Thursday, April 3, 2014

2014 Spring Plant Sale!

It's that time of year again! Duke Gardens will be hosting its annual Spring Plant Sale this weekend, featuring fabulous flowers, trees and shrubs. Friends of Duke Gardens may shop at the preview sale Friday, April 4, from 4 to 6 p.m., and everyone may attend the public sale, which will be held Saturday, April 5, from 8 a.m. to noon. Admission and parking are free.

This year's sale will feature some fragrant favorites. Sweet shrub (Calycanthus floridus) is known both for its delightful scent and its red, star-like flowers. A native, woodland shrub, this plant prefers to grow on wetter garden sites.

Calycanthus floridus
Oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers') are another example of native shrubs. These plants sport showy flowers that are great to have in any garden. Not only does it have large white flowers that fade to a lovely pink, it grows well in a shady landscape and attracts native pollinators.

Hydrangea quercifolia
This year's sale will also feature a new hybrid from the National Arboretum, Viburnum 'Nantucket'. This is the 20th viburnan cultivar developed by the Arboretum, and it blooms in an abundance of white flower clusters in late spring.

Viburnum 'Nantucket'
Though new plants are always fun, the sale will also include some classics. My personal favorites are the different Japanese maple cultivars. Though they are beautiful all year round, their leaves turn spectacular colors in the fall, and they would be a vibrant addition to any garden.

 Japanese maple. Photo by Paul Jones

The plants shown above are just some of the many you'll encounter here, along with expert advice from our horticulturists, Durham Master Gardeners and many specialty vendors. 

This year we have a great list of vendors, including:

Cure Nursery 
Niche Gardens
Shagreen Nursery
Fernrock Farm
S&J Greens
The Crystal Jungle
Green Hill Farm
Toad Song Farm

We hope you will come and check it out for yourself! More information about the plant sale can be found here on our website.

Blogger and photographer Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Facebook Photo Contest: "Buds & Blossoms" & "Students in the Gardens"

Students enjoying the Asiatic Arboretum pond
Spring is finally here, and we want to celebrate with a dual Facebook Photo Contest. This time around, we have two distinct categories for Duke Gardens photos: "Buds and Blossoms" and "Students in the Gardens." The latter category includes students from any school or college, and photos may be new or older, but we will award an extra prize for photos featuring Duke students dressed in Duke logo clothing.

Please don't be shy. This exhibit and contest is open to photographers at all levels and all ages. It's just a fun way to share your love for the Gardens with others who love it here, too.

Here's the scoop:

HOW TO ENTER: Email up to 3 photos for each category to Please send one per email. We will post them in an album on Facebook, with your Facebook name in the photo description. You may then add more information about the photo in the comments if you like, and encourage your friends to come see it and vote by clicking "like." You may also post the photo on our wall, but be sure to email it as well, so that it's officially in the contest and albums. Only "like" votes on the album photos will count in vote tallies, though (polite) comments are welcome, too. 

Please be sure to see our etiquette page before posting, too, as we will not include photos of people climbing trees or engaging in other activities that are not permitted.

In "Students in the Gardens," students may be of any age, but we will rely on the honor system that all entries feature actual students. 

DEADLINE: Photos must be submitted by noon Thursday, April 24, 2014. Voting will end at noon on Tuesday, April 29.

HOW TO VOTE: It's simple. Just click "like" for all your favorite photos.

PRIZES: We'll have prizes for most "like" votes, as well as judges' awards, and an extra prize for the best photo of a Duke student or students dressed in Duke logo clothing. Prizes will include Terrace Shop discount coupons and other Duke Gardens-related gifts.

SHARE: Even if you're not interested in prizes or contests, we'd love for you to share your photos just for fun, and share our contest photo album with your own Facebook friends. We look forward to seeing your favorites.

ELIGIBILITY: Anyone of any age may share Duke Gardens photos in this contest. The only people not eligible to win a prize are Duke Gardens employees.

NOTE: This contest is not administered, endorsed or operated by Facebook.  

SEE THE ENTRIES: Check out the albums for Students in the Gardens and Buds & Blossoms.

LEARN MORE: Please check out our education and event listings for photo courses that you may enjoy. We also have a Nature Photography Certificate program that may interest you.

 Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha 'Snow Cream')


Blomquist Art Exhibit: Where Art Meets Nature

by Erika Zambello  

This past weekend Duke Gardens hosted its "Art and Nature: Artwork Inspired by the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants" exhibition in the Doris Duke Center. Open to visitors Friday evening and throughout Saturday and Sunday, the exhibition highlighted the artistic abilities of local artists -- including Duke Gardens' staff, volunteers, and the surrounding community -- while drawing inspiration from the beauty of the Blomquist Garden. You can still see it online.

"Cardinal Flower and Hummingbird," by Ali Givens
I arrived at the exhibit Saturday morning. Kirby Horton Hall was filled with bird sounds, as the calls of different species played over the sound system and instantly brought me closer to the natural world. The artwork was set up on vertical displays and on cloth-covered tables around the room, and against one wall a large screen portrayed photographs of the Blomquist Garden's flora and fauna.

Wild ginger vase by Sasha Bakaric
Drawn instantly to a draped, brightly colored fabric, I found myself in front of of Jacqueline Ridley Key's silk print and accompanying watercolor painting. I was amazed. She had taken a beautiful photograph of flowers from the Blomquist Garden, turned it into a small watercolor, and used Adobe Photoshop to create a repeating pattern that was then printed on silk. The effect was both colorful and intricate, and absolutely reminded me of the Native Plant Garden.

"Ginger," by Jacqueline Ridley Key
Recycled materials played an important role in some of the exhibit's pieces. In "Little Sweet Betsy," Jason Holmes, curator of the Doris Duke Center Gardens, used hammered and cut recycled copper to create a realistic portrayal of Trillium cuneatum. 

"It is so satisfying to work with media that would otherwise be labeled as 'scrap' and create a piece that I can enjoy year-round in the garden," Holmes wrote in the artwork's description.

In another piece, titled "A Sense of Place," Sally Boesch used tin from a broken barn roof to create a mirror frame depicting native plants.

Three works won judges' awards: "Over Our Heads," by Linda Carmel, won Best in Show; Sally Sutton's "Connected" was first runner up; and Angela Burr's "Flying Through the Blomquist" was second runner up.
"Little Sweet Betsy," by Jason Holmes
As I moved from piece to piece, I saw the garden represented in ink, paint, pencil, copper, cloth, collage and ceramic. Each work of art was unique, capturing different elements of the wooded Blomquist Garden. 

When I left the exhibit and walked into the garden itself, I paid more attention to the shafts of light streaming through the tree branches, the birds calling back and forth to each other, and the colors and shapes of the plants, the trails, the bridges. The gardens inspired the artwork in the exhibit, and the artwork stirred within me a deeper appreciation of the garden.

Blogger and photographer Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Stormy Weather: What Temperature Fluctuations Mean for Duke Gardens

by Erika Zambello

We have had a crazy spring in Durham this year, with temperatures fluctuating from the warm seventies to below freezing in mere days.  I sat down with horticulture director Robert Mottern and Stefan Bloodworth, curator of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, to learn how these extreme fluctuations are affecting the plants throughout Duke Gardens.

Ice storms are caused by freezing rain, which solidifies when it hits a leaf, twig, driveway, home, powerline or any other surface. Though it may be pretty to look at, the resulting ice is very heavy and can cause structural damage to plants, in addition to wreaking havoc on roads and power grids. Though Durham has experienced multiple ice storms this winter, we have been lucky, says Mottern. At Duke Gardens, "the ice is not heavy enough to do a lot of damage," he tells me, "but we were really close."

What has caused the most damage this winter, he says, is the cold.

There are two main ways that plants survive cold weather. "Typically speaking, they break along the line of plants that are adapted to extremely cold weather or adapted to moderately cold weather," explains Bloodworth. The former use "cell dessication" and the latter "supercooling" in order to survive. While cell dessication is rare in the Southeast (as those plants normally grow in the colder Northeast and Midwest and in Canada), plants found in North Carolina employ supercooling to combat the cold.  

What is supercooling? As temperatures drop, plants "change the chemical content of liquid inside their cells by changing the solute levels, or levels of dissolved minerals and salt within their tissue," says Bloodworth. Like anti-freeze in a car, the increase in solute levels allows the plant to lower the freezing temperature within its cells.

