The heirloom garden

On a hot day in early August, I visited the Heirloom Garden of the National Museum of American History* and took a lot of photos,  but because of our move, I never had time to post them.  Now that it is seed-ordering time in the U.S., I thought they might be inspirational.

(Click on any image above to scroll through larger photos.)

The garden — huge, raised planters, all the way around the museum building — contains a mix of open-pollinated plants cultivated in America prior to 1950 (heirlooms). The plantings are anchored by crape myrtles and a variety of shrubs.

The colorful annuals, perennials, bulbs, and herbs are all so familiar, but  the combinations are often surprising.  It’s a splendid ode to the flower gardens of our grandparents.

The museum pipes in a selection of American music from speakers set in the planters (in fake rocks).  Normally, I would find this annoying, but in the already noisy, wide open site, it actually drew me in to the garden and enhanced the experience.  And their selection is excellent — folk, jazz, blues, musicals.  The planters are raised about 3′, which also helps the plants compete for attention in the immense space.

By late summer, the flowers were being allowed to grow a little leggy and fade naturally, which added to the various forms and tones of the groupings.


*The Smithsonian Institution on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., has eight beautiful gardens (ten if you count the inner courtyards of the Freer Gallery and Museum of American Art).

8 thoughts on “The heirloom garden

  1. Thanks for the link to your site. I am glad — and warmed up — that you posted the photos from your visit. A lovely promise of what’s to come. Cheers!

  2. Cindy, thanks so much for the ground cherry eating tips! I’m excited to grow something new this year. And thanks for posting these beautiful photos of the wonderful gardens in DC. There are still many I need to explore. It’s getting me in the mood for spring!

  3. Cindy, I thought I had sussed out all the gardens at the Smithsonian, but I don’t know all of these. The Enid Haupt Garden and the gardens at the National Museum of the American Indian are favorites of mine. When spring comes, I’ll definitely check out the heirloom garden at the American History museum.

    1. The Heirloom Garden doesn’t really come across as a ‘garden’ because it’s really a huge planter box. Also, the setting on the main south side of the building is extremely open and often really hot, so I think most people are just hurrying past it to get inside. But it’s so nice if you take the time to walk around it and listen to the music. The Smithsonian has some really talented gardeners (I worked for the Smithsonian Women’s Committee years ago.)

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