Friday, February 10, 2017

A Sculpture Emerges on the South Lawn

Scaffolding helps to keep the foundational
elements in place during creation. Photo by Bill LeFevre.
By Katherine Hale

A bird’s nest. A treehouse. An alien spaceship.  A new sculpture, constructed entirely out of locally harvested saplings, is taking shape on the South Lawn of Duke Gardens. Starting this week and for the next two weeks, Triangle sculptor Patrick Dougherty will construct his latest creation with the help of a rotating crew of Gardens staff and volunteers. Even in its unfinished state, the sculpture is already drawing a great deal of talk and opinions. And that’s just how Dougherty likes it.

Dougherty and a volunteer add
more sticks to the mix.
Photo by Orla Swift.
“It is clear that a good sculpture causes many different personal associations with those who see it,” he wrote in his 2010 career retrospective Stickwork. Throughout the process of construction, he enjoys flipping the questions of curious passers-by right back at them:  “What do you think it is? And what should I call it?”

Beloved for picnicking and sunbathing, strolling and (ostensibly) studying, the South Lawn now takes a turn as host to a public art installation. Already this sculpture has undergone several transformations. On Friday morning, the third day on site, a small forest of red maple and sweetgum saplings harvested in Duke Forest earlier in the week had sprung up on the center of the lawn, complete with a luxurious carpet of mulch and surrounded by a halo of temporary scaffolding. More saplings, piled in thick bundles, lay nearby. By lunchtime, Dougherty had begun to pull the tops of the branches into graceful, looping curves and lash them into place, while three volunteers gracefully wove smaller branches in between the trunks at their base.

Weaving sturdy walls.
Photo by Orla Swift.
Everyone moves carefully but efficiently, as if they were all born to this work—and perhaps they were.  “When we were young, the ubiquitous stick was an everyday part of childhood play. It was a tool, a weapon, a rafter,” Dougherty writes in Stickwork. “I point out my belief that we inherit stick know-how from our first ancestors. So any volunteer can quickly find that knack, that basic urge to build.” Trees are natural architects, too, and much of the charm of Dougherty’s designs comes from letting them drive the development of the work as it unfolds. The end results are organic, undulating, clearly fabricated yet oddly natural--and intimately reflected of the surrounding landscape.

Duke Gardens executive director Bill LeFevre approached Dougherty several years ago with a proposal to bring his artistry to the Gardens. As the project date drew closer, they agreed upon an ideal location. When the work began, LeFevre and Gardens staff members enthusiastically signed up for opportunities to play a hands-on role.

“We are thrilled and thankful to have the opportunity to work with Patrick Dougherty and his team to create this site-specific work of art in Duke Gardens,” said LeFevre, whose shifts with Dougherty left him somewhat scratched up but also energized and inspired.

“We collected thousands of saplings from Duke Forest, and now we all get to play a role in bending them into Patrick’s emerging vision for the piece,” he said. “I hope visitors will enjoy witnessing this process of creation.”

Dougherty explains his techniques to
staff members who will assist.
Photo by Orla Swift.
Like the forests that spawned them, these sculptures cannot be built in one day—three weeks from start to finish is typical for Dougherty’s constructions. The ongoing process of installation is both an opportunity for the community to interact and participate and a piece of performance art in itself. Once the sculpture is complete, time and the elements will help dictate how long it will remain, but Dougherty’s sculptures typically stay standing for a couple of years.

So, what is it exactly taking shape on the South Lawn? It’s a castle. It’s a forest. It’s a home for elves. It’s a photo opportunity. It’s a chance to get in touch with nature again or an inspiration to build a tree fort of your own at home. Or perhaps it’s none of those things at all for you.  But one thing is for certain: whether you’re involved with the construction or just passing through, Dougherty’s work is likely to intrigue and engage you.

Katherine Hale is an intern in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Duke Gardens and a graduate student in the Field Naturalist program at the University of Vermont. 

