Update: Thanks to you, our Kickstarter campaign to "Keep Them Ruby" has concluded successfully. The Ruby Slippers will return to display on October 19, 2018.
In The Wizard of Oz (1939), Dorothy Gale comes to learn that there's "no place like home," but there's also no place like one's own backyard. And here at the museum, our "yard" is a splendid place to spend time, thanks to the hard work of Smithsonian Gardens. As Dorothy says in the movie, "Well, I … I think that it… that it wasn't enough to just want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em … and it's that if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with."
Oz fans at Smithsonian Gardens shared with us their flowery connections to the classic American movie:
Where can you stand beneath the shade of the Ruby Slippers?
Oakleaf Hydrangea "Ruby Slippers" (Hydrangea quercifolia) is a recent release from the U.S. National Arboretum's shrub breeding program. This munchkin of a shrub has a wonderfully compact plant form and exceptionally large, upright inflorescences (flower clusters) that cover the plant in the summer and turn a ruby pink as the blooms age. Oakleaf hydrangea have large, deeply lobed leaves that resemble oak foliage, and magnificent fall color with shades of bright red and deep burgundy. Ruby Slipper, with its love of partial shade and tolerance of a variety of growing conditions, is particularly suited for use in backyards from Kansas to the mid-Atlantic and states to the north.
The Arboretum has a research team dedicated to breeding and selecting great trees and shrubs for the horticulture world, and the Ruby Slippers is one that we love at the National Museum of American History. Find it in the beds on the walk to the north entrance of the museum.
Dorothy and her friends fall asleep in a field of poppies. But which kind of poppies?
Opium poppies are also called breadseed poppies or culinary poppies, depending on how they are used—the seeds are edible and free of psychological effects, while the immature pod is used to produce opium. Addicts in the late 1800s in big cities like London fell "asleep" for long periods in opium dens. The colors of the blossoms themselves are mesmerizing. They can be red, peach, white, pink, or lavender, and usually have black centers and bloom in the spring. Planting them for their flowers and seeds is legal, but using them for making opium is not.
Corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) are European field annuals that love disturbed soil and sun and are a symbol of death, consolation, and rebirth. In 1917 American educator Moina Belle Michael read the Canadian poem "In Flanders Fields," about the rows and rows of corn poppies growing among the graves and crosses in the battlefields of World War I, and decided to make the poppy a symbol of soldier remembrance. Corn poppies can be sown by seed from late summer to late winter and bloom in May.
California poppies (Eschscholzia californica), those golden orange beauties in the field, are not a true poppy but are in the same poppy family, Papaveraceae. The famous Himalayan blue poppy (Meconopsis sp.) is a true horticultural challenge, loving shade and humus-rich, fertile soil.
Enjoy the history of poppies the next time you eat a poppy-seed muffin, see a poppy in bloom, or watch Dorothy and her friends fall fast asleep on their way to Oz.
Brett McNish is a horticulturist with Smithsonian Gardens (and is still scared of Winged Monkeys). Erin Clark is a horticulturist with Smithsonian Gardens.