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.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Class Preview: Make Your Garden Sing

Add "music" to your garden with ornamental grasses.
Photo by Bob Ayers.
By Rose James T'20

Plants whisper, seed pods clack and the wind rustles through leaves outside your door. A bird trills and a frog croaks, perhaps bringing you back to childhood games of hide and seek in your favorite neighborhood garden. A nearby brook bubbling might bring you back to a pleasant afternoon catching toads with your cousins or fishing with your grandfather.
Plants that attract birds will make your garden sing.
Photo by Charles Twine.

Our sense of sound is one of the strongest triggers for memories. A sound can bring to mind a person or place that you loved, or a favorite pastime. Sometimes this can be a happy accident. But like a composer, you can also shape your own environmental symphony to spark joyful memories or create new ones.

Whether your garden spans many acres or a small bed, consider adding sound to your design principles of form, function and color. Hilary Nichols can help you weave those sounds in a new two-session class at Duke Gardens, “I Need a Plan: The Musical Garden.”

Nichols is garden manager at the Durham nonprofit SEEDS, an urban sanctuary focused on promoting the principles and practice of sustainable agriculture, organic gardening, food security and environmental stewardship. She strives to live her life intentionally, and she loves sharing her design and horticultural expertise to help gardeners at all ability levels create gardens that sing to ears and eyes alike.

Streams and rain gardens are perfect to add a croaking frog
or two to your chorus. Photo by Sue Lannon.
The plants you choose, and the way you arrange your plants, will influence the musicality of your garden, Nichols says. Enjoy the wind strumming the blades of ornamental grasses or rattling autumn leaves. Place a large-leafed plant near your favorite window to enjoy the rain pattering on the leaves. Select plants that attract insects or birds to add a percussive buzz and lilting song. Study the life-cycle of your plants to create a garden in bloom throughout the year, drawing animals to your garden in different seasons.

Sign up for “The Musical Garden” and Nichols will have your garden singing in no time.

“I Need a Plan: The Musical Garden” meets on two Tuesdays, Oct. 11 and 18, from 6:30-9 p.m. To register, or for more information, please call 919-668-1707 or email

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

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Photo Class Preview: The 12 Elements of Better Image Making

"In the Hands of the Potter," by Paul Wingler.

By Orla Swift
Director of Marketing & Communications

With mobile phones and photo apps making photography as ubiquitous as the written word, it’s easier than ever to capture our lives in pictures. But to do so with artistry, style and assuredness takes more than a tap on a cellphone screen. With the proper skills and techniques, and a keen eye, any photographer—from amateur to professional, using DSLRs or point and shoot cameras—can turn a snapshot opportunity into a memorable artistic statement.
Paul Wingler

Award-winning photographer Paul Wingler loves helping others develop their style and technique in classes such as his forthcoming three-workshop series at Duke Gardens, “The 12 Elements of Better Image Making.”

The series is divided into three sections. The first, on Oct. 15 & 16, will focus on impact, creativity, technical excellence and subject matter. The second, on Nov. 12 & 13, will tackle composition, lines, shapes, framing devices, lighting and style. The third, on Dec. 3 and 4, will zoom in on color, color balance, value, space, center of interest and print presentation.

An Indiana native who lived for 40 years in northern Durham but recently moved to Florida, Paul discussed his photographic philosophy via email in the following Q&A. You can also read his impressive biography and see more of his photos at his website.
By Paul Wingler
Of the “12 elements” you’ll teach in this series, which few do you feel are most undervalued by the average photographer?
"Monet's Pastels," by Paul Wingler.

Probably technical excellence. I believe that there are many who either have not learned how to get proper exposure or they don’t see the importance of it.  Having the correct exposure or a good grasp of the quality of the final print depends on good exposure. The weakness of the exposure or the underexposure causing muddiness greatly takes away the impact of the subject or story, which can confuse the viewers or turn them off.  If the photographer/artist doesn’t make a strong effort to achieve technical excellence, then that photographer will merely be a “picture taker.” The ability to hit a high standard of excellence enhances the level of respect by the viewer/audience.

What has teaching taught you or improved with regard to your own photographic approach?

To be more aware of my surroundings. I would, many times, miss an opportunity to see beyond the obvious. As I tried to instill that in my students, it only made me aware of how I was missing the mark—that I would sometimes have to slow down and take in all that was around me.

Have your professional assignments in culturally varied places such as Asia and Central America made you view North Carolina and other familiar surroundings differently? 

Yes. Unfortunately, I used to take my environment or surroundings for granted.  As I would travel around N.C., I would be looking but not seeing what was around me. I would get too busy doing business, going from point A to point B and missing everything in between. It didn’t mean I didn’t do good work, but I realized I wasn’t seeing beyond the obvious. I would miss the heart and soul of the subject, the ability to see the real story of what I was capturing.

"Crossing the River," by Paul Wingler.
When I went to Honduras, for example, I was taken out of my normal environment, or my comfort zone.  I was forced to see more than a person or a landscape or foods or construction of buildings/homes, etc. It made me take pause and point out to myself that we have people of interest here in N.C.  We have different cultures and foods, styles of homes, and the list goes on. Traveling through and teaching in various parts of the world has given me a better understanding of the similarities we have here and enabled me to see and appreciate what is around us all.

As a former U.S. Marine Corps Band member, do you feel that your affinity for music also serves you as a photographer?
"Tapestry," by Paul Wingler.

Yes, it does. Music, for me, sets a mood or attitude. Listening to various styles of music could put me in a frame of mind to want to be out in a field of flowers or head to the beach to capture the softness or the strength of the crashing waves.  Or it could move me towards the majesty and power of the mountains.  The pastoral feeling of the sunlight kissing an old barn in a field, or sunbeams reaching down from the sky and illuminating a field of flowers…the list goes on as to the way music has influenced my photography and art.

What aspect of photography do you find continually challenging?

One thing is to keep trying to keep a focus and maintain the highest standard of art I am capable of at that time. I also have the constant challenge of knowing there is so much out there to create in so little time.
"Peaceful Resting Place" (the Frances P. Rollins Overlook
at Duke Gardens), by Paul Wingler.

Paul’s weekend workshops will meet from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. Each class will be limited to 12 students. The cost is $225 per weekend section for the general public, or $175 for Duke Gardens members. For multiple workshops in this series, each section will be $210 for the public, $160 for Gardens members. To register, or for more information, please email or call 919-668-1707.

Duke work-study marketing assistant Annie Yang contributed to this report.