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 – 4 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.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Meet the Duke Gardens Chickens!

Luna the Buff Orpington
Story and photos by Sarah Leach Smith, Visitor Services Coordinator

The votes are in, and we can now officially introduce you to the new flock of chickens at Duke Gardens.

The names came from Duke University students and staff, Gardens’ volunteers and the public, who offered suggestions based on photos and descriptions posted at our website, and then voted for finalists. We received a total of more than 1,000 votes in the three contests, each of which featured three chickens. The Doris Duke Center Gardens staff named the tenth chicken, a speckled Sussex named Stella.

“The naming contest was an overwhelming success,” said Jason Holmes, curator of the Doris Duke Center Gardens, which includes the chicken coop in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden. “We loved having the public help in the naming process, and we are really excited about the names that were chosen.”

Marshmallow the Columbian Wyandotte
Lindsey Fleetwood, a horticulturist in the Doris Duke Center Gardens and chicken caretaker, echoed Jason’s sentiments. “There have been many times when I’ve been working in the chicken coop and visitors have come to see the chickens and discuss possible names. From 5 years old to 85 years old, kids of all ages seemed to enjoy getting involved.”

Though the naming contest is over, Jason hopes that people continue to come out and visit the chickens. “It’s a great way for people to learn about how much fun backyard chickens can be.”

Our chickens play a vital role in educational programming for both children and adults. Seeing plants, water management strategies, composting, bees and other pollinators, along with chickens, allows us to discuss the entire relationship of humans to nature.

Now that the weather has cooled down, it’s a perfect time to for a trip to the Gardens to see the chickens and put faces and names together. Check out the rest of the naming contest results below!

Nightshade the Jersey Giant

Oreo the Lakenvelder

Jupiter the Blue Easter Egger

Cinnamon the New Hampshire Red

Honey the Mille Fleur

Graham Cracker the Buff Brahma Bantam

Indigo the Blue Cochin

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Class Preview: Pruning Young Trees for Structure and Health

Learn how to help your trees thrive with proper pruning.
Photo by Micaela Unda
Pruning trees is an art and a science. But it can be learned.

This art and science will be the topic of a 3-hour workshop titled “Pruning Young Trees for Structure and Health” at Duke Gardens on Saturday, Oct. 22. Instructor Bryan Lowrance is a horticulturist and certified arborist with Bartlett Tree Experts in Raleigh.

Discover the basics of how to select a healthy tree, examining leaves, bark, the trunk root flare (where it meets the ground) and roots. Bryan will give you tips of what to look for in a healthy tree, how to look for signs of stress in poor leaf quantity or stunted leaves, and how to check if roots are growing in an unhealthy pattern.

Once you’ve found your healthy tree, Bryan has a few suggestions for pruning right away.

“Always cut out any dead, diseased or broken branches,” he says. “Then begin pruning for future health, improving the plant’s structure and eliminating future problems.”

It’s a misconception to think that newly planted trees don’t need attention. Bryan will cover tips on tree establishment, symptoms of stress, and proper mulching and care for your tree to help it thrive long into the future.

He will also explain how the structure of a tree, including crossing branches and co-dominant stems, impacts it over time. For example, you want to avoid a tree with two main stems (co-dominant), because the place where they join the trunk is weak and will be more likely to split later on.

You do not need to bring any of your own tools.  But you will learn all the basic pruning skills, with a focus on proper technique and seasonal timing. You’ll finish the class knowing what you should look for when pruning trees and how to make thoughtful pruning cuts.

Bryan plans for the entire class to be outdoors so participants can get hands-on experience. He will also bring one of his arborist crew leaders to do a tree-climbing demonstration.

The workshop will run from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Parking is free until 1 p.m. For more information, please go to our website. To register, call 919-668-1707.

You are sure to learn a lot while also enjoying a lovely fall morning in Duke Gardens.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Follow Your Nose, It's Osmanthus Season!

Osmanthus fragrans in the Asiatic Arboretum.
Photo by Orla Swift.
By Rose James T'20

With crisp autumn weather upon us at last, the brisk breezes are stirring-up some wonderful scents in Duke Gardens. One of my favorite fall fragrances is that of the Osmanthus fragrans, commonly called the tea olive. It gives off a heady, exotic perfume with fruity, floral top notes and creamy, suede undertones.

There are a few places you can find this plant in Duke Gardens, and it certainly is worth a walk to enjoy the gorgeous fragrance—there is truly nothing like closing your eyes and smelling the swirls of aroma wafting on exhilarating fall winds.

The fragrant gardens are a way for me to escape from my hectic life as a Duke student, even if only for a short while. With midterms just ending, it’s nice to have a spot to relax and recover from the last few stress-filled weeks. As the weather cools off, I look forward to studying in the gardens, as well as spending time with my friends—an afternoon spent searching for the best-smelling plants is always fun. The Osmanthus fragrans’ distinctive aroma will grab you long before you reach the plant.

Osmanthus fragrans (at right) in the Asiatic Arboretum.
Photo by Orla Swift.
Walking from the Doris Duke Center, it’s easy to find several Osmanthus fragrans plants. As you walk into the arboretum from the lower parking lot, look to your right until you see a very large shrub with vivid orange flowers. You can also find Osmanthus fragrans between the Azalea Court and the Terrace Gardens pergola, as well as at the foot of the terraces, near the South Lawn. The perfume is easily carried on the wind, and it is simply impossible to miss when walking along the paths—just follow your nose.

The Osmanthus fragrans will continue to bloom for several weeks, so be sure to keep your nose attuned to its spicy scent during your fall garden strolls. Soon you will also smell Osmanthus x fortunei near the Gothic Gates, and other species elsewhere in the gardens.

While you’re following your nose, be sure to check out the flowering species of roses in the Mary Duke Biddle Rose Garden. The bubbling fountain and sweet rose aromas in the cool autumn air make this a perfect place to stop and enjoy nature. Fall is known for its warm smells and sweater weather, and there is no better place to find both than in Duke Gardens.

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