While this strategy works well when temperatures remain in the double digits, plants can no longer prevent freezing when the air drops below 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Because ice expands, frozen cells will rupture, causing damage to the plant. This winter Durham has experienced a few nights of bitterly cold weather, with temperatures dropping as far as 3 °F.

Photo by Robert Mottern
The damage to plants around the gardens is visible. Many of the palm species have browned out, says Mottern, and the Gardens staff must wait and see if the plants can recover. The Terrace Gardens have lost many of their bedding plants, which then had to be removed before replanting can occur. The early blooming trees, including magnolias, camellias and cherries, have lost their flowers to the freezing temperatures. While this will not kill the trees, it has disrupted their annual life cycle and will prevent certain species, like the Prunus mume cherry, from fruiting this year.

In the Blomquist Garden of Native plants, the weather has caused damage to the margins of plant leaves, which -- like human fingers, toes, noses, and ears -- are more suspeptible to the cold. In addition, the single digit temperatures have frozen plant buds.  "All of that year's leaves are hidden inside that bud," Bloodworth tells me. When the buds freeze, "the plant now has to reinvest energy to redo the work that has already been done, which takes a lot of energy and depletes a lot of stored carbohydrates." While the plants will be able to produce new buds and leaves for the upcoming growing season, if such cold winters occur multiple years in a row, plant energy reserves will be severely depleted.

While this year's cold weather and ice storms have caused damage to the plants in Duke Gardens and the greater Triangle, it is not unprecedented. "This is not abnormally cold," Mottern says, "this is really the more normal conditions that we should be having. Having these nice mild winters for the past five to 10 years has really spoiled us." But while the frigid temperatures and snow may be normal, the single digit cold remains outside North Carolina's "safety zone," says Bloodworth, as native plants have not adapted to temperatures below 10 degrees.

Duke Gardens plants are resilient, and most will recover and be as beautiful this year as they were in previous years. Still, it is important to remember that while the cold and ice storms this winter have disrupted our daily lives, they have also impacted the plant ecosystems that surround us.

Blogger and photographer Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Duke Gardens and Wildlife Surveys

gray squirrel

Duke Gardens is an ideal place to practice skills I've learned in "Wildlife Surveys," a graduate school course at the Nicholas School of the Environment offered in the spring semester. The varied landscape provides an important training area where my classmates and I can perfect our identification and observation abilities in a beautiful environment full of wildlife.

As part of our Bird Surveys section, we sat on the grassy knoll sloping down to the Asiatic Arboretum pond. First identification exercise: waterfowl. This massive pond has a proliferation of both exotic and native species, and we learned the field markings of hooded mergansers and wood ducks - both North Carolina year-round residents. A great blue heron refused to be left out of the party and landed gracefully in a tall cypress tree directly behind us.

observing and recording
We curved around the edge of the pond, pointing out ruby-crowned kinglets, tufted titmice, Carolina wrens, sparrows, yellow-rumped warblers, and white-breasted nuthatches. New and experienced birders alike enjoyed learning together and spending a sunny Friday outside.

"I chose Duke Gardens to practice birding because it's one of the only easily accessible spots on main campus where we can see both passerines (perching birds) and waterfowl," our instructor, Dr. Nicolette Cagle, wrote me in an email. "I wanted the students to be able to practice observing different families of birds."

Wildlife Surveys and Duke Gardens
"My favorite part of Duke Gardens is the gorgeous Blomquist Garden of Native Plants," Cagle continues. "It's a fantastic repository of the Southeast's native woody plants, and it attracts lots of native birds as well."

white-throated sparrow
The Blomquist Garden is full of more than just birds. Our second Wildlife Surveys' unit described mammal observation, and I made loops around the Blomquist Garden  looking for one of our most ubiquitous animals: the gray squirrel.

I watched them forage along the ground, dart into trees and bushes, and stow away more than a few bird-feeder seeds for the duration of the winter ahead. Sketching and recording their movements in my outdoor notebook, for an hour I practiced the craft of a long line of field naturalists, including Charles Darwin, Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson, who spent their lives observing the natural world.

Each month for the duration of the semester, I will continue to write my naturalist observations of Duke Gardens. Though I have been visiting the Gardens multiple times a week since August, this is an opportunity to enjoy and learn about the Gardens in a new, more nuanced way. Earning class credit for birding? That's just icing on the cake.
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Blogger and photographer Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Garden Guild: A Fun Way to Support Duke Gardens!

