WASHINGTON – Maryland is a step closer to becoming the Smithsonian’s backyard garden, brimming with rare plants and a collection of 10,000 orchids.
The Smithsonian’s lease of a 55,000-square-foot greenhouse facility at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Northwest, Washington, D.C., is set to run out Sept. 30 and be taken over by a private developer. The House voted Tuesday to fund a $12 million move from the AFRH to a Smithsonian support campus in Suitland after its lease is up.
“We need to replace our greenhouses because we rely on those plants . . .,” said Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. “We can’t just close it down and buy commercial.”
The bill, sponsored by Smithsonian Board of Regents member Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., passed without objection.
“The greenhouses allow the Smithsonian resources equal to, if not surpassing, any other botanical institute in the world,” Matsui said in a statement. “The important work being done every day by the Smithsonian horticulturalists in the current facility is vital to the mission of the Smithsonian: the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”
The new site will replace the 12 greenhouses, small office and shade house that have been in use at the AFRH since 1974. Barbara Faust, the associate director for Horticulture Services Division of the Smithsonian, said the Suitland complex will maintain the orchid collection, other rare plants used for outdoor gardens, and plants untreated by pesticides to use for a live butterfly exhibit that opened at the Museum of Natural History in February.
At the butterfly exhibit, visitors enter an indoor tropical setting with more than 400 butterflies from all over the world to learn how the creatures evolve and coexist with the nectar-filled plants that provide their food.
The public gardens, Faust said, are found around all Smithsonian museums, and can be used as outdoor classrooms or just as quiet areas for contemplation.
“Those unique spaces serve to enhance the overall museum experience,” Faust said.
The extensive gardens, Faust said, depend on the greenhouses.
“It’s difficult to have award-winning public gardens without support greenhouse facilities,” Faust said. “The uniqueness of these gardens mandates it.”
The move from AFRH to Suitland will be more of the same, Faust said, since staffers already move plants between the greenhouses and the Mall, but just on a larger scale.
“We’re kind of in the business of moving plants,” Faust said. “It’s going to take a lot of coordination.”
The summer, Faust said, would be optimal for the move, but heated trucks can be used to move plants safely during the winter.