How does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockleshells and pixels all in a row.

Victorians preserved pressed flowers as keepsakes but you can hardly press an iron garden bench into an album. Nathan Anderson takes us behind the scenes as as the Garden Furnishings collection is digitized.


Purple flowers with urn in background

Large camas (Camassia leichtlinii) frame an urn from the Garden Furnishings and Horticultural Artifacts Collection in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. (Via Smithsonian Gardens Instagram)

Think of the many ways that horticulture—flowers, houseplants, fruits and vegetables—affects our lives and surroundings each and every day. Plants appeal to many of our senses; they attract us by their color, and appearance, and sometimes by the way they smell or taste. Smithsonian Gardens not only create and maintain our ever-changing living collections but also preserve and showcase the artifacts that demonstrate how horticulture has played a vital role in supporting and embellishing society for hundreds of years.

The Smithsonian Digitization Program Office recently finished digitization of Smithsonian Gardens’ Garden Furnishings and Horticultural Artifacts Collection. This collection preserves and showcases examples of how gardens and horticulture have played a vital role in supporting and embellishing society for hundreds of years.

Cast iron urn

Cast iron urn, circa 1870-1900, dragon handles with garland motif. From the Smithsonian Gardens’ Garden Furnishings and Horticultural Artifacts Collection.


Garden urn handle

Detail of dragons on handle. This ornate urn speaks to the Victorian era’s (1837-1901) love of highly decorated objects. Garden furnishings from this time featured any number of ornamental embellishments ranging from leaves, branches, and berries to animals (real and fantastic), garlands and swags.


Composite photo of posey holders

Various Posey Holders from the Horticultural Artifact Collection

The collection includes over a thousand garden furnishings from the latter half of the Victorian era (1837-1901), including benches and urns, as well as late 19th-/early 20th-century artifacts related to the horticulture trade, gardening, decorative arts, interior home accessories, and floral arrangements. These items—ranging from delicate bouquet holders worn as both fashionable ornaments and utilitarian objects to massive and ornate cast-iron fountains—help document America’s rich garden heritage so that it can be better understood, appreciated, and enjoyed today and in the future.

Photo shoot

Staff from the Digitization Program Office photograph an urn from the Smithsonian Gardens’ collection. (Photo by Nathan Anderson)


Group photo

From left, object handlers Kimberly Alston, Thomas English, and photographer Rick Coulby. (Photo by Nathan Anderson)

Nathan Anderson is a program officer for the Smithsonian Digitization Program Office.

Posted: 24 September 2018
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The Torch relies on contributions from the entire Smithsonian community.