Arboretum Receives Stimulus Funds

Administration BuildingThe U. S. National Arboretum received $9 million in federal Recovery Act funds to renovate its administration building.  The project is one of many funded by $176 million awarded to the Agricultural Research Service this spring for “shovel ready” projects involving deferred maintenance. Five years ago, arboretum staff worked with a contractor to develop detailed plans to modernize and re-configure the 1960s building. Plans include moving the classroom upstairs, adding more public restrooms, and upgrading mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. The improvements will result in more efficient use of space and energy.

Current plans are to begin work in August 2010. Staff will move into temporary quarters in June and July. Some research staff will be housed at the Beltsville Area Research Center, where many members of the Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit already have permanent offices and labs. Administrative, gardens, and education staff will move into trailers; some will share office space in the head house. Visitor services will also be housed in a trailer, and limited meeting space will be available in a temporary classroom.  Providing a substitute for the auditorium was not possible; however, stakeholders who hold their annual shows in the administration building have begun discussing creative alternatives.

Facilities Services at ARS Headquarters will oversee the project and estimate that it will take 18 months to complete. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is an Act of Congress that created “supplemental appropriations for job preservation and creation, infrastructure investment, energy efficiency and science, assistance to the unemployed, and State and local fiscal stabilization, for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009, and for other purposes.”

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New Partnership Helps Arboretum Become Greener

The National Arboretum has entered into a five-year agreement with The Research Foundation of State University of New York (RFSUNY) to collaborate on alternative energy projects. Under the terms of the agreement, the arboretum will fund energy-saving systems that RFSUNY’s Alfred State College will design and install at the arboretum. The goal is to broaden the application of emerging technologies by discovering ways to incorporate them into the landscape and nursery maintenance industry through demonstration projects at the arboretum. The connection between Alfred State and the arboretum was made at the Department of Agriculture’s second annual Bio Energy Awareness Days (BEAD II) held at the arboretum in June of 2008.

The partners’ first project was completed in March when a unique workshop combining lectures and hands-on learning resulted in the installation of the arboretum’s first solar-powered irrigation system. Alfred State College Assistant Professor Jeff Stevens and four of his students designed a system for a 3.5-acre research nursery field. They traveled to Washington during the college’s spring break to conduct a workshop for 14 participants, including the arboretum staff who would be using the system.

Preliminary work, such as the installation of the irrigation system and the pole used to support the solar panels, was coordinated by the arboretum’s botanist, Kevin Tunison. During the workshop, participants met each day for a week, beginning with classroom time in the morning, and ending the day in the field working on the installation. The participants, who ranged from interested homeowners to engineers, learned the fundamentals of planning, installing, operating and maintaining a battery-based photovoltaic system.

The system is now fully operational and will serve as an educational tool to raise awareness about renewable energy. It also represents a cost savings for the arboretum. The cost of the project was less than the estimate for running a new electric line to the site, and savings will continue as the panels re-charge the battery that powers the irrigation system.

The partnership continues with plans underway for additional solar-powered systems, including ones to supplement electricity for lighting, security cameras, fountains, and other needs. Excess power generated will be fed into the local power grid.

solar panel installation
Installation of the solar panels in the arboretum’s nursery field during the Alfred State College-led workshop.

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LGC logoUnique Exhibit Introduces Arboretum Visitors to New Plants

From June through October, visitors to the National Arboretum can explore a nursery catalog by walking instead of reading. The Living Garden Catalog is an indoor/outdoor exhibit that showcases 70 new plants developed by the nursery industry, including the arboretum’s Floral and Nursery Plant Research Unit. Visitors may view posters of the plants in the lobby and use a printed list to mark their favorites. They can then step out to the courtyard to view the plants in designed beds, judging their appeal and performance for themselves and noting which ones they would consider planting in their own gardens. 

Gardens Unit staff members Scott Aker, Chris Carley, and Bradley Evans worked together to contact nurseries throughout the United States, requesting that they send their best new plants, particularly those with an extended period of  ornamental interest and ability to withstand the heat and humidity of summer. As the horticulturist responsible for the New Introduction Garden, Evans made the final selections and designed the beds. He incorporated a variety of new trees and shrubs and unified the plant groupings with angelonia, ornamental millet, elephant ears, and ‘Silver Falls’ dochondra.

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greenhouseNew Greenhouse Complex Opens

In May, the arboretum moved into a new greenhouse complex built to replace the original one that was used for almost 40 years. The new range was a long time coming, having been planned over a six-year span, and is a welcome addition to state-of-the-art facilities on the grounds.  The complex has nine individual houses and a glass-covered corridor connecting them.

