Friday, September 15, 2017

Fine art meets crafting in "Crown Yourself" workshop

By Sheon Wilson
Publications Coordinator

Come join us for a class where crafting meets fine art and creates a beautiful takeaway.

In one afternoon, “Crown Yourself: The Dolci Experience in Flowers and Art” will show you how to create art from everyday materials.

During this three-hour workshop on Sept. 23, co-hosted by Duke Gardens and the Nasher Museum of Art, participants will visit the Nasher’s Carlo Dolci exhibition and then head to Duke Gardens to craft their own crowns, wreaths or centerpieces.

Using botanical materials sourced at Duke Gardens, such as seed pods, fall foliage and berries, instructor Theo Roddy, a professional floral designer, will demonstrate how to craft your piece. Then Roddy will assist people individually as needed. Basic materials will be included, but participants are invited to bring lights or other embellishments.

Nasher Museum of Art staff will give the class a guided tour of “The Medici’s Painter: Carlo Dolci and 17th Century Florence,” which showcases the Italian art master’s eye for color, light and texture.

A celebrated artist of his day, Dolci often painted crowns of foliage on his subjects. That inspired “Crown Yourself.”

“We thought a class that requires slowing down would relate to Dolci, because he was known for his meticulous attention to detail,” said Jan Little, director of education and public programs at Duke Gardens. Dolci was known for spending a decade or more on one painting, resulting in incredible depictions of minute detail.

Roddy will discuss how to use different colors, textures and types of botanicals, and how to manipulate scale, form and light. Having learned about Dolci’s process should prove inspiring as you craft your own creation, Little said.

“Painters mix their color to their exact goals to illustrate light and shadow, but people who craft with natural materials fashion those materials to respond to existing light and shadow,” she said. “We look forward to exploring the contrasts and similarities between fine art and craft.”

Workshop details: Saturday, Sept. 23, 2 to 5 p.m. To register, please call 919-668-1707 or email For more information about this or our winter "Crown Yourself" workshop, please see the event page on our website.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Beetle infestation prompts tree removal

An arborist lowers a section of a dead tree in Duke Gardens.
By Sheon Wilson
Publications Coordinator

Crews are removing three pine trees in Duke Gardens' Culberson Asiatic Arboretum this week after detecting a virulent pest: the Southern pine beetle

The beetles have attacked two mature pines in Pine Clouds Mountain Stream, so arborists are removing the trees before the scourge spreads. A third vulnerable tree nearby will also be removed.
Southern pine beetle.
Photo by Marc DiGirolomo,
U.S. Forest Service

Visitors will be unable to walk through the Pine Clouds area during this work. They will be redirected with detour signs. We apologize for the inconvenience.

The work should take about three days; we will update here when it's finished. It requires taking down the trees one section at the time to avoid damaging the plants beneath. 

Southern pine beetles bore tiny holes
 into unhealthy pine trees.
During the two-year construction of the Japanese garden, which was completed in 2016, the weight of heavy equipment damaged some roots. That weakened the trees and prompted the beetles to move in. They bored tiny holes and ravaged the trees from the inside.

 “We noticed that the tops of the trees were brown; that appeared over a weekend,” said Bobby Mottern, director of horticulture. “Pine beetles are notorious for detecting trees that have been weakened.”
When pine trees are infested with Southern pine beetles,
as is the tree in the forefront, they look brown and weak.

Southern pine beetles are common, native insects. They know when a tree is stressed - by compacted soil or even drought, for instance - because the tree sends out a pheromone that the beetle detects. 

Once that happens, it’s hard to stop the beetles’ damage without fully removing the tree. Keeping trees healthy is about the only way to prevent infestations.

All photos by Sheon Wilson, except where noted.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Citizen Science: Children Help Crowdsource Vital Data

By Sheon Wilson
Publications Coordinator

Undaunted by drizzle, 13 teens and preteens scurried outside, umbrellas, clipboards and data sheets in hand.

Raindrops fell on blooming water lilies, lotuses and other aquatic plants floating on a pond wrapped in flagstone and populated by frogs, turtles and a wide variety of insects at all stages of their life cycle.

