Common Ground: Our American Garden
Exploring historic and contemporary America through the lens of plants.
Common Ground: Our American Garden shares the stories of plants and their importance to people in this country. The colorful landscape features flowers, herbs, and other plants selected for their importance to Americans as ways of honoring Memory, providing Healing, promoting Discovery, and inspiring Ingenuity.
Installed in 2017, Common Ground: Our American Garden is located in the raised planting beds flanking the National Museum of American History’s south entrance facing the National Mall.
The garden complements themes found in the National Museum of American History’s Many Voices, One Nation exhibition.
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 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 grow natively here in America. They may provide flavor or fragrance to remind a gardener of family and home. Some heirloom plant varieties were developed in other countries, while others developed locally over time as they were 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 this 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 reflection, people have used ornamental plants to enhance homes, parks, public spaces, cemeteries, 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 including wind, water, and 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 here at home or abroad, often as part of expeditions. New discoveries continue to be made in horticulture and plant science as cutting-edge techniques are discovered for plant breeding and propagation.
Clever gardeners use plants to overcome obstacles and find solutions to allow desired plants to thrive.
Whether spurred on by a lack of resources or an abundance of opportunity, many minds have come 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 unexpected 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.
Smithsonian Gardens Digital Backgrounds
Download these scenes from Smithsonian Gardens to use as your desktop background, or on your next Zoom meeting!