The popular Garden Guild Holiday Craft Sale

by Chuck Hemric
Director of Volunteer Services

The Garden Guild at Sarah P. Duke Gardens is a group of talented crafters who gather weekly to create beautiful nature-focused items as a source of financial support for the Gardens. Their annual Holiday Craft Sale continues to grow and increase in revenue.

 Garden Holiday Guild Craft Sale
Members of this group join for different reasons. One of the members recently commented, “You get to meet fun-loving people with like interests, which provides great weekly mental health .... Fun and laughter is the best medicine.” Yet another stated, “The sale is the pinnacle of our hard work, and the excitement builds as the day approaches. We are glad to see our work appreciated and purchased.”

Garden Guild members
This talented group is looking to expand its membership and breadth of “crafty” ideas. It does not matter if you possess certain skills or not - the main requirement is that you are teachable. The group meets on Mondays from 1:30-4 p.m.

One of the Garden Guild's favorite craft items
Anyone interested in joining the Garden Guild can contact Chuck Hemric at 919-668-1705 or See below for more fun Garden Guild crafts!

Photos by Erika Zambello and Chuck Hemric

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. The Gardens receives roughly half of its operating budget from Duke University. The rest comes from people like you, who value all that this public botanic garden has to offer. Duke Gardens is at 420 Anderson Street. Learn more at

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Journaling for garden planning

Magazines and seed catalogs can help you envision
your goals in your garden journal

Despite all indications, winter is a great time to garden -- virtually.

New seed catalogs are arriving every day, new varieties are available, new plants are introduced, and that hard-to-find plant you have been dreaming of is now listed at your favorite nursery. It’s almost more than a gardener can take in – so many plants, so little space!

The season of winter bestows one large gardening benefit: the time to evaluate and plan. Spending your winter assessing last year’s garden will help you move closer to your ideal in next year’s garden.

Start a garden journal to organize your notes and thoughts. Perhaps you have a stack of plant labels and seed packets from this year? Take the time now, while it is fresh in your mind, to make notes about what you like about these plants and what did not suit you.

In the journal, make a rough sketch of your garden and add notes about plans, changes you are considering, stubborn areas that just won’t become the garden you want. Most gardeners move back and forth between general ideas – “I want more fragrance in my garden”  – to specific solutions – plant a paperbush here, a daphne there, and so on.

Make note of specific problems so you can prepare for them this year. Perhaps one area of the garden did not get sufficient water. Can you install a simple soaker hose irrigation system? Is one are infested by a noxious weed or pest? Spend some time this winter researching how you may control that problem.

Gardens journals can help you plan for the garden next year as well. Create a calendar with seed-starting schedules, planting dates and transplant dates. The calendar could also list your favorite plant sales -- for example the Duke Gardens Spring Plant Sale on April 5.

Do you have multitudes of photographs of your garden through the years? Now is the time to organize those and use them as a tool to plan ahead. With digital photography and camera phones so prevalent, most of us have files of photographs that require hunting and searching through to find the image you recalled.

This winter may be an ideal time to organize those photos so they are useful to you. There are terrific tools that allow you to organize and then easily find any photo in your digital files.

One example is Adobe’s Lightroom. You can devise a system to organize photos by key words -- for example, color notations, season notations, flower, plant or landscape view notations. These key words will help you locate the photographs again when you are looking for all spring views or all red flowers in your garden. Each photograph can carry multiple key words, so you don’t have to choose only one definition for an image. Lightroom also helps you edit and make adjustments to the image, improving lighting or cropping to frame it better.

Duke Gardens is offering a 5-session course in Lightroom beginning Feb. 6. Students may bring their own laptops to class and work with instructor Al Gorham to learn all of Lightroom's capabilities. For more information or to register for this or other Duke Gardens classes, please call 919-668-1707.

The time to assess, re-imagine and contemplate additions and subtractions is one of the pleasures of gardening. The anticipation keeps us out there planting, weeding, and seeking that perfect garden.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. The Gardens receives roughly half of its operating budget from Duke University. The rest comes from people like you, who value all that this public botanic garden has to offer. Duke Gardens is at 420 Anderson Street. Learn more at

Columnist Jan Little is director of education and public programs at Duke Gardens. This column first appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun.