The National Mall and the National Book Festival


     This past weekend I visited the National Mall to attend the National Book Festival that is held there every September.  It is the largest book festival in the US and features authors and poets from the US and other countries.  All genres were represented including fiction, history, children, mystery, poetry, biography.

     I had the privilege to hear Pulitzer Prize winners Steven Millhauser, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Marilynne Robinson speak, as well as Edgar award-winning mystery author Lisa Scottoline.

Pulitzer Prize winning author Steven Millhauser

     The National Mall is a national park administered by the National Park Service, and is commonly considered to be the area between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol, a distance of 1.9 miles.

The National Mall
     It is a stage for national events (such as Presidential inaugurations) and a national civic space for public gatherings (such as the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom).  There are many events (such as the Independence Day fireworks display), concerts, and festivals (such as the National Cherry Blossom Festival) that take place on the Mall every year, and it contains many memorials such as the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials and the World War II Memorial.  All of the Smithsonian museums that line the edges are part of the Mall.

Cherry blossom trees on the Mall
     The National Mall covers approximately 1,000 acres that the National Park Service must manage.  The acreage includes the grassy areas and gravel paths at the center of the Mall, over 20,000 trees, and thousands of flowers and shrubs.  Many of these trees are nationally significant, such as the 2,000 American Elms that line the Mall, and the Japanese Cherry trees around the Tidal Basin.

American Elm trees lining the Mall
     These culturally valued trees require exceptional care through a modern, urban forestry program that helps monitor the condition of the tree population.  A number of methods has been used to control Dutch Elm disease that first appeared in these trees in the 1950's such as pruning, injecting trees with fungicide, replanting with DED-resistant American Elm cultivars, trapping the insect vector (the European elm bark beetle), and spraying with insecticides.

US National Botanic Garden
      There are a number of gardens on the Mall, such as the Victory Garden and Heirloom Garden at the Museum of American History, the Native Landscape at the National Museum of the American Indian, and the US National Botanic Garden.

tulips on the Mall
     Every year thousands of tulips, pansies, and annuals are planted in over 170 flower beds on the Mall.  All of the attractions of the Mall make it one of the more heavily visited places in the National Park Service with approximately 25 million visitors each year.  The large number of visitors requires intensive and specialized management of the park's natural resources.  This brief overview is just a glimpse of the huge amount of plantings that must be managed on the Mall.

Franciscan Monastery Gardens


     I recently visited the gardens which surround the Franciscan Monastery and Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Washington, DC.  The cornerstone of the church was laid in 1898 and construction was completed in 1899.  The church was built in the neo-Byzantine style.  It was added to the US National Register of Historic Places in 1992.  The Franciscan order was founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the early 1200's.

     It has been years since my last visit to the gardens.  Since fall is near and the gardens are winding down, I did not see the gardens at their peak of bloom. 

     A statue of St. Francis surrounded by red salvia and yellow marigolds.

     The monastery is known for its extensive rose gardens.  There are still some roses blooming.

The Rosary Portico surrounds the church.  It contains fifteen chapels.  It resembles the Cloister of St. John Lateran in Rome.

     One of the many gardens containing white begonia and red salvia.

     Hosta in a shady spot at the side of the church.

     There are many outdoor shrines in the gardens.  This is part of the Lourdes shrine showing the peasant girl St. Bernadette surrounded by vinca and pink roses.

     On one of the many paths throughout the garden, I came upon a pond with lotus blossoms and fish.

     There are many benches throughout the gardens for rest and contemplation.

Plantings at Virginia Beach


Virginia Beach from our hotel room
     This past weekend our family went to Virginia Beach to get in some beach time before the weather gets too cool.  It is a resort area on the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern Virginia coastline.  This was the first time we've had a vacation or been to the beach since we moved to Virginia in May.

     I have not been to Virginia Beach in several years.  I recalled when I visited the area years ago that it was overrun with souvenir and t-shirt shops, pancake restaurants and crab houses.  It still has those, but I was pleasantly surprised that there were some new hotels and lovely landscaping along the fronts of the hotels and the boardwalk.  Here are some photos I took of the plantings while we were there.

pampas grass
     There is a median strip between the walkway/bikeway that runs in front of the hotels and the boardwalk that fronts the beach.  The major plantings here are pampas and other grasses, sedges and bushes.

looking down the walkway/bikeway

     The median strip also has some flowering bushes like these rose bushes.

hotel front landscaping

     The hotels have done a lot of beautiful landscaping like the above photo of coleus and geraniums.

hotel front landscaping

zinniaz, boxwood and palm trees

hotel landscaping

zinnias and coleus



     On our last day there we were rewarded with some dolphin sightings just offshore.  They are in the very center of the photo.  I'm glad we went when we did, because this week it has suddenly turned quite cool with lows in the low 50's at night and 70's during the day.  Fall is coming too quickly.

White House Kitchen Garden


first planting spring 2009
     I have just finished reading American Grown by Michelle Obama about the vegetable garden she started in March of 2009 on the White House south lawn.  The book flows smoothly and is easy reading. This is not a detailed how-to-garden book.  It is a chronicle of the planning, execution, trials, and mistakes in bringing about a functioning garden from planting, to harvesting, to consuming the bounty of the garden. There is a wealth of photos from 2009 to the present.

the book cover

     The main thrust of the book is to inspire all, children in particular, to plant and harvest their own garden, to experience how wonderful fresh-from-the-garden vegetables and fruits taste, and to think about the foods they are eating, and how it impacts health.

students planting spring 2009

     The first garden was planted in the spring of 2009.  All seeds and plants are organic and everything is organically grown.  Problems were encountered in the garden.  Heavy rains washed away the mulch.  The birds got all the blueberries despite the netting that was used.  Pumpkins did not do well because the seeds were planted too late.

garden beehive

     Along with the first planting was the installation of a beehive on the south lawn.  A local beekeeper, who also happens to be the White House carpenter, established the beehive in the spring of 2009.  The honey is not only used in the White House kitchen, but is also donated, and is given as gifts to visiting dignitaries and heads of state.

scouts and students plant the expanded garden 

     The garden was expanded in 2010 by 500 square feet to 1,600 square feet.  Although Mrs. Obama invited school children and scout troops to plant and harvest every year, she found that adults wanted to work in the garden also.  Hundreds of White House staff and the White House chefs all became involved in caring for the garden.  The garden became a welcoming place of learning and sharing.

the spring garden

     The garden changed the way the chefs cooked meals for the White House with vegetables becoming the new centerpiece for meals.  They started requesting that certain vegetables and herbs be planted.

hoop houses for growing winter vegetables
     In winter hoop houses were used to grow cold weather vegetables such as spinch, kale, chard, collards, and lettuces allowing the garden to produce year round.

first harvest fall 2009

     The garden also produces for the larger community.  About one third of what is produced is donated to an organization that provides meals for the homeless.

students eat what they harvested

     Additional sections in the book profile school and community gardens and recipes developed in the White House kitchen using vegetables and fruits from the garden.  Of particular interest to me were the garden designs for spring, summer, fall and winter that were included.  The White House garden has had widespread influence, and this book was inspiring to me.