In their T-shirts, shorts, sneakers and sandals, the teens and preteens looked like students enjoying a summer break. But their mission was bigger. They were citizen scientists, collecting data on dragonflies.

Citizen science, which involves members of the public in gathering and analyzing data to aid professional researchers, helps to advance global scientific knowledge. People of all ages and identities can participate in scientific research from anywhere in the world, sometimes providing crucial local data unavailable in laboratories.

At Duke Gardens, these young “dragonfly detectives” were enjoying a weeklong citizen science workshop, one of a wide array of programs that Duke Gardens offers to introduce children and families to the wonder and complexity of the natural world.

On the first day of “Dragonfly Detectives,” participants learned the five dragonfly species they would observe during the week. In the next few days, students also learned about dragonfly behavior, life cycle, and how to differentiate dragonfly nymphs from other aquatic insects.

Sheya, a rising sixth-grader, recorded tips for spotting common whitetail dragonflies in her field journal. They’re shorter than other dragonflies, she wrote. The females have brown abdomens, and all have blackish-brown bands on their wings. “This makes me feel needed because this stuff is going into real research,” she wrote about being a citizen scientist.

Like professional scientists, the children made hypotheses about dragonflies before they ventured out the next day. “I believe the worst weather for a dragonfly will be rain, even though they have muscles on each wing,” Jeremiah wrote in his “Dragonfly Detectives” journal.

Day two was drizzly, but the children headed outdoors with data sheets and simple devices. They recorded the number and types of dragonflies observed, wind direction and speed, humidity, amount of sunlight and more. Sixth-grader Alexander, carefully inspecting the pond’s edge, retrieved a dragonfly exuvia, the inflexible exoskeleton that the insect molts, or sheds, several times in its short life.

The rain seemed to discourage dragonflies from gathering en masse around the pond. But the children’s newly trained eyes caught a few.

“That one looks like a green darner,” sixth-grader Jeremiah said, “but I think it’s a look-alike.”

Campers identified a wandering glider early in the day. But they did not see any dragonflies during their official three-minute count, one of two data collection exercises they did that day.

Students were initially dismayed with their official counts of “0,” but Anderson brought them back to the scientific process and their hypotheses about dragonfly behavior in the rain. Even seeing nothing is data to report. What did their data teach them?

By seeing no dragonflies in the dismal weather, Jeremiah had gathered evidence to support his hypothesis that the worst weather for dragonflies is rain. This and other results uncovered by the “dragonfly detectives” would be sent on to the statewide project to contribute to large-scale scientific research.

That resonated with the students. “I feel good because people are actually listening to children and collecting information from them,” said Freya, a sixth-grader. “I feel honored!”

Students continued questioning, exploring, and discovering over the rest of their week as citizen scientists. They formally presented their findings, and left with even more questions.

Inquiry based outdoor exploration plays a role in all classes and workshops on Duke Gardens’ fall/winter roster, from Nature for Sprouts (for children ages 3 to 5) to the Artists in the Gardens series (ages 9-12) and the Naturalist series (ages 5-6 or 7-9). Please see Duke Gardens’ website for a full schedule of children and family offerings and programs for school groups, and to register online.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Cultivate Creativity at Middle School Camp

Teens and tweens may work on visual art, music,
journaling or poetry at Artists in the Gardens camp.
Photo by Kavanah Anderson.
By Sheon Wilson

Camper Sonata squatted down to look into Duke Gardens’ Millstone Pond for signs of turtles, her braided hair falling over the collar of her cartoon bear raincoat. She concentrated intensely.

“Do you see it, Sonata?” Nature Adventures Camp counselor Hope Wilder asked, as a dozen other grade school students craned their necks to see. “Its little head is rising over the water.”

Sonata, her eyes glistening, smiled and nodded excitedly.

Those 10 minutes spent sharpening their powers of observation enhanced the artwork the campers would create later that week, including nature journals, drawings and craft projects. Teens and tweens entering grades six through eight will get a similar opportunity to explore the relationship between art and science in Duke Gardens’ Artists in the Gardens day camp that runs from Aug. 7 to 11.

