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Fall Color in the Smithsonian Gardens

Another installment in what’s turning out to be a series of articles about fall color in the garden, this one the result of my trip to the Mall over the weekend.  So what better place to start admiring the gardens of the Smithsonian than their Butterfly Habitat Garden?  It’s along 9th Street between Constitution and the Mall, and since it was created in 1995 it’s become awesome.

Horticulturist James Gagliardi has been in charge of this garden since June of 2011.

James here tells me he’s entertaining a whole lot more questions from passersby than he did in his last job at River Farm in Alexandria.  In fact, sometimes Smithsonian gardeners have to hunker down and look as busy as possible when the public passes by, just to get through their through list of chores.

I love the combination of well established perennials and colorful, dramatic annuals, like the red Canna and the Lantana that’s still blooming like crazy (in pink and orange) in mid-October.

James shows me another cool annual – the Gomphocarpus.  Its common name is Hairy Balls.  Seriously.

Above, a favorite perennial of mine – Amsonia hubrichtii, which will turn bright orange any day now.  It sports tiny blue flowers in early summer, and is a tough native in our region.

Of course a butterfly habitat garden is going to have lots of asters, and they’re going to look great in October.

Next door, the cafe at the Sculpture Garden (the one with the skating rink) has these gorgeous Mandevilla vines growing along its facade.

Along Constitution Avenue I spotted this fabulous garden in front of the Museum of American Natural History.   Great mix of sweet potato vines and coleus, with others I didn’t recognize.

UPDATE:  In a comment, the Smithsonian’s supervisory horticulturist Jonathan Kavelier tells us “these plantings also include Amaranthus and Cuphea as well as many other annuals and tropicals. The cycad is Zamia furfuraceae.”  Thanks!

Here’s another view of the American History gardens, with a close-up of the bizarre-looking cycad.  In the front are two sweet potato vines, and the taller purple plant is Persian Shield.

Finally, I always stop in at the Ripley Garden when I’m anywhere near it because it’s usually gorgeous, and always interesting. In the front is probably the annual Penta.

I DO know the purple plant here is an elephant ear. The red flowers in front? I don’t know.


In front, a Variegated Tapioca Plant. Behind it, an annual hibiscus.

You’ve probably noticed the Variegated Tapioca Plants at the front entrance to our Beltsville store.

Posted by  Susan Harris.

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Hello and thank you for the interest in Smithsonian Gardens. I thought I should point out that the Sculpture Garden is part of the National Gallery of Art rather than the Smithsonian. Also, the pictures that you have labeled as being taken at the American History Museum are actually from the North Entrance of the Natural History Museum. These plantings also include Amaranthus and Cuphea as well as many other annuals and tropicals. The cycad is Zamia furfuraceae. The red flowers in the Ripley Garden picture are Pentas. For more information about Smithsonian Gardens please visit http://www.gardens.si.edu
    Jonathan Kavalier
    Supervisory Horticulturist
    Smithsonian Gardens

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