A Chat in the Garden With Gardener Guy Paul James

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Sometimes on a crazy, hectic day at the office, it makes sense just to sneak away from the cubicle and slip into a garden. I'm luckier than most because within strolling distance of my desk and computer, I've got my choice of ten Smithsonian gardens that run the gambit from butterfly to heirloom to perennial to formal to terraced to rose.

Yesterday, I  joined popular television host, the Gardener Guy Paul James, among the native sycamores, sumacs and rhodedendrums at the side of a refreshing pond just outside the National Museum of the American Indian. This garden, with its 33,000 native plants representing 150 species, recalls the former landscape along the Potomac River's Tiber Creek in the time before European contact. James, whose passion for  gardening in his own backyard made him a much-loved personality on the cable network HGTV, was in town promoting National Public Gardens Day, today, May 7.

I was the last interview for James and so I could tell he needed a little garden time to refresh and refuel; and I had chosen this particular meeting place because James likes to encourage his audience to follow simple, natural, eco-friendly techniques for gardening.  "This garden appeals to me," he told me. "This is what people should seek to mimic in their own gardens. Native plantings require less maintenance, less water; they are more aesthetic and they attract wildlife." And almost as if, on cue, in a  flash of orange and black, an oriole flew out of the brush and  landed at our feet.

James said he wanted to get the word out that the free, public gardens all across the nation in cities and towns provide just such a haven. "Across the whole United States, there are a considerable number of people who don't know or aren't aware of what a public garden has to offer. They are a treasure trove of ideas." People, who think perhaps they might want to start a garden, he continued, may see a particular kind of planting and all that they need to do is mimic the conditions  they find in the public garden in their own backyards. "They could sketch it, photograph it, they could even ask to see the list of plants growing in the garden, and save themselves the cost of having to hire a landscaper."

Visitors coming to the Smithsonian this weekend will find plenty of gardening tips for the taking at the annual Garden Fest, which kicks off tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. in the Enid A. Haupt Garden located behind the Smithsonian Castle on the National Mall. The entire horticulture staff will be on hand and the activities planned: flower arranging and basket weaving, as well as tips for growing everything from edible heirlooms to orchids. And all of it accompanied by a host of performances, including the ever-popular Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra.

Oh, and one other site you won't want to miss. Starting at 11:30 in the Haupt Garden, a slew of beneficial bugs will be released into the garden. That's right. Bugs! Green lacewing larvae, parasitic wasps, minute pirate bugs, adult lady beetles and predatory mites. These are the helpmates in any thriving garden. So come learn who in the insect world is a good friend and neighbor to invite into your own backyard haven.

Garden Fest, hosted by the Smithsonian Gardens, presents live music and family fun activities, at the Enid A. Haupt Garden, Saturday May 8, 10 AM-4 PM.

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