After flourishing for five years, the Green Scene, the National Park Service's popular Summer in the Parks program for area gardeners, is dead.
"It was experimental and I'm told such programs only have a natural life span of about five years," said Franziski Hecht, the Green Scene coordinator who now works with Smokey the Bear and other Park Service interpretive programs.
This summer saw the last of te Green Scene "Lunch Bunch" - horticulturalists who put on plant shows and answered questions for noonday crowds in Washington's downtown parks, as well as conducting gardening workshops, lectures, and a telephone and mail answering service for area residents with plant questions and publishing dozens of pamphlets on plants.
The Green Scene even toyed briefly with house calls to sick plants, plants too large and ill to make it to a Park Service horticulturalist or the Green Scene headquarters in the old Klingle Mansion in Rock Creek Park. But the home visits were dropped "when we got hundreds of calls from all over, even from West Virginia," requesting someone from the Park Service to come out and look at their house plants, Hecht said.
One reason the Park Service created Green Scene was because the District had no agricultural extension service - as all states do - to help its residents and businesses with garden and house plant problems, said Hecht. The city now has a thriving program, however, "which makes Green Scene somewhat unnecessary and which I guess was another reason it was dropped," Hecht said.
The city began organizing such an extension service plant program in 1972, the same year Green Scene did plus some it didn't do, such as soil tests, according to William B. Easley, director of the extension horticulture program. It has a "Hortline" to answer garden and indoor plant questions (282-7400, weekday mornings), and gives free courses at libraries and the University of D.S. It also makes "block calls, but not house calls," to help neighorhoods with their garden problems, Easley said.
More than 30 area residents a day still call the old Green Scene number to ask plant advice, and letters containing dead leaves and bugs still arrive almost daily for diagnosis, said local Park Service spokesman George Berklacy, but all plant inquiries from District residents are being referred to the "Hortline" and the others are being referred to Virginia and Maryland agricultural extension agents.
"The Green Scene was probably the most popular program in the Park Service here as far as public acceptance and participation - but it was a program whose time had come." Berklacy said.
While Green Scene cars and trucks will no longer be seen around town, the voice of the Green Scene Lady will still be heard in the land. Hecht's weekly Green Scene radio program (Friday noons on WAMU-FM) in which listeners call in with plant problems for her to solve, continues despite the demise of Green Scene itself.
And the most popular of the dozens of Green Scene publications produced by Hecht, the 61-page handbook on Care and maintenance of Common Household and Office Plants, is still being sold by the Government Printing Office. More than 47,700 copies of the 1973 publication, written and illustrated by Hecht and former Green Scener Mary L. Anderson, had been sold by GPO as of last week.
It was produced at the height of the Green Scene era, when the Lunch Bunch of hourticulturalists were in downtown parks almost daily, accompanied by band music, and Green Scene pamphlets and community garden newspapers poured forth from a full-time staff five.
By last summer, only Hecht and an assistant were left. Hecht still worked seven days a week during much of the summer, although she no longer attempted to pay weekly visits to each of the Park Service's 10 community gardens or the Green Scene youth gardens. But she did continue to put on workshops at Glen Echo and the Rock Creek Nature Center.
"This summer was just mad - besides the workshops and just answering the phone and letters we had a big exhibit at the annual Tyson's Corner horticultural show, and gardens for the severely retarded and the deaf - one at Gallaudet College - and all sorts of things," Hecht said.
Although not a horticulturalist herself. Hecht's knowledge and enthusiasm about plants had made her a kind of Julia Child in Washington's gardening community for the past five years. The daughter of what she calls "fanatic gardeners," Hecht arrived on the Green Scene within a few weeks of its launching in 1972.
"I had called the Park Service because I had an ailing, hopelessly potbound orange tree - oranges are not my strong suit - and talked to Bill Scarborough, a wonderful field horticulturalist who started Green Scene and now is with the National Arboretum. He diagnosed it as chlorosis, iron deficiency," said Hecht, "and when I later decided I needed a job - I had just adopted two boys - I called him back."
It was the perfect job, she said, because "I have always loved plants and people and like getting them together."