Smithsonian Gardens and U.S. Botanic Garden: Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling


As we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day today, it seems appropriate to share my pics of the Smithsonian Gardens on the National Mall and the U.S. Botanic Garden, which I toured on the recent Capital Region Garden Bloggers Fling in Washington, D.C.


A small posse of garden blogging friends — me, Cat of The Whimsical Gardener, Joanne of Down 2 Earth, Laura of Wills Family Acres, and Diana of Sharing Nature’s Garden — worked our way east along the Mall from the Smithsonian Castle, exploring the gardens outside the museums along the way. (Thanks to Cat for the photo.)


The day was pure Southern summer — hot and steamy — but we powered through a 3-hour stroll, ducking into shady gardens and an occasional museum lobby for A/C relief. Despite the heat, I found the sight of the Washington Monument stirring, as always.


My absolute favorite garden along the Mall was the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, which wows with this dry-garden planting in the raised beds along the sidewalk. Shazam!


A closer look at the New Zealand sedge, flowering echeverias, and orange-blooming portulaca.


Silver beauties — an agave (foreground) and maybe a puya?


The conical roof in the background echoes the triangular shape of the agave’s leaves. An intentional design choice? I wouldn’t put any artistry past horticulturist Janet Draper, whom we met while we were admiring the garden. She is a talented designer and plantsman.


Coreopsis Update: My thanks to Kylee Baumle for ID’ing this as Bidens ‘Beedance Painted Red’.


Entering the garden you see a tiered fountain and plaza, with benches along the brick walls that make up the raised planting beds of the garden.


Handsome brick buildings make a nice backdrop to the garden, but the plants are the stars. I was excited to see several spherical, strappy Yucca rostrata in the lush perennials beds.


Beautiful combos


Dahlia’s dark-leaved drama


And more, with blackbird spurge


Chives


Under the shade of an old elm, chartreuse makes an appearance in hydrangea flowers and full-skirted hostas.


I like this combo of ‘Frosted Curls’ carex and wild ginger.


At the rear of the garden, a focal-point urn is planted with succulents and spilling silver ponyfoot and accented with a large steel sphere.


Additional spheres were scattered in a shady sedge “lawn.”


Along another part of the Mall, I spotted tall rudbeckia…


…and this cool bird sculpture in the garden of the American History Museum.


Eventually we made our way toward the U.S. Capitol building…


…and entered the National Garden, part of the U.S. Botanic Garden, which is planted with mid-Atlantic native plants.


The garden was mostly a wetland with a nicely designed stream and small pond, which were visually refreshing on this hot day.


It’s a good spot for bird-watching, and I spotted a robin taking a bath here.


I love this winding, cut-stone path and arching bridge.


The Botanic Garden’s centerpiece is a large conservatory, which we toured rather quickly, as we were nearly out of time.


I’ve never been a big fan of conservatories, preferring outdoor gardens, but I enjoyed our quick pass through the various collections.


It must be lovely to come here in the winter.


I’ve visited D.C. at least a half-dozen times over the years, but this was the first time I’d toured the gardens rather than monuments and museums. Unlike some bloggers who stayed extra days, I wasn’t able to visit any of the iconic monuments on this trip. That felt strange, but the Mall gardens were interesting and worth a visit. And I’m sure I’ll be back one day — if for no other reason than to see those famous cherry trees in bloom.

Up next: A woodland garden of exploration created by Peg Bier. For a look back at the classic garden rooms of designer Scott Brinitzer, click here.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Ai Weiwei and ATX sculptures, dazzling public art in Austin


I love seeing public artsculpture, murals, earthwork, any kind! — and often drag family members out to see new works.

Last evening, I headed downtown to the Waller Creek boathouse on Lady Bird Lake to view a trippy new work by Chinese artist and human-rights advocate Ai Weiwei. Forever Bicycles, a crystalline tower of 1,254 silver bicycles, seems to radiate into space like rays of light.


According to Waller Creek Conservancy, which is sponsoring the exhibition in partnership with The Contemporary Austin:

This sculpture takes as its subject the Forever brand bicycle, once ubiquitous on the streets of Beijing. A means of not only transportation but also social mobility and a coveted luxury item when the artist was growing up in China, in contemporary times the Forever bicycle has given way to aspirations of car ownership. Given this context, the installation here imparts poignant commentary through 1,200 of these nostalgic objects assembled into a gorgeous, dizzying sculpture, whose wheels are now frozen in perpetual cycle.


