Winter can be a dreary time of year in Washington. The city’s trees have shed their orange, gold, and red autumn leaves and the arrival of our famous blushing pink cherry blossoms is still several months away. Here, as elsewhere in the country, many of us counteract the grayness of the season by decorating our homes with bright and cheery foliage like amaryllis, holly, mistletoe, and poinsettias. The staff of the Smithsonian Horticulture Services Division is tasked with beautifying the institution in a similar fashion using colorful plant displays, both living and artificial. Some of these plants come from one of the Smithsonian’s twelve greenhouses, where annual and perennial plants are grown and cared for, including dozens of poinsettias currently on display in the halls of the museum.
A number of these intensely red poinsettias have been used inside the new Welcome Center, providing a colorful backdrop for the information volunteers. Substantial swags of silk magnolia leaves, bedecked with “iced” pears and apples and threaded with burgundy ribbons, hang by hidden suction cups on each pillar lining the first and second floors. Garlands—54 strands in all—drape elegantly along the handrails on the second and third floors, shimmering with silver grape leaves, juniper berries, and pinecones. An evergreen tree—artificial and therefore reusable—in Flag Hall is decorated with large metallic ornaments and silk flowers. With their soft, organic shapes and bright, festive hues, these horticultural displays bring a sense of warmth and life to the building during the cold winter months.
Dana Allen-Greil is the new media project manager at the National Museum of American History. She'd like to thank horticulturalist Melanie Pyle for her insights.