Read more about Patrick Dougherty and his work in the latest issue of Garden & Gun magazine.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Duke Gardens Gifts for the Holidays

An embellished lizard pin is among the Garden Guild's
intriguing crafts. Photo by Orla Swift.
By Annie Yang T'20

As nature lovers, we are always on the lookout for fun gifts and decorations for the holiday season. Fortunately, the Terrace Shop and the volunteer Garden Guild make it easy to find fun and festive items.

Origami boxes, some from recycled paper,
make a unique presentation. Photo: Yang.
From origami gift boxes to note cards, ornaments and jewelry, the Garden Guild’s crafty members always have an intriguing selection of gifts related to nature or Duke Gardens.

The guild’s most item popular item is an origami box made of recycled decorative paper, including Duke Gardens’ calendars and other publications, as well as gift wrap and scrapbook paper. The boxes’ design is by origami artist Tomoko Fuse. The guild’s boxes are available all year, but the decorative paper gives the winter boxes a distinctly festive look.

If your friend sews, an acorn
pincushion makes a
whimsical gift. Photo: Swift.
Ornaments are another guild best-seller—in fact, the okra Santa ornaments have already sold out.  Grown in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, the okra is painted to resemble Santa Claus with a very long beard.

As nature lovers, we are always on the lookout for fun gifts and decorations for the holiday season. Fortunately, the Terrace Shop and the volunteer Garden Guild make it easy to find fun and festive items.

Hang tiny Duke Gardens
photos in a window or
on a tree. Photo: Swift.
From origami gift boxes to note cards, fabric Kindle cases, ornaments and jewelry, the Garden Guild’s crafty members always have an intriguing selection of gifts related to nature or Duke Gardens.

The guild’s most item popular item is an origami box made of recycled decorative paper, including Duke Gardens’ calendars and other publications, as well as gift wrap and scrapbook paper. The boxes’ design is by origami artist Tomoko Fuse. The guild’s boxes are available all year, but the decorative paper gives the winter boxes a distinctly festive look.

Ornaments are another guild best-seller—in fact, the okra Santa ornaments have already sold out.  Grown in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, the okra is painted to resemble Santa Claus with a very long beard.

The guild's cork angel ornaments will sing their way into
your heart. Photo: Swift.
Other Garden Guild ornaments range from whimsical cork angels to tiny framed Duke Gardens photos. There are also more standard looking spherical ornaments with unique colors and patterns.

If you want to wish friends and family well this holiday season, the Guild’s seasonal cards add a personal touch to your messages. Some designs are more timeless and boast unique features like wearable pins and tea bags.

Plant pot Santas and elves
add joy to a Christmas tree.
Photo: Swift.
The Guild has quite a few other wearable creations, including blingy lizard and dragonfly pins and Louis Vuitton-style fabric bead necklaces. The craftsmanship and attention to detail make all of the Garden Guild’s creations truly special.

Dress up your Kindle for the holidays with this
handmade fabric case. Photo: Swift.
This is only a small sample of the Garden Guild’s intriguing creations. Visit the Terrace Shop to see all they have to offer and the skill and care put into their work. You'll also want to remember Duke Gardens all year long with a 2017 wall calendar and 56-page souvenir photo book. Visit the store or call 919-684-9037 to purchase your favorite items. There’s something for everyone to bring a piece of Duke Gardens and Duke back home!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Class Preview: Learn to Weave a Round Basket

Cherokee wheel detail.
By Rose James

As fall weather grows cooler and the holiday gift-giving season approaches, many of us seek new creative sparks to fuel us through chilly nights and leave us with one-of-a-kind gifts for ourselves and others. A handmade basket is a perfect fall project, and Duke Gardens instructor Lu Howard can guide you through the whole process in her 6-hour class on Saturday, Nov. 5.