“It’s my philosophy to give them a choice and see what they make,” Wilder says. “The idea is that the same observation skills that apply to science apply to art. We provide the materials and the framework, but what the kids do with it is up to them.”

Picking their own materials and type of art is part of the fun. Campers might use mixed-media, sculpture, music, poetry or drawing for their art project. In addition to learning about the formal elements of art, campers will experience the way garden design affects what they observe during their garden explorations.

During Sonata's camp in June for children entering third through fifth grade, the children walked along a stream near the Iris Bridge in the Historic Gardens, clutching small nets and craning their necks to see whether tiny fish or tadpoles would swim by.

“Don’t fall in ‘accidentally on purpose,’ because the point is to keep the animals safe,” Wilder said, after passing out plastic containers that the children would use to hold what they caught. “If you catch these little creatures, please keep them for only 10 minutes, because there isn’t enough air for them to breathe longer than that.”

A camper named Anna stared into the water for a couple of minutes before declaring, “We can’t see to the bottom. There are no fishes here.”

“It takes time to find them,” Wilder said, knowing that the more the children embrace stillness, the more they will notice all the wonders of the world around them. “The fish like to hide in the bushes and grasses so you can’t get them. You have to be patient until they are ready to come out.”

Teen campers will also have ample chance to deeply explore Duke Gardens. Then as they delve into artwork in their choice of media, their observations about nature’s beauty, logic and mysteries will further inform their art.

“The goal is for teens to be immersed in this process that encourages their creativity,” says education program coordinator Kavanah Anderson. “Art is the basket that holds all the elements of the camp.”

REGISTER NOW: Artists in the Gardens camp will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. August 7 to 11. There is no after-care for this camp, but we will offer an afternoon Citizen Science program for middle-school students. For more information about Duke Gardens’ themed Nature Adventures Camp summer and spring break camp series, or to register for the teen camp, please see our camps web page.

Blogger Sheon Wilson is Duke Gardens’ publications coordinator.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Pergola Area Closed Briefly for Renovation

The pergola and Terrace Gardens in springtime. Photo by Lori Sullivan.
By Sheon Wilson

Visitors seeking to see Duke Gardens’ iconic pergola will need to do so from a distance for the next few days.

Crews are cleaning the pergola’s metal surface to remove corrosion that could endanger the structure. Restoration began today and is expected to be completed by Friday. The pergola is closed during the restoration, along with the upper terrace and the portion of the Perennial AllĂ©e that leads from the Blomquist Garden through the Azalea Court and to the Spengler Camellia Garden. Detour signs direct visitors around the work.

Native wisteria on the pergola in spring.
Photo by Sue Lannon.
“We’re doing a complete removal of the corrosion and paint,” said Bobby Mottern, the director of horticulture at Duke Gardens. “We decided to take everything back down to bare metal. We’ve never done that before.”

Crews are using a vapor blaster, which is similar to a sandblaster but incorporates water to cut down on dust, Mottern said. The blasting is done with recycled glass, which is ground to a sand-like consistency that won’t harm the metal and doesn’t contain shards that could cut someone. Once the surface is clean, the pergola will be repainted to its original color.

The pergola underwent a major renovation in 2014, including removal of the original invasive Chinese wisteria. You can read more about that project on our website. We apologize for the inconvenience to our visitors, but we hope this improvement will keep the pergola and wisteria looking beautiful for decades to come.

Blogger Sheon Wilson is the publications coordinator at Duke Gardens.

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Closer Look: Rhododendron Prunifolium

By Stefan Bloodworth
Photos by Sheon Wilson

It is somewhat fitting that Rhododendron prunifolium, the latest-blooming of our native azaleas, was the last of that group to be discovered and described by botanists. Native to the thickly vegetated, bottomland streams that crisscross the southern border counties of Georgia and Alabama, the plumleaf azalea proved to be a hard plant to find for centuries.

It was Roland Harper, one of the pioneering botanists of the Deep South, who first found the species in Randolph County, Georgia, in 1903. Working with one of Harper’s herbarium specimens from that trip, botanist John Kunkel Small decided upon the name Azalea prunifolia in 1913. In years to come, the species was reclassified as a member of the genus Rhododendron.

