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Garden(er) of the Week: Joseph Brunetti of Smithsonian Gardens

Joe BrunettiMeet a Gardener: Joseph Brunetti, horticulturalist for the Smithsonian Gardens. Joe designs, installs and maintains the gardens around the National Museum of American History, which includes the Victory Garden.

One of Joe’s themed gardens is the fusion bed that flanks the south side entrance to the National Museum of American History. Using sweet-smelling plants from every continent in the world, Joe builds what he calls a “curtain of fragrance.” Visitors rushing into the museum from the National Mall often stop in their tracks to inspect the plants that perfume the air. The hope is a familiar scent will trigger a memory from the individual’s past and prepare visitors for more garden exploration and the historical exhibits within the museum.

The more you look at Joe’s Victory Garden, the more you’ll see. Victory Gardens from the 1940’s would typically utilize row cropping, but Joe’s practice of companion planting, gives a less structured—but perhaps a more beautiful—look to the garden.

How to smell herbs, according to a Smithsonian horticulturalist: Tousle the leaves. The essential oils will release better if you gently jostle the plants, being careful not to pull off leaves or uproot it. If you visit the Victory Garden next spring, try to find (and smell): oregano, anise, patchouli, calamintha and several different types of basil.

Let’s get to the real dirt. Joe told us not to overlook the importance of garden soil, especially in food production. He suggests soil is “grown” before any plants. The easiest way to know what you have under your feet is to have soil tested. With your results, you’ll have a more complete picture of your soil’s makeup, nutrients and deficiencies—not to mention insight into the millions of microorganisms that will help your plants grow organically. Joe says that soil is the life-force of plants, and that gardeners who take care of their soil will be rewarded with bigger, healthier, more yielding plants with less input.

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