The style of basket you’ll make has a Cherokee-wheel design and veneer cherry wood strip inserts. It’s a perfect basket for beginners, Lu says, because it’s simple to make. The basket is hand-shaped, meaning that you don’t use a mold, so each basket is unique.

Lu will prepare all the materials you’ll need, cutting and marking the staves and reeds in advance. But she will also teach you these preparatory steps, so that after your first basket on Saturday, you can confidently go forth and make many more.

You’ll make your basket with rattan reeds, and you will work with them wet, so be sure to come dressed in clothing that you don’t mind getting damp. Working with wet reeds makes them pliable, and when they dry they will hold their desired shape. You should be able to finish your basket by the end of class. But if you’re a more leisurely weaver, you’ll be well on your way to confidently finish your basket on your own thereafter.

Anyone can learn to make this kind of basket, and the class is open to people as young as 16. You do not need to have any skills or special artistic talent for this class, only a bit of patience. It’s actually quite a therapeutic activity, Lu says. And you’ll have plenty of time to bond with fellow weavers as your baskets take shape.

Lu uses her baskets for a variety of purposes, from storing fruit and spices in the kitchen to providing a pretty display for flower pots on the porch. We hope you’ll join us for this fun and empowering class, and we look forward to seeing the variety of baskets that everyone makes.

Class details: "Round Basket with Cherokee Wheel Embellishment" will meet Saturday, Nov. 5, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The class fee is $50, or $40 for Gardens members. To register, or for more information, please email or call 919-668-1707.

About the Instructor: 

Lu Howard is a member of the North Carolina Basketmakers Association and Durham’s basket-weavers’ guild. She has won many awards for her baskets. She can make a small pine needle basket in as few as two hours, and she wove a bassinet for her grandson this summer over two to three weeks.

Basket-weaving is in Lu’s blood. Her grandfather was a farmer, and he would make baskets each winter from hickory. He used the baskets to harvest and store produce, as well as to hold toys and other household items.

Lu made her first basket in 1983, in a beginner class in Northern Illinois. She was immediately hooked, and she has been weaving baskets ever since.

With Lu’s enthusiasm, artistry and teaching skills, we’re sure that you will be hooked, too!

Blogger Rose James is a Duke freshman and work-study marketing assistant at Duke Gardens.  

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Festival of Fabulous Mums

By Sarah Leach Smith, Visitor Services Coordinator
Photos by Michelle Rawlins, Horticulturist

Celebrate the season of chrysanthemums at the first Festival of Fabulous Mums at Duke Gardens. The mums in this display are very different from typical garden mums. You will discover an amazing array of shapes and sizes, including spectacularly large flowers with spidery petals, quill petals, pompon shapes and exotic forms, all grown for this exhibit sponsored by the Central Carolina Chrysanthemum Society (CCCS) and Duke Gardens.

This free, drop-in event will begin Sunday, Nov. 6, and run through Wednesday, Nov. 9. Festival plants will show the tremendous array of mum flower shapes, as well as the impact of different growing techniques to encourage extra-large flowers in all the autumn hues of yellow, gold, plum, rust and red.

Members of the CCCS have grown these plants just for the festival. The blooms will not be judged, as they would in a national flower show. Instead, you can vote on your favorite flowers in the display area. You will also want to tour the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum to see the exhibit-style mums throughout the landscape.

Festival activities will be in the Kirby Horton Hall in the Doris Duke Center. In addition to admiring the mums on display, you’ll be able to chat with members of the CCCS about cultivating mums in your own garden. On Sunday, Nov. 6, from 1 to 2 p.m., enjoy a floral design demonstration by Pat McCracken of McCracken’s Nursery in Zebulon, N.C., a commercial grower with a love of floral design and pottery. Pat’s completed design, which will incorporate mums and use one of his original pottery pieces, will be on display for the remainder of the festival and raffled off on the last day. There will be additional raffles as well, including a “Magic Mum Pot” that will contain everything you will need to get started in growing exhibition mums, and a beautiful chrysanthemum printed scarf from Talbots.

