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. “His 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.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fun Alternatives to Easter Egg Hunts

Enjoy tree peonies and other flowers in bloom during
Easter weekend at Duke Gardens. Photo by Sue Lannon.

Easter egg hunts are great fun in your home, but they can create problems in Duke Gardens. We want to remind visitors that Easter egg hunts are not permitted in Duke Gardens, and to offer some fun ways for visitors—particularly youngsters—to celebrate Easter and enjoy all springtime visits together.

Why no Easter egg hunts at Duke Gardens? We ask visitors to refrain from egg hunts so that we can keep the fragile plants in this botanic garden safe from excited little hands and feet searching high and low for eggs and candies. We also ask visitors to help protect wildlife, so animals and birds won't try to eat the large number of forgotten eggs and candies later. Many people are unaware that chocolate can be especially harmful to dogs, and we want our visiting dogs to be safe, too. (In related news, please note that dogs are only

What to do instead? We'd love to hear your ideas. Here are some of ours:

Explore the Discovery Garden to see blueberries, kale, chard, peas, mustard and other yummy foods being grown. For children who've only ever seen these foods on a plate or in a grocery store, seeing where the plants are "born" can be fun.

* Play a game of Search with Your Eyes (not hands, please): Kids can have lots of fun looking all over the Gardens for signs of spring, from new buds to colorful blossoms. How many times can they find their favorite color? How about familiar shapes that appear in leaves and flowers? How many circles, triangles or squares can you find? If you visit our information desk before heading out into the Gardens, we'll give you a free Scavenger Hunt for young visitors to follow.

Fun activities to print out in advance: Plan your family visit ahead of time with the following fun activities: Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden Exploration; Gardens Scavenger Hunt for Preschoolers; Sensory Scavenger Hunt; Structures Scavenger Hunt.

Bird watch: From a great blue heron to a red-tailed hawk, a black-necked swan and many other species, lots of birds will be enjoying the spring weather in the Gardens this weekend. How many different birds can you spot? Any you've never seen before? Check out the informational signs at the Asiatic Arboretum Pond or the Bird Viewing Shelter in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, and you can write down species names to learn more about when you get home.

* Shutterbug Madness: We'd love to see your favorite photos that celebrate spring in Duke Gardens. Please share them on our Facebook page, on Instagram (@sarahpdukegardens or tag #dukegardens) or email them to

*Easter Sunday Service: Join Duke Chapel Sunday for a 6:30 a.m. Easter Sunrise Service on the South Lawn of Duke Gardens. If you're coming for the sunrise service, please don't forget to bring a flashlight to help find your way to the lawn in the morning darkness, and a towel to wipe the dew from your chairs. If it rains, the services will be in Duke Chapel.

Thank you for joining us in celebrating spring and protecting the plants and animals that we all love.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. Duke Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Event Preview: Shinrin Yoku Meditative Walks

The Historic Gardens and Iris Bridge.
Duke Gardens visitors often remark that they feel calmer and more focused after a stroll through the Gardens. Consider taking this benefit to the next level by joining forest therapy instructor Dana Malaguti for a Shinrin Yoku meditative walk. You can opt for a 1.5-hour session (May 18) or a 3-hour session (April 27 or June 8). Dana spoke with us about this intriguing practice that is gaining popularity.
Fountain at the entrance to the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum.

In what ways is being in nature calming, and how does Shinrin Yoku enhance that effect?

People seem to be “wired” for nature – we evolved out of the forests and, deep inside, we recognize the forest as home. Shinrin Yoku helps us tap into that calming space of nature with a mindfulness approach.

Shinrin Yoku translates as “taking in the forest atmosphere” through our senses.  A walk in nature can calm and soothe the mind, and in the process change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our overall mental health. Research studies demonstrate that Shinrin Yoku reduces stress and promotes health by improving our cardiovascular and immune systems as well as elevating our mood and increasing our ability to learn.
The Memorial Garden.

How might a typical Shinrin Yoku gathering unfold?

It begins with an introduction and overview of the walk. I will guide you to an immersive experience through sensory invitations. As I've led these walks I've been surprised at how powerfully these simple invitations connect people to the environment around them and their own emotions.

This walk, which is under a mile, is not exercise or hiking. It is a wellness practice that encourages slowing down, walking, sitting, breathing, observing and opening up your senses to the world of nature in the present moment. We will end our walk with a refreshment that is grown in nature, so we will leave our experience with the forest inside of us.

Is there an age limit for this class, or can children participate?

For this particular group, I would say 18 years old and older is ideal.  This is a very mindful and personal practice for each individual. However, there is not an age limit if a particular individual is mature and understands the guidelines.
The Virtue Peace Pond.

What if I have a hard time walking, or if sitting still and trying to meditate hasn’t worked for me in the past?

The walking time is very slow and mindful. And if people have a hard time sitting still, movement is encouraged. Some people start doing yoga poses during an invitation. They may choose to wander, make art, do journaling or do something playful. While Shinrin Yoku is an organized practice, there is no “right way.”

Can I learn to practice Shinrin Yoku in my own back yard or neighborhood park?

Bird Viewing Shelter in the Blomquist Garden. 
Yes. Many people who have gone on one of my walks have found them to be so beneficial that they have created walks of their own. Others have shared that they have found “sit spots,” a place where they sit in nature and tune in to their senses on a regular basis.

Photos by Duke Gardens volunteer photographer Lori Sullivan.

3-hour walk (April 27 or June 8), 5:30-8:30 p.m. $55 for Gardens members; $68 general public.
1.5-hour walk (May 18), 6:30-8 p.m. $45 for Gardens members; $55 general public.

For more information:
April 27
May 18
June 8

To register, please call 919-668-1707 or email

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Spring Plant Sale Preview: Herb Garden in a Box

We’re excited to continue our “in a box” plant sale feature that we launched at our fall sale, this time with an Herb Garden in a Box.

You can mix and match your favorite organic herbs to create a ready-to-go garden at $18 for 6 plants at our Spring Plant Sale on Saturday, April 1, 8 a.m. to noon. We’ll even have a few veggies eligible for the mix. How can you lose?

In addition, Gardens members get 10% off all plants — making the in-a-box feature an even bigger bargain! Members also get first dibs via our Member Preview Sale on Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Urge your friends and family to join as well, so you can shop together! Learn more about the sale and membership here.

Need advice? Our expert horticulturists will be available to answer any questions you may have.

Here’s a sampling of what we’ll be offering:

bronze fennel
lemon verbena
mint 'Julep'
mint 'Mojito'
golden oregano
rosemary 'Foxtail'
rosemary 'Gorizia'
tricolor sage
English thyme
aloe vera

Hope to see you at the sale!

: Saturday, April 1, 8 a.m. to noon. Free admission & parking. Please bring wagons/carts and boxes if you have them.

MEMBER PREVIEW SALE: Friday, March 31, 4-6 p.m. Sign up or renew your membership online in advance or on site. Your support helps Duke Gardens preserve the Duke and Durham communities and visitors from around the world with educational programs and nationally acclaimed horticultural design. Thank you!

Photos by Cecilia Xie.