A path runs through the sculpture, allowing views from inside.


Wheels and sky


Austin is a biking town, and the sculpture overlooks the popular hike-and-bike trail around Lady Bird Lake.


Forever Bicycles is on long-term loan, as well as another of Weiwei’s works, Iron Tree Trunk, which is on display at Laguna Gloria’s Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Park.


On the way home, we stopped at the Whole Foods at 5th and Lamar Blvd. to see the colorful atx — a popular abbreviation for Austin, TX — that appeared recently on the street corner.


Sponsored by Whole Foods and created by Ion Art, the rainbow-striped sculpture is already a popular spot for selfies and sharing Austin pride.


Which is exactly what we did.


Public art adds beauty, joy, wonder, and a feeling of creativity to our public places, and maybe even makes you think. I appreciate individuals, businesses, arts organizations, and cities that sponsor it.

Fellow Austinites, do you know of any other interesting public artworks that I should go visit this summer? And if anyone’s looking for cool works to go visit, here’s a link to public art I’ve written about in Austin and elsewhere.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts, I’m hosting a series of garden talks by talented designers and authors out of my home. Talks are limited-attendance events and generally sell out within just a few days, so join the Garden Spark email list for early notifications. Simply click this link and ask to be added.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

Exploring Mueller’s Southwest Greenway, public art, and Texas Farmers’ Market


A week ago, my dad and I popped over to east Austin’s Mueller neighborhood for a springtime stroll around the Southwest Greenway. They have some pretty big spiders in those parts!


I love this sculpture, Arachnophilia by Houston artist Dixie Friend Gay, which stands 23 feet tall and straddles the walking trail. Her belly is full of green and blue glass gazing balls! Gigantic agaves add a living sculptural element alongside the trail.


Texas redbuds were in full bloom, and I had to stop and admire each one.


The trail skirts a small lake in the center of the park…


…where we spotted a great blue heron and a few white egrets fishing or frogging, plus lots of ducks.


The Southwest Greenway was planted with native grasses and other Texas prairie plants in partnership with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. In late winter, tawny grasses predominate. But flowering trees are already coloring the prairie landscape, and soon wildflowers will steal the show. In the distance you can see two sculptures by Austin artist Chris Levack, Wigwam on the left and Pollen Grain on the right.


Here’s a closer view of Wigwam, with curving beds of prairie grasses and perennials at its feet.


With mass plantings of native trees and perennials, the Greenway shows how to use native plants in a contemporary way.


I like this tiny formal lawn too, which leads to a bench secluded by native shrubs, ornamental trees, and grasses.


Agarita (Mahonia trifoliolata) shows off golden, sweet-scented flowers at this time of year.


The spiny, gray-green leaves are pretty too.


Ah, but the early spring glory of flowering redbuds and Mexican plums!


A closeup of Texas redbuds in bloom. Why, I wonder, aren’t they called pinkbuds?


Mueller is a planned community built on the site of Austin’s old Mueller Airport, and some of the original airport structures have been preserved, like this old hangar. Dad and I were happy to stumble on the Texas Farmers’ Market in full swing here, which operates every Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm.


Vendors were selling vegetables, honey, sauces, bread, and more.


And since it was just a few days before Mardi Gras, a band decked out in tie-dye, purple, and beads, the Mighty Pelicans, were playing zydeco and blues. It was a party!


As we headed back to our car, we couldn’t help noticing a bunch of kids on a playing field wearing clear plastic bubbles. They’d run at each other and rebound hilariously. One kid got stuck upside-down and had to be righted with help from his coach.


I later learned it’s called bubble soccer. Who knew?


Near the science-based playspace for kids called Thinkery , we encountered another delightful public sculpture, Lake Nessie.


The glass-tiled sea serpent was created by Arachnophilia artist Dixie Friend Gay.

I love all the public art at Mueller, and the generous park spaces. It’s a fun place for a Sunday stroll.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
_______________________

Digging Deeper: News and Upcoming Events

Get on the mailing list for Garden Spark Talks. Inspired by the idea of house concerts — performances in private homes, which support musicians and give a small audience an up-close and personal musical experience — I’m hosting a series of garden talks by design speakers out of my home. The upcoming talk with James deGrey David has sold out, but join the Garden Spark email list for speaker announcements delivered to your inbox; simply click this link and ask to be added. Subscribers get advance notification when tickets go on sale for these limited-attendance events.

All material © 2006-2017 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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