Children of all ages will enjoy word searches, scavenger hunts and a mum festival booklet that you can rubber stamp when you’ve seen examples of the different kinds of blooms. You will also see various forms of growing mums, such as bonsai, and displays of historical mum artifacts. Don’t miss the selfie station—you’ll be the envy of your friends on social media!

Duke Gardens horticulturist Michelle Rawlins, a CCCS member, has grown quite a number of these show mums for Duke Gardens, and those will be on display in the Asiatic Arboretum throughout November.

Michelle began growing mums for display in Duke Gardens a few years ago, and it has become a passion for her. She’s excited to host this festival with the CCCS so that we can all enjoy the demonstration of beautiful flowers trained by careful horticulturists.

You may also become captivated by the exhibit mums and want to find out even more about these amazing flowers. The CCCS is always open to new members or visitors at its monthly meetings, held on the third Monday of every month at noon at JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh. The society was founded in 2015 and now has more than 40 members. Michelle enjoys meeting with the group to discuss chrysanthemums and is happy to see younger generations getting more involved. “It’s like a book club, but you get to talk about your plants, how they’re growing and what challenges you might be running into."
Michelle starts her mums like this every February.
Please join us for “A Festival of Fabulous Mums” and find out what all the excitement is about. Admission is free, though parking fees apply.

The hours of this drop-in festival are as follows:
                Sunday, Nov. 6, noon – 6 p.m.
                Monday, Nov. 7, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
                Tuesday, Nov. 8, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
                Wednesday, Nov. 9, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

For more information, please call 919-668-1707 or email

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Garden for Today and Tomorrow

Work with your natural environment to shape a garden
that will thrive. Photo by Robert Ayers.

It is very satisfying to step back at the end of a day spent gardening and admire all that you have accomplished. You’ve enriched your soil, pruned existing plants and helped your new plants settle in so they can delight you with their flowers.

Now it’s time to consider tomorrow and beyond.  Ask yourself: How can I build a garden that works with the forces of nature and not struggle against it? Gardening becomes so much easier when you consider nature a partner.

Begin by considering your garden from various viewpoints:
     - How is the soil—is it healthy, with microbes and organic material?
     - How does water move through your garden? Does it travel rapidly, with little chance to soak in? Or does it stay in place for days at a time?
     - What is the history of your garden area? Was it built upon long ago, or recently? Was it farmed?
Are there a number of existing plants, and what types are they?
Whether you grow vegetables or flowers, you can learn how
to work more harmoniously with your garden. Photo: R. Ayers.

The answers to these questions provide a starting point so you can create a garden that is unique to your site and takes advantage of the natural forces already at work.

“Easy Steps to a Resilient Garden” is the perfect Duke Gardens class to address these questions and more, for gardeners at all levels. The class will meet for two Tuesday sessions, Nov. 1 and 15, from 6:30-9 p.m. Instructed by Jan Little, landscape architect and director of education at Duke Gardens, the class will focus on harnessing nature to make your life easier.

We will discuss water harvesting and how you can minimize the amount of supplemental water used (and paid for) in your garden. You will learn simple methods to assess your existing soil and determine how best to improve it for plants.

Lastly, we will consider your garden dreams and how they match up with the existing situation. This will help you match your garden to the site and have a garden that is healthy and thriving without a lot of toil.

Spend more time admiring your garden and less time maintaining it!

For more information about "Easy Steps to a Resilient Garden," or to register, please email or call 919-668-1707.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Witnesses to History: The Trees of Duke Gardens

By Sarah Leach Smith, Visitor Services Coordinator
Photos by Jason Holmes, Doris Duke Center Gardens Curator

Trees stand as silent sentinels, witnessing celebrations and disasters throughout history. Imagine what the trees of Duke Gardens could tell you about the Civil War in this country, the first human on the moon or the musical sounds of the Big Bands in the 1940s. The trees at Duke Gardens have also heard the echoes of many great speeches over the past centuries, from Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address in 1933.

