Friday, April 8, 2016

Spotlight on: Bryce Lane & the Importance of Soil

The key to a gorgeous planting is soil. Photo by Brian Wells.
By Sarah Leach Smith
Visitor Services Coordinator

If you love plants and have never experienced a class taught by Bryce Lane, then you have no idea what you are missing!

In just a couple of weeks, Bryce Lane will teach "Soil," a 3-hour workshop focusing on the most important part of your garden. Bryce will take you through the process of understanding soils, learning how to build and improve your soil and how to prepare a bed for planting. The workshop will include hands-on activities and soil tests that you can use over and over again in your home garden.

Not long ago, I was a student of Bryce's in the Department of Horticulture Science at North Carolina State University. I can tell you that he is the most charismatic and engaging teacher I have ever had. Soil may not sound like the most interesting topic, but I must admit that I have signed up for this class myself, to have a useful refresher about soils, of course, but also to have the opportunity to experience another class taught by Bryce Lane.

I reached out to Bryce recently to find out more about what he has been up to and what he hopes to cover in this course. Our Q&A is below.

Will you tell potential students a little more about your background and your experience? 
Bryce Lane with one of his 3 Emmy awards.
Photo courtesy of Bryce Lane. 
I grew up in Western Massachusetts, where I first discovered my passion for plants and telling others about them while working at a local garden center through high school and college. I earned my B.S. in plant science from the University of Massachusetts in 1979 and an M.S. in horticulture from The Ohio State University in 1981. I came to the Department of Horticultural Science at N.C. StateUniversity as a lecturer, teaching in both the two-year and four-year programs. In 1987, I became the undergraduate coordinator, serving the department in that capacity for 26 years. In the past 30+ years, I have taught more than 20,000 students! I also hosted and produced a three-time Emmy winning UNC-TV public television show called “In the Garden with Bryce Lane”, which was on the air for 11 seasons.

Though I retired from N.C. State in January of 2014, I have enjoyed pursuing public speaking opportunities and teaching part time. I have actually been teaching soils workshops now for three years, and it's a regular winter workshop at the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh every year

What can we expect from your class? What do you hope participants will gain from it?
Expect a dynamic, entertaining, yet scientifically packed presentation about soil, soil profiles, soil chemistry, soil structure, pH, organic matter, soil and bed preparation and soil building. I’ll also talk about container media and how it needs to be different, and treated differently from outdoor soil. Participants will gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics of soil, and how to apply the science they learn to create better garden soil for all their gardening endeavors. They will learn how to build soil and make it better for the environment, their gardens and their plants.
Bed preparation in the Discovery Garden. Photo by Lindsey Fleetwood.

What are you most excited about with regard to this class? 

I am most excited about how this workshop enables gardeners to be more successful growing plants in their gardens. By learning some soil science and committing to using that knowledge to improve soil, gardeners will be equipped to improve all their gardening practices.


Thursday, March 31, 2016

2016 Spring Plant Sale Preview

Iris tectorum.
Edited by Sarah Leach Smith
visitor services coordinator

The Spring Plant Sale is this weekend! We've been sharing Facebook posts highlighting some plants that we'll be selling, and we thought we'd share them here, too.

The sale will be Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon for the public, and Friday from 4-6 p.m. for Duke Gardens members (you may join on site). Hope to see you here!

Iris tectorum (Japanese roof iris)

Passiflora caerulea.
"Iris tectorum is a beautiful colonizing perennial," says Jason Holmes, curator of the Doris Duke Center Gardens. "The flowers are a stunning blue-purple that open wide and reveal a white to light purple beard on the outer petals. This iris blooms consistently from late April through May, with the flowers standing around 18 inches. For the rest of the year, this iris holds fan-like clusters of leaves that are equally attractive in the landscape. It is best grown in full sun to part shade and prefers well-draining soils. Roof iris received its name because it was found growing on roofs in Japan."

Passiflora caerulea (blue passion flower)

Phlomis russeliana.
"Every time I see this plant bloom, I feel like I am in the tropics," Jason says. "The flowers of this perennial vine emerge throughout summer and well into fall. The flowers are unique - there are white petals, but each flower also has a host of other colors, including blue, yellow and purple. This vine is best grown on a fence, trellis, obelisk, arbor or anywhere you can appreciate the flowers up close. It is hardy here in Durham but does drop all of its leaves in the winter. Plant it in full sun in well-draining soil or even place it in a container for the summer."

Phlomis russeliana (Turkish sage)

"Turkish sage is native to the mountainous regions of Syria and Turkey, "Jason says. "In summer it is adorned with spikes of yellow flowers that are held in whorled clusters. It grows in colonies 2 to 3 feet wide, and its flowers are 2 feet high. The large, plush leaves are not a favorite among deer, so it is certainly a must in gardens of this area!"

