Grounds Care on a National Scale

  March 1, 2012

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, grounds care on a national scale.

Smithsonian Gardens has a great deal of experience contending with large numbers of visitors. The goal of the department — which is responsible for the design and maintenance of the gardens outside of Smithsonian Institution museums in and around the National Mall in Washington, D.C. — is to have the gardens open 364 days a year. Thirty million people visit the Smithsonian Institution grounds and museums annually.

The department's strategies offer valuable examples for organizations that must handle large numbers of people as they carry out their grounds care tasks.

Smithsonian Gardens tackles a range of projects each year. Barbara Faust, associate director of Smithsonian Gardens, along with the department's landscape architects, and the grounds and greenhouse managers, comprise a panel that reviews plans for these projects. The panel ensures projects are cost-effective and will not significantly increase maintenance requirements or compromise the visitor experience.

"Being on the National Mall as we are, we have to be very careful how we change the look of what we do," Faust says. "We have the Commission of Fine Arts and the National Capital Planning Commission that review it if it's a really big project that can have an effect on the look."

One major initiative is the construction of a security perimeter around the museums.

"After 9/11, all the buildings were trying to improve their perimeter security," Faust says. "First, it was done with temporary container plantings, but then (security officials) wanted it to be more permanent. So actual perimeters have been built around each of the museums. It's been done at the National Air and Space Museum and the National Museum of Natural History, and now it's in the process of being done at the National Museum of American History."

At the National Museum of Natural History, walls and large boulders comprise the perimeter. Smithsonian Gardens took action to ensure contractors building the perimeter did not damage large-specimen tree roots.

Whether Smithsonian Gardens is helping construct a security perimeter or acting as garden guards during events such as the 2009 presidential inauguration, Faust and her team play an integral role in the design, maintenance, and operations of the landscapes surrounding the nation's capitol.


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