Here at Duke Gardens, we invite you to treasure these witness trees and learn their stories.

Iconic southern magnolia in the Historic Gardens.
One of the most iconic southern trees is the southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), and Duke Gardens is often remembered for the many southern magnolias growing in the Historic Gardens. These trees began their life at the Gardens as saplings, planted in 1938. Their huge, fragrant, creamy white flowers, thick evergreen leaves and sturdy low branches invite visitors to enjoy the trees’ embrace.

Our southern magnolias grew tall and strong while World War II was raging in Europe, and the university placed a priority on studies in engineering, chemistry research and medical advancements so that we could do our part in the war effort.

Another significant species in our collection is dawn redwood (Metasequoia gylptostroboides), which can be found between the Historic Terraces and Fisher Amphitheater. It is an unusual tree, because the leaves are needles but are not evergreen. The needles of a dawn redwood drop in autumn just like maple and oak leaves do.

This dawn redwood has had quite a life.
Fossils show that dawn redwood was a dominant tree in much of the Northern Hemisphere about 90 million to 150 million years ago. That means that dawn redwood species were around during the time of the dinosaurs and have also seen the evolution of humans. These trees were largely believed to be extinct until a few living trees were surprisingly discovered in a remote part of western China in 1941. Seeds collected from that Chinese population were germinated at the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University in 1948.

The following year, one of those original seedlings was planted here at Duke Gardens. That dawn redwood still stands, marked with a plaque and surrounded by a chain stanchion for protection. In its lifetime, Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on the moon and Duke University was desegregated. We have since planted additional dawn redwoods to ensure that there will always be a healthy specimen in our tree collection.

Gorgeous fall color of the maidenhair tree.
Near our dawn redwood is a large maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba).  Like dawn redwood, it is considered a living fossil. Fossil records for the maidenhair tree date back to more than 200 million years ago! Our large specimen was planted approximately 50 years ago, and it puts on an amazing color show each fall as the leaves turn golden yellow and rain down on the grass below. Since its installation, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his momentous “I Have a Dream” speech and Johnny Carson hosted his final episode of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.”

Though it’s called the Historic Gardens, this area of Duke Gardens is not the only place you will find historic trees. Venture over to the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum to see more notable specimens.

Entering the arboretum from the Mary Duke Biddle Rose Garden, you will see a substantial American sycamore (Platanus occidentalis). Sycamores are easily identifiable by their large tent-like leaves and by their exfoliating bark, which peels back to reveal a white and light gray mottled smooth inner bark. This specimen was likely planted here by a person, as sycamores typically grow in fine-grained organic soil made up of river deposits, and Duke Gardens has a different soil type.

This sycamore is at least 75 years old and has been through a lot since being planted here—you can see an interesting cavity coming down the trunk from a past injury. While we’re not sure what caused the cavity, theories include a lightning strike or a large branch that ripped off the trunk. During its lifetime in the Gardens, this tree witnessed the only Rose Bowl football game played outside the state of California—it was hosted by Duke and held at Wallace Wade Stadium in 1942.

On the north side of the arboretum, you’ll find one of the tallest trees in the Gardens—a southern red oak (Quercus falcata). Estimated at between 175 and 200 years old, this tree was just starting as a small acorn when James Monroe, the fifth president of the United States, was in office. These days it is still very healthy and, like most old oaks, will occasionally drop old limbs onto the ground below.
One of the towering loblolly pines in the Blomquist.

The Blomquist Garden of Native Plants has its own historic witness trees, including loblolly pines (Pinus taeda). There are two large specimens by the main entrance to the Blomquist and another at the Blomquist Pavilion. These pines are around 150 to 160 years old, which means they were alive at the same time as the Civil War.

