As a vital and vibrant part of the Smithsonian experience, Smithsonian Gardens engages people with plants and gardens, informs on the roles both play in our cultural and natural worlds, and inspires appreciation and stewardship.
Smithsonian Gardens extends the Smithsonian’s museum experience in a public garden setting with over 180 acres of outdoor gardens including 13 public exhibition gardens often called the Smithsonian institution’s “museum without walls.” Staff also produces interior exhibits and horticultural displays around the Smithsonian, develops educational programing, and manages artifact, archival, and living collections.
S. Dillon Ripley was appointed the eighth Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in 1964. As Secretary, Ripley sought to develop surroundings for the Smithsonian museums that would be as engaging for visitors as the museums’ galleries and exhibits. He hired horticulturist James Buckler in July of 1972 to lead the Landscaping and Grounds section of the Buildings Management Department. In November of 1973, a Horticultural Services Division was established within the Office of Plant Services to enhance the landscaping outside the Smithsonian’s museums and add decorative greenery inside. In February of 1976, the Horticultural Services Division was renamed the Office of Horticulture within the Office of Museum Programs to recognize its role as a museum collecting program and establish horticulture as a part of the Institution’s research and education efforts.
In 2010, the horticultural program (at that time called Horticulture Services Division) was renamed Smithsonian Gardens in recognition of the meaningful role the gardens play in the Smithsonian visitor experience. At the time, the Smithsonian gardens received 30 million visitors a year, making them some of the most highly visited public gardens in the world. As living classrooms and urban sanctuaries, the Smithsonian gardens and landscapes provide a memorable and appealing destination for visitors, with interpretation that educates the public and supports the museums they surround. All the gardens have sustainable programs to attract native wildlife, from insects and local and migrating birds to mammals. Smithsonian Gardens was accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 2013, highlighting its role as an integral part of the Smithsonian’s research, display, and educational programs.