Phlox sp.
Phlox sp. (phlox)

"Butterflies and hummingbirds love our native phlox species!" says Beth Hall, our plant collections manager. "Many of these spring bloomers are fragrant and range in color from blue to purple to pink. For the woodland garden, Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox) puts on a stunning show of blue flowers from April through May and the sweet fragrance is a show-stopper. Also pictured is creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera), a species native to the Appalachians that grows in full sun to part shade and blooms pink in the spring. It blooms a week or two later than blue phlox, so a combination of the two is a great way to extend the display."

Trillium sp.
Trillium sp. (trillium)

"Native to woodlands throughout the eastern U.S., trilliums can establish themselves well in shady gardens," curator Jason Holmes explains. "Trilliums have leaves of three and a solitary flower that may be white, red or yellow, depending on the species. Some even have mottled, spotty leaves that can be as pretty as the flowers. They are best grown in rich soil that retains good moisture. Trilliums can handle sunlight during spring, but shade throughout summer is a must."

Contributions by Jason Holmes, curator of the Doris Duke Center Gardens, and Beth Hall, the Paul J. Kramer plant collections manager.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Garden Design Wisdom from Bill Thomas of Chanticleer

Story and Photos by Sarah Leach Smith, Visitor Services Coordinator

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that spring has definitely sprung in Durham! Albeit a little earlier than anticipated, the spring bulbs, flowering trees and warm weather are a welcome sight after a cold winter. The buzzing and blooming Duke Gardens set the perfect scene for an in-depth tour and design discussion with Bill Thomas, executive director of Chanticleer Garden in Wayne, Penn., as part of our “Garden Inspiration” workshop on March 18. The workshop was made up of a mix of visitors and staff alike, and we started with introductions and motivations for attending.

Bill began the design conversation by emphasizing the importance of identifying strengths and weakness of your property first before getting too wrapped up in your design and plant selection. What is the topography like? How much sun exposure do you get? What kind of soil do you have, and what are the existing plants? Which of the existing plants do you want to keep? With this arsenal of preparatory questions in mind, our “roving classroom” began.

We entered through the main gate, taking in the gorgeous cherry blossoms on the way. At this point, Bill shared an interesting story from a Japanese moss garden he had visited. Before visitors were allowed to enter the garden, they had to “get in the mood” for the garden, Bill recalled. To do this, visitors had to spend about a half hour studying and writing some specific Japanese characters. This practice was meant to prepare their minds and bodies for the experience they were about to have in the gardens. Bill found this incredibly interesting, as it is a practice that you definitely do not see at most American gardens. “Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a place for people to get quiet and get into the ‘garden mood’ before they entered?” This question posed by Bill was one of my biggest takeaways from the workshop. How can we do a better job of this at American gardens?

As we walked down the perennial allĂ©e and into the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, Bill did an excellent job of engaging the participants by asking about their personal gardens as well as answering questions that everyone had as we moved through different areas of the Gardens. 

One specific topic that came up had to do with perennial plantings under trees. One of the things that Bill had shared in his lecture the previous evening was how Chanticleer had handled keeping visitors off the roots of some of the oldest trees. One of the photos he showed was of a perennial planting under a tree, so workshop participants were curious to find out more about this strategy. 

“The tree is the most important thing,” Bill said. “That should take priority over whatever you plant underneath, since it will live longer than an herbaceous perennial.” He also said that it depends on the tree, since different trees can have different root structures. Basically, if you are considering planting under a large tree, do a little bit of research first to make sure you are pairing the right perennials with the right tree, and allowing plenty of room for the tree’s roots to thrive.

We wandered through the Terraces and admired the incredible color and texture combinations created by curator Mike Owens and horticulturists Jan Watson and Heather Seifert. We made our way up to the new Japanese garden, Pine Clouds Mountain Stream, by way of the Fisher Amphitheater, where several loblolly pines have just been planted to enclose the space a bit more. A chat with stonemason Brooks Burleson provided a pleasant break in the shade by the red arched bridge. 

The roving classroom ended with a visit to the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden and a pause in the Spring Woodland Garden to observe the progress on the new overlook feature. As we sat down for a tasty lunch on the terrace, Bill shared more about projects at Chanticleer. Their most recent garden addition has been an elevated walkway to accommodate the steep slope of the garden’s hillside. We also introduced Bill to the Duke-UNC basketball rivalry – a topic that we all quickly digressed to, given the time of the year!
It was wonderful to spend this time with Bill. Not only was his lecture about Chanticleer awe-inspiring, but the thoughts and ideas he had to share were incredibly refreshing. We wish him the best in the promotion of his new award-winning book, The Art of Gardening: Design Inspiration and Innovative Planning Techniques from Chanticleer, and look forward to visiting Chanticleer in person sometime soon!