First displayed publicly at the Arnold Arboretum in 1918, Rhododendron prunifolium has garnered much horticultural praise for its large stature, its long, elegantly protruding stamens, and its vibrant reddish-pink blooms, which come forth in mid-summer—appreciably later than its 27 native Rhododendron cousins, most of whom are early to mid-spring bloomers.

Rhododendron prunifolium is endemic to a very small portion of the deep South, and it has been noted in recent years that this limited range has made the species quite vulnerable to habitat disturbance. As a result, it is listed as a threatened species by both national and global plant conservation organizations. In the Blomquist Garden, a sizable stand of this showy native can be found adjacent to the Edwin F. Steffek Jr. Bridge and Fern Grotto.

This plant highlight first appeared in "A Closer Look" in Duke Gardens' 2015 Flora Magazine. It is currently blooming in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants.

Stefan Bloodworth is the curator of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. Sheon Wilson is the  publications coordinator at Duke Gardens.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Class Preview: A Potted Herb Garden

Chives in the Discovery Garden. Photo by Karen Webbink
By Annie Yang

Pineapple sage adds sweetness to desserts and drinks.
Photo by A. Yang.
Duke Gardens in the springtime is bursting with thousands of stunning, eye-catching blooms and plants. But some of the plants here can do more than just brighten up a garden—they can spice up your recipes!

The herb garden in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden is a perfect place to visit to familiarize yourself with a great variety of culinary herbs, as well as herbs with other uses. And you can create your own container herb garden, and learn how to help it thrive, in "A Potted Herb Garden," a 3-hour hands-on class on Saturday, April 22, with horticulturist and garden designer Lauri Lawson (more info below).

You’ll find some of the most frequently used herbs right in the Discovery Garden, including sage, thyme and sorrel. These and other herbs are quite versatile and can be found in drinks, salads, sauces, and dishes both savory and sweet.

Red-veined sorrel has a tart flavor. Photo: Yang.
Sage is often paired with rich, fatty meats and other savory dishes for its pungent taste, but in the Discovery Garden, you may stumble across another variety of this plant. Pineapple sage makes a wonderful addition to sweet desserts and beverages. It can be incorporated into batter to make pineapple sage pound cake, or it can be crushed and added to cool drinks perfect for the rising temperatures. There are many possibilities to be explored with this herb, and it is not frequently found in grocery stores, so growing pineapple sage in your garden is a great decision. Your palate and stomach will thank you.

The herb garden is also home to many different varieties of thyme, including silver common thyme and lemon thyme. Thyme is a savory herb, somewhat spicier than oregano and sweeter than sage, and it works well in sauces, soups and marinades. Lemon thyme, however, is a sweeter variety and not as bitter as its cousins such as silver common thyme. As you might have guessed, lemon thyme has a lemony flavor and is great in salads, teas and meats. Thyme is another versatile herb that makes a fantastic addition to a number of different dishes and to any herb garden.

Lemon thyme is great in salads, teas & meats.
Photo: Yang.
The bloody dock or red-veined sorrel is another herb that can be found in the Discovery Garden. Its blood red veins stand out against its green leaves and make this plant a real attention grabber. But this sorrel has both form and function. Its leaves are best eaten raw or cooked when they are young and haven’t become too tough or bitter to consume. This sorrel’s somewhat tart and spinach-like taste, as well as its striking colors, can make a salad a little more exciting.

These herbs and their uses are just a small sample of the variety of herbs you can learn about in the Discovery Garden and grown in your home garden.

We hope you'll join us for Lauri's "Potted Herb Garden" class, where participants can broaden their horticultural and culinary horizons with growing information and recipes, and create a 6-plant potted herb garden in a 10-inch nursery container to bring home and grow with confidence. The potted garden options for class may include the following: rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, basil, chives or mint.


April 22, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Location: greenhouse classroom
Fee: $55 Gardens members; $65 general public.
To register: 919-668-1707.

Blogger Annie Yang is a Duke freshman and a work-study marketing assistant at Duke Gardens.