Common Ground: Our American Garden

at the National Museum of American History

Visit the south terrace, Madison Drive entrance of the National Museum of American History, Behring Center to view Common Ground.

Flowers in the Common Ground garden A sculpture in the Common Ground garden Flowers in the Common Ground garden Flowers near a sidewalk in the Common Ground garden Flowers near stairs in the Common Ground garden

Common Ground: Our American Garden shares the stories of plants and how they are important to people in this country. Americans in history and Americans today have grown flowers and herbs as a way of honoring Memory, providing Healing, promoting Discovery and inspiring Ingenuity.


Native communities and newcomers have shared plants and adapted them for their own personal use. Many plants native to the Americas have been used for food and fiber and honored as elements of cultural heritage. People brought plants as heirlooms to evoke memories and to continue traditions.

Did you know? Often a fragrance can impact your strong sense of smell and bring back memories. The scent may be of a favorite dish or of the trees outside a relative’s house. What fragrant plants remind you of your heritage?

Digging deeper! Many of the plants in this garden are grown to remember heritage. They may come from a country of origin or they may grow natively here in America. They may provide flavor or fragrance to remind the gardener of family and home. Some heirloom plant varieties were developed in other countries, while other heirloom varieties develop locally over time as they are selectively passed down by seed and shared within families, communities and regions.


Many plants have a history of providing comfort, restoration, and inspiration. Different communities found medicinal purposes for plants and passed down knowledge from generation to generation. People sought answers for common ailments, spiritual needs, and general health. As communities met on American soil, they shared this knowledge. Healing the spirit through beauty and escape, people have used ornamental plants to enhance homes, parks, public spaces, cemetaries, and places of significance. Other plants have been used to heal the land itself.

Did you know? Herbal remedies remain popular today. However, medicinal plants can be toxic if used incorrectly, making helpful plants harmful. What plants are used for healing in your culture?

Dig deeper! Many of the plants in this garden are grown for traditional or modern medicinal qualities. In America, entire landscapes, parks and gardens have been cultivated to promote the health of people, especially as a respite to those in urban areas. New medicinal uses for plants and benefits of green spaces continue to be found today.


Many cultures contributed to America’s landscape. Each brought insights as people shared new and unfamiliar plants and their uses. Explorers, botanists, horticulturists, and home gardeners continue to introduce new plants to American gardens.

Did you know? Plants have traveled just as people have. They have their own methods of dispersal—wind, water, propulsion. Many plants are moved by people who find them useful. What plants have traveled with your family?

Dig deeper! Many of the plants in this garden have been discovered, collected or documented by Americans abroad or here at home, often as part of expeditions. New discoveries continue to be made in horticulture and plant science as new techniques are discovered for plant breeding and propagation.


Clever gardeners used plants to overcome obstacles, and found solutions to allow desired plants to thrive.

Whether with a lack of resources or an abundance of opportunity, many minds came together to create networks and industries to serve the public. Experimentation, invention, and a free economy provides a variety of opportunities to use plants today.

Did you know? Plants make up a good deal of our clothing, from the fiber to the dye to the rubber of our shoe soles. How many plants are you wearing?

Dig deeper! Many of the plants in this garden illustrate efforts by Americans to use unusual plants in unusual ways to make a product for personal use or for sale. Some of these plant uses have grown to industrial proportions. Some remain a fascinating thread in the fabric of the American garden story.

Community of Gardens

Community of Gardens

Do you have memories of a garden in your community, neighborhood or family?

Did you or someone in your family history grow a Victory Garden or pass along plants or seeds to family, friends and neighbors?

We invite you to share your own garden story with Community of Gardens.