Community of Gardens mobile app from Smithsonian Gardens

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A sampling stories from Community of Gardens. Clockwise from left: The Gandhi Garden, Four Generations of Gardeners, The Gardens at Chewonki, and J.E. Moate’s Garden. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Gardens.

Popular culture has recently taken a renewed interest in gardening—food gardening in particular. In 2014, Smithsonian Gardens created Community of Gardens, a crowdsourced initiative to preserve our vernacular garden heritage. Now, the free and newly-released Community of Gardens app allows people to easily explore the stories, videos, and images in the Community of Gardens digital archive in a mobile-friendly environment, as well as locate stories and gardens nearby.

Gardens by nature are ephemeral; they change from season to season, gardener to gardener. With the turn of a shovel or a backhoe, they are gone. We instinctively tell stories about our homes, our family, and our neighborhoods, but not the cultivated landscapes around us. Smithsonian Gardens seeks to preserve these fleeting stories of the vernacular gardens in our lives—as well as our encounters with gardens in public spaces—for future generations. The mission of Smithsonian Gardens is to enrich the Smithsonian experience through exceptional gardens, horticultural exhibits, collections, and education. Smithsonian Gardens creates and manages the Smithsonian’s outdoor gardens, interiorscapes, and horticulture-related collections and exhibits, including the Archives of American Gardens.

Born out of our Archives of American Gardens collection, Community of Gardens is an informal digital repository for stories of gardens and gardening in the United States. The website utilizes a customized Omeka-based framework from Curatescape and design by Cordyack Web Design. Anyone can contribute a story—from tales of family farms and kitchen gardens, to adventures in community gardening, to memories of visiting public gardens and green spaces. What have we grown? What do we value about gardening? How do gardens shape (and create) community? The topics of the contributed stories are wide-ranging both in scope and geography. Recent stories include a pollinator garden that also produces food for zoo animals in California, and a multi-generational story of vegetable gardening from Mola di Bari, Italy to Flushing, Queens.

We are continuing to grow Community of Gardens as a home for preserving stories, as well as a platform developing educational resources at the intersection of storytelling, archives, and horticulture. Forthcoming projects include cultivating partnerships with regional and national gardening organizations to collect stories from a wider audience, creating a garden story collecting handbook for educators and students, and expanding the number of online exhibits.

Do you have a garden story to tell? Share you story here or get in touch with us at [email protected]. Find the app in the Apple and Google Play stores.

~ Kate Fox is a museum educator and researcher with Smithsonian Gardens, and a student in the Graduate School of Library & Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island. She manages the Community of Gardens Project and is the curator of Patios, Pools, & the Invention of the American Backyard, a Smithsonian traveling exhibit.

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