One of the highlights of the new complex is the space designed for propagation. The Gardens Unit and the Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit each have a propagation house, totaling 1500 square feet of space for seed germination and asexual propagation, among other things. The propagation benches have a mist system running on reverse osmosis water, which will alleviate problems of salt buildup seen with untreated water.  Each bench has individually controllable mist parameters (e.g. mist duration, frequency, and total runtime), as well as bottom heat, which is run by an on-demand water heater.  For environmental control, the propagation houses also offer solar shading, ridge vents, exhaust fans, and a fog system. The fog, which also runs on reverse osmosis water, will allow the staff to maintain desired relative humidity in the propagation houses to create ideal conditions for the plants there.

Across from the propagation houses is the tropical greenhouse, which is the largest individual house with 1200 square feet of growing space. That house also has fog available to maintain the humidity that is best for tropical plants.  Although there is no fog in the rest of the greenhouses, each of them has an evaporative cooling system in addition to the environmental controls. For the cold months, every house has perimeter heat, in addition to snow melting capacity to ensure the safety and longevity of the structure.

All of the new facility’s complex systems are both user-settable and automatically run by an ARGUS greenhouse hardware and software system. The days of scrambling to close vents during high wind are over. The new system uses its own weather station to continually monitor temperature, rain, and wind speed, so that it can shut vents when gusts get above a certain point.  And if something goes awry, the included alarms-system can automatically notify the right people to fix the situation.

The staff is very excited to have such dynamic growing spaces and plans to take advantage of all the new complex has to offer.

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Fern Valley Construction Completed

The construction project in the Fern Valley Native Plant Collection that began last year was completed this spring. Portions of the collection were opened on Mother’s Day and the entire collection re-opened by the end of May. In addition to the new trails, bridges, and viewing platforms, visitors will find a new shed that matches the rustic style of the bridges. Benches in the same style will be added in the future. Two new viewing platforms offer views of Fern Valley, and railing on the bridge over the pond spillway has improved the dam’s aesthetic quality and safety.  A new entrance provides a pedestrian-friendly connection to the National Capitol Columns and collections located near the Administration Building. The project is a major step in improving accessibility for handicapped visitors.

Work remains to plant areas disturbed by the construction, particularly the wetland near the new entrance. 

Fern Valley Fern Valley Fern Valley

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New Irrigation System Completed in Azalea Collection

The Azalea Collections are now watered by a new irrigation system. The system will save many hours of labor previously spent moving hoses to set up impulse sprinklers for watering. It should also result in conserving water since computerized control of the system allows for watering in the evening and morning hours exclusively, when water loss due to evaporation is minimized.  Most of the garden is now serviced by stationary risers with impulse sprinklers. A new connection to the irrigation water main has improved water pressure and will allow more water to be applied over a shorter period of time. State-of-the-art pop-up sprinklers will evenly distribute water in the beds inside the walled Morrison Garden. Flow meters will help staff track how much water is being applied for comparison to computer calculations of water applied.  Conveniently located hose bibs provide water to the Glenn Dale Hillside and will minimize the movement of hoses needed to water that portion of the collection. 

The next priority in the construction of new irrigation systems is the replacement of the defunct water line in the Japanese Pavilion at the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. Pending availability of funds, a new irrigation system will be designed and constructed in the Fern Valley Native Plant Collection.

Azalea Collection
Providing supplemental water to the Azalea Collections is now more efficient through an in-ground irrigation system.

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“Moon Tree” Planted on Earth Day

To celebrate Earth Day 2009, the U.S. National Arboretum partnered with NASA and American Forests, the oldest conservation organization in the country, to plant a Moon Tree on the grounds of the arboretum. These three organizations gathered at the arboretum on April 22 to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Apollo Mission. Apollo Mission 14 carried seeds of five different North American trees to the moon and back in 1971. Alan Ladwig, Senior Advisor at NASA; Deborah Gangloff, Executive Director of American Forests; and arboretum Director Thomas Elias each spoke briefly about the benefits of trees and forests before planting the Moon Tree, a selection of the eastern sycamore tree. This tree was progeny from the seed that was taken to the moon. American Forests continues the legacy of the unique Apollo-era program by maintaining second-generation Moon Trees and making them available through their Historic Trees Program.

The arboretum's Moon Tree sycamore was planted along the bank of Beech Spring Pond where it has ample room to grow to maturity as a large spreading tree.  According to Elias, sycamores are one of the oldest, most adaptable, and most stable of all flowering trees and have been living on this planet for over 100 million years. These and other trees sequester carbon dioxide, release oxygen, clean the air and water, and provide valuable habitat, food, lumber, medicine, and an essential element in our natural environment.

