During the recent government shutdown, Smithsonian horticulturist Virginia Thaxton continued to work. She walked into the closed, dimly lit, empty museums once a week.
“It was eerie,” she said of walking alone among the artifacts in the usually bustling buildings.
Thaxton also kept up her work at the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse, preparing for the annual Smithsonian Gardens and United States Botanic Garden (USBG) orchid exhibition, where hundreds of orchids are on display. The shutdown delayed the exhibition by only two weeks, because the horticulturists, gardeners and technicians were still working hard to keep the orchids and other rare plants healthy.
Both the Smithsonian and USBG have huge greenhouses that mimic the light, temperature and humidity of the plants’ native environments. The greenhouses are long, rectangular glass buildings that open into bays (hallways) large enough to drive a truck into so plants can be moved without being exposed to the elements.
In addition to 8,000 orchid plants, the Smithsonian Gardens Greenhouse in Suitland, Maryland, produces the plants inside and around all Smithsonian museums. There’s even a special greenhouse for the nectar-source plants that feed the butterflies in the butterfly pavilion at the National Museum of Natural History.