This Week's Podcast: A Capital Gardener
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Janet Draper is the horticulturist at the Smithsonian Institute’s Mary Livingston Ripley Garden. This one-third-acre sliver of land, designed by Landscape Architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen, is wedged between the historic Arts and Industries Building and the Hirshhorn Museum on the National Mall. The US Capital is 9 blocks to the east and the Washington Monument is 5 blocks to the west.
“I am told quite often by total strangers, ‘You have the BEST job,’” said Draper. This is probably not something just every Federal employee is told, but I do know that I am fortunate’ she added. “I am paid to play in the dirt and talk to people from around the globe.”
Some gardeners would mind being interrupted constantly by visitors, but Janet takes it in her stride. That is except in a few cases, “Most visitors to the garden are extremely respectful and I get great joy and self satisfaction watching them explore my efforts,” she said. Some people take seeds, fruits, giant cuttings or steal entire plants. The most severe challenge to the garden took place during the 2009 inaugural celebrations. Temporary six-foot-tall fencing protecting the Ripley Garden was breached by the crowds and the garden was left in ruins. “I was devastated; however the outpouring of affection for this little garden was beyond my comprehension. I had no idea that the garden and I had so many friends and supporters.” She was also surprised that most of the plants slowly made a comeback.
We sometimes talk about putting the garden to bed at this time of year, but the Ripley Garden cannot sleep since the public visits it year-round. So Janet is always thinking of ways to create interest from plants and things. After putting in some 1500 bulbs, she “planted” 900 lbs. of recycled and tumbled pieces of blue glass in the antique fountain – the focal point of the garden.