Moon Tree Planting
Arboretum Director Thomas Elias, American Forests Executive Director Deborah Gangloff, and NASA Senior Advisor Alan Ladwig participate in the ceremonial planting of the Moon Tree.

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Potomac Bonsai Festival Adds New Features

Thousands of visitors representing all levels of bonsai enthusiasts—from the curious observer to the accomplished artist—attended the Potomac Bonsai Festival held May 1-3 at the arboretum. The Potomac Bonsai Association, the National Bonsai Foundation, and the National Arboretum worked together to produce a three-day event, which featured three bonsai masters, an ikebana expert, a tent full of vendors, two special exhibits, and free and fee-based lectures, demonstrations and workshops. New to the festival this year were the Potomac Bonsai Festival Juried Show and several fee-based programs.

Each of the four visiting guest instructors provided unique programs through demonstrations, workshops lectures and critiques. David DeGroot, curator of the Weyerhaeuser Museum in Seattle; David Kreutz, nursery owner and satsuki azalea bonsai master; and Harry Hirao, “Mr. California Juniper;” all traveled great distances to share their extensive bonsai knowledge and  talent.  Bruce Wilson demonstrated the ancient Saga Goryu School of ikebana.

Vendors filled the sales tent to capacity and offered an extensive selection of bonsai plants and supplies. Potomac Bonsai Association members transformed the auditorium into an extensive exhibit with their finest bonsai creations. The PBA-sponsored juried show was held in the Special Exhibits Wing of the National Bonsai & Penjing Museum. PBA President Chuck Croft awarded special prizes to the winners at a National Bonsai Foundation reception held during the festival.

Building on the success of this year’s event, the three partners have already begun planning for next year’s festival.

Curator Jack Sustic, volunteer LeAnn Duling, and renowned bonsai master Harry Hirao demonstrate how to create a masterpiece to an overflowing tent full of spectators. Bonsai artist Carl Morimoto is working behind the tree.

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Arboretum Adds New Twist to Annual Trade Exhibit

The National Arboretum had a double booth at this year’s January Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show (MANTS), and for the first time all the units of the arboretum (Research, Gardens, Education and Visitor Services) were involved with the design and staffing. While traditionally the arboretum has treated MANTS as an opportunity to showcase its research unit, staff discovered that a high percentage of questions fielded in the past dealt with gardens, collections, and education. Therefore, the focus of the booth this year was on public outreach for the arboretum as whole. In addition, the researchers teamed up with garden staff to make personal visits to nurseries at their booths. The intent was to reconnect with past cooperators or maintain connections with current stakeholders and engage them in conversations regarding their familiarity with the National Arboretum, its plant releases and research, and garden collections.  As a bonus, each booth got a plant of one of the arboretum’s newest releases, Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Duet’ (a gift from the Friends of the National Arboretum).  Staff felt that the process was an excellent exercise in outreach and that it was well received by the industry. Industry members seemed to be receptive to the visit and appreciative of staffers stopping by to update them.  They also were intrigued by the offer of help on industry-related issues such as emerging diseases, plant importation, and new product developments. 

MANTS was incorporated in Maryland in 1970. Its co-sponsors are the state Nursery and Landscape Associations of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.  Now in its fourth decade, MANTS is a private green industry marketplace for finding plants and nursery stock, landscape and garden items, heavy and light duty equipment, tools, furniture and hundreds of other allied industry products and is one of the largest private trade shows serving the Horticulture Industry.

Staff distributed USNA’s Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Duet’ to members of the nursery trade during the annual Mid-Atlantic Nursery Trade Show in January.

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Green Committee

“Green” has two meanings for the National Arboretum: green spaces and gardens and green practices. To better address the latter, Director Thomas Elias created a Green Committee with representatives from all four of the institution’s units. The committee serves as an advisory group that promotes practices that reduce the environmental impact of all aspects of the arboretum. Its goal is to make the arboretum a leader in positive environmental practices and to educate our visitors about these practices.

Formed in the fall of 2007, the group’s first task was to conduct in-depth studies to evaluate current procedures. The arboretum already has many positive practices in place, including composting and reusing all plant waste, using rain barrels, reducing mowing areas, storm water management gardens, using maximum percent bio fuels in garden equipment, and now producing energy with our new solar power system.

After analyzing current practices, the committee decided on its first project, which was to increase the recycling program. Following recommendations by the committee, the arboretum purchased new recycling containers and placed them in offices and buildings and throughout the grounds so that staff and visitors may recycle paper, cardboard, bottles and cans. This has been very successful and has resulted in a significant increase in the amount of materials recycled. Other projects include the installation of more rain barrels and the coordination of trash clean up and invasive plant removal with the help of our volunteer coordinator. Upcoming projects include recycling plant containers (which are not included in normal recycling programs) and reducing unwanted junk mail such as catalogs.

