And I've picked up a host of ideas over the years from the team: Janet Draper, who tends the Ripley Garden; Christine Abelow-Price, who has created a secret wildlife refuge for ducks, red wing blackbirds and orioles at the re-created pond beside the American Indian museum; Shelley Gaskins, whose glorious roses near the Castle blossom continuously (and miraculously) throughout the city's hot summer; and Michael Riordan, who keeps the Haupt Garden looking fastidiously formal—nary a weed in sight.
Today at lunch, I wandered among the tropicals in the Haupt. Here a lobster claw, there a Buddha belly, a giant spider lily, a foxtale agave, until my eyes fell on a magnificent portly fellow called a King Sago—a palm with a robust 14-inch trunk growing impossibly from a huge flower pot. I want one for my container garden.
Barbara Faust, director of Smithsonian Gardens, who recently served a term as the secretary of the American Public Gardens Association is spotlighted in this Smithsonian.com video presentation. Have a look, but beware, gardening is contagious, so don't blame us if you find yourself in search of a spade.