Loblolly pines, including the ones in the Gardens, are an interesting example of the effects that humans have had on the environment. Though loblolly pines seem ubiquitous these days, this was not always the case; longleaf pines (Pinus palustris) dominated the piedmont landscape for hundreds of years. Some plants, including longleaf pine, need fire to help their seeds spread and germinate. Other plants, like the loblolly pine, are greatly harmed by fire, causing populations to be suppressed. As humans inhabited more of the landscape, they also worked to minimize fires. This resulted in a decrease in fire-dependent longleaf pines and an increase in loblolly pines. That is why there are now so many loblolly pines in the piedmont.

Loblolly pine seeds were carried aboard the Apollo 14 flight as part of a joint project with NASA and the U.S. Forest Service. After the shuttle’s return, the seeds were germinated by the U.S. Forest Service and planted in several locations in the U.S., including the grounds of the White House. As of 2016, a number of these “moon trees” remain alive today and stand as a tribute to the Apollo program.

All of the trees in our collection have witnessed some incredible moments in their lifetimes, and with proper care and respect from our staff and visitors alike, they will witness many more. We continue to add to our collection, planting trees that will witness great moments to come.

For more information about out tree health, check out some of our upcoming classes, including “Pruning Young Trees for Structure and Health” and “Caring for Your Landscape.”

Paul Jones, curator of the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum, contributed to this report, along with Blomquist Garden of Native Plants curator Stefan Bloodworth, plant collections manager Beth Hall, and Jan Little, director of education and public programs.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Class Preview: Cooking from the Garden

By Annie Yang T'20
Photos by Lindsey Fleetwood

The exciting sizzle of the pan, the comforting smells of something cooking, the warm fullness of sharing a meal with your loved ones--food is a treasured constant in our lives. Many of us have been cooks for as long as we can remember, but our techniques and our approaches to food do not also have to stay constant. We need not look further to spice up our usual, garden-variety cooking than our gardens.

Chef Katie Coleman, owner of Durham Spirits Company, will help you unlock the culinary potential of your very own back yard in her "Cooking from the Garden" series at Duke Gardens.

Unlike purchasing produce from a supermarket, picking herbs and vegetables from your garden will guarantee that your food is seasonal, fresh and local. As Katie points out, tomatoes bought in the middle of winter that have had to endure the shipping process are not nearly as flavorful as tomatoes grown in your back yard over the summer.
Cooking from the garden is very much a seasonal affair. Currently, rosemary and squash are growing abundantly, bringing great variety to potential dishes. The "LateAutumn Salads" and "Warm Winter Soups" classes are geared toward specific times of the year and will help you learn to work with what’s in season.

Selecting your ingredients can be as easy as stepping outside and picking them off the stem, and cooking can be just as easy, too. There are all sorts of kitchen gadgets and gizmos that people may be tempted to use, but Katie prefers to keep things simple.

“I think the less you do, the more you highlight the vegetables or whatever it is that you’re cooking with,” she says.

Many people have been cooking for their entire lives, but they can also pick up habits that don't serve them well. Katie often catches people adding sugar to their onions during caramelization, or she has to coax them to be more liberal with their herbs. You might be a seasoned cook, but everyone has more they can learn!

Join Katie for one class or both, and she just might transform the way you view a certain vegetable or dish. At the least, this master chef will help you improve your cooking and bring more flavor into your meals.
Katie will teach "Cooking from the Garden: Late Autumn Salads" on Monday, Oct. 24 and "Cooking from the Garden: Warm Winter Soups" on Monday, Jan. 23. The class runs from 6-8 p.m. Both classes feature in-class tastings and are limited to 12 participants. The cost to register for one class is $28 for Gardens members and $35 for the general public. To register for both classes, the cost is $50 for Gardens members and $64 for the general public. To register, or for more information, please call 919-668-1707 or email.

Annie Yang is a Duke freshman and a work-study marketing assistant at Duke Gardens. Lindsey Fleetwood is a horticulturist in the Doris Duke Center Gardens at Duke Gardens.