Green Committee
Green Committee member Joan Feely takes advantage of the new recycling container located on the east terrace, the site of the weekend food cart and several picnic tables.

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Research Unit Undergoes Reorganization

In an effort to improve research efficiency and keep national research priorities aligned, four scientists and their support personnel from the Floral and Nursery Plants Research Unit have been moved to other labs in Beltsville. John Hammond, Ramon Jordan, and Qi Huang will join the Molecular Plant Pathology Lab (part of the Plant Sciences Institute), and Dilip Lakshman will be transferred to the Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab (part of the Animal and Natural Resources Institute). Fortunately, the expertise that these scientists take with them will still be available to remaining arboretum scientists through continuation of established collaborations. Margaret Pooler will serve as acting Research Leader for the next several months to guide the unit through the changes brought about by this reorganization.

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Integrated Pest Management Specialist Position Abolished

The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Specialist position in the Gardens Unit was abolished in May.

The Gardens Unit avoided the loss of five vacant positions last year when stakeholders successfully lobbied Congress to have $2,000,000 of proposed cuts to the Gardens and Education and Visitor Services Units restored.  In the spending bill, all but 6 percent of the proposed cut was restored to the units. The loss of these appropriated funds coupled with continuing increases in salary and operating expenses have made it necessary to abolish the only vacant position in the Gardens Unit. 

The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Specialist position was created in 1992. Scott Aker served in the position until his promotion to Gardens Unit Leader in 2004. The IPM program reduced the use of pesticides by 75% while greatly improving the health of gardens and collections. Christopher Carley was hired into the position in 2005 and held it until his promotion last spring to Supervisory Horticulturist.

Carley will retain some duties as pest management consultant to Gardens Unit staff, and curators will monitor their own collections for pests and diseases as time allows. Pest control technician Tony Vlahakis will continue to implement most of the pest and disease control measures in the gardens. 

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New Staff Members Join Gardens Unit

Two new horticulturists and two new garden technicians joined the Gardens Unit staff this spring.

Mariya Navazio will serve as horticulturist for the Conifer Collections. Supervisory Horticulturist Chris Carley will retain overall guidance of the development and improvement of the garden while Navazio takes over routine maintenance. She received her BS in Environmental Studies from Macalester College and her master’s from the University of Georgia. She worked at the Garden in the Woods as Nursery Manager. 

Christopher Upton moved from his term position as garden technician in the Asian Collections to the horticulturist position in the same collection. Supervisory Horticulturist Carole Bordelon will retain overall guidance of the development and improvement of the garden, but Upton has taken over routine maintenance. Upton has come full circle since he was first employed at the arboretum in 1991 by the Friends of the National Arboretum as gardener in the Asian Collections.  He served in a four-year term technician position in the Native Plant Collections and Grove of State Trees prior to moving to the Asian Collections.

Michael Rayburn is the new garden technician for the Native Plant Collections. He holds a BS in Environmental Horticulture and Natural Resources and is a native of eastern Tennessee. He most recently was employed as an arborist for The Care of Trees.

Jeanette Warriner started her permanent garden technician position in the National Herb Garden.  She holds a BA degree in Religion and Cultures and hails from Ohio. She served in a temporary garden technician in the National Herb Garden for several months prior to starting her permanent job.  She served as Herb Garden Intern last year. 

Mariya Navazio Chris Upton Michael Rayburn Jeanette Warriner
Mariya Navazio Christopher Upton Michael Rayburn Jeanette Warriner

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New Volunteer and Internship Coordinator Hired

Tanya Zastrow left her home state of Wisconsin in April to join the Education and Visitor Services Unit as the Volunteer and Internship Coordinator. She fills the first full-time, permanent position for this role. Previously the duties of the position were handled by other EVSU employees as an add-on to their jobs or by term or part-time employees.

In addition to her BS degree in Zoology and Biological Aspects of Conservation, Zastrow brings years of experience in volunteer and program management to her new role. For five years, she was the director of the Welty Environmental Center in Beloit, Wisconsin. As its first director, she created and implemented a wide range of educational activities for all ages. She recruited and trained interns and volunteers, as well as overseeing all financial and facility issues. Prior to her work at the Welty, Zastrow served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua. There she taught environmental education programs in urban and rural elementary schools, trained teachers to use participatory education methods while integrating environmental topics into the curriculum, and initiated several fund-raising activities.

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Last Updated   August 10, 2009 1:59 PM