Friday, November 29, 2019

Provide Winter Meals for Wild Birds

An American robin feasts on native holly berries in the Blomquist Garden. 
Photo by Cathi Bodine


by Katherine Hale

Winter is the hardest time of year for wild birds. Just when they need to eat the most to keep themselves warm, the cold drives the insects they depend on into hibernation. Even fruit and seed eaters aren’t safe, with unpredictable bouts of ice, snow and inclement weather cutting off access to their food sources.

Like support stations at a marathon, backyard feeders bearing sunflower seeds and suet offer birds a lifeline in stressful times, with quick and easy boosts of the calories and fat they need to survive. Feeding birds is a safe, easy and fun way to help local wildlife, and it also allows adults and children alike an up-close-and-personal opportunity to connect with nature.

Feeders aren’t the only way to help birds, of course. Native trees like dogwoods, hollies and wax myrtles provide welcome bursts of seasonal color—along with food and shelter for hungry fall migrants and overwintering residents alike. Withered seed heads of ornamental grasses and sunflowers can be left up after the frost for foraging juncos and sparrows. (You can cut them down in the spring to make room for new foliage or plantings.) Native plants also serve as hosts to caterpillars and grasshoppers, allowing insectivores like bluebirds and warblers to thrive. And of course brightly colored flowers are the best way to draw in nectar-drinking hummingbirds.

But the wonderful thing about bird feeders is that they are open to everyone—no land or garden required. For those who don’t have access to much outdoor space, or who are waiting for their plants to mature, bird feeders offer an effective and immediate alternative. As long as you follow a few simple rules—making sure there are bushes or other cover nearby for birds to shelter in; cleaning the feeders regularly to prevent disease; and keeping cats and other pets indoors—the only limits are your budget, imagination and time.

What birds frequent your feeders depends on the kind of offerings you set out. Woodpeckers appreciate suet. Chickadees and cardinals love black oil sunflower seeds. That said, part of the fun of setting up a bird feeder is that you never know who might drop by. Visitors to the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants frequently spy a pair of mallard ducks hanging out under the feeders, commuting from the pond nearby. Online resources like eBird, iNaturalist and Feeder Watch provide space for the scientifically inclined to share and document their findings.

Bird feeders in the Blomquist. Photo by K. Julian.
The beauty of bird feeders is that they allow you the opportunity to watch wild birds up close, with a house or windowsill serving as a blind. Beginning and seasoned naturalists don’t even have to step outside to see the resulting antics, which speed up as weather conditions worsen. The result is live-action drama worthy of a reality show, as the dominant chickadee scolds its flockmates away from the choicest morsels, or a red-shouldered hawk shows up to try and snag a feathered meal of its own.

If you’d like to try making simple bird-feeders of your own out of pine cones, lard and other natural materials (no nuts or nut products involved), join us for our annual Winter Wonderland Festival, on Sunday, December 8, from 2-4 p.m. at the Doris Duke Center. The family-friendly festival is free for Duke Gardens members, and $5 per child for non-members. (Please register in advance at http://duke.is/tZhVcV.) In addition to winter-themed crafts, there will also be storytelling, cookie decorating, festive music and our resident snowperson, Snowflake. Hope to see you there!

For more plant and nature stories about Duke Gardens, check out the Garden Talk column on our website. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Fall Plant Sale 2019: Japanese Silver Tree



By Katherine Hale

Odds are good that many people have never seen anything quite like neolitsea. A smooth-barked evergreen with aromatic leaves and cascades of tiny fall-blooming flowers, neolitsea is worth seeking out. And we’ll have it among many tree options at our Fall Plant Sale.

Native to beech-laurel mountainous slopes of China and southern Japan, neolitsea (Neolitsea sericea) is practically unknown in American gardens, but it deserves to be more widely grown. It’s also known as the Japanese silver tree for the color of newly emerged leaflets, which are downy at first before transitioning to reddish-pink and then to a mature green.

The trees are dioecious, meaning male and female flowers occur on separate plantings. Mixed-gendered plantings will result in holly-like red berries on female trees for additional winter interest.

Neolitsea flourish in the warmth and humidity of southern climates, particularly when planted in a sheltered location to protect it from cold snaps. Like rhododendrons, neolitsea need acidic soil to thrive, and the soil should be well-drained if possible.  Trees grow faster in full sun if given adequate water, but they will tolerate light or dappled shade, with an even, rounded shape that will need little in the way of pruning.

If you’re in the market for something new and different—something you may never have seen anywhere else— give neolitsea a try. For those willing to branch out and explore the possibilities, it’s a winner.

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

FALL PLANT SALE DETAILS:

Date: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019
Time: 8 a.m.-noon
Member benefits: Duke Gardens members get 10% off all purchases, plus access to the members-only previews sale and dinner from 5-7 p.m. on Sept. 27, and a full list of plants in advance, plus staff recommendations. Join online or on site.
Parking: Free.
Pets not permitted. Please see Duke Gardens' pets policy here.
Wagons + boxes: Our supply is limited; please bring your own if possible, and you'll have more time to spend gathering beautiful plants.
Your support helps Duke Gardens to provide summer internships to aspiring horticulturists from across the nation.
Please see our event page for more information, and we'd love for you to spread the word by sharing the event on Facebook and inviting your friends.
Thank you!

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Fall Plant Sale Preview 2019: Pink Banana

Pink banana fruit.
Photos by Jason Holmes (L) and Paul Jones (R).
By Jason Holmes
Curator, Doris Duke Center Gardens

Photo by Jason Holmes.
One of my absolute favorites among the hardy bananas is the pink banana. From northeastern India, Musa velutina forms a stunning clump of large leaves that reach to 8 feet high. A spike of flowers develops atop the pseudostems, and by midsummer the spike of flowers becomes a mass of attractive bright pink, downy bananas.

The word “velutina” translates to “velvety.”  These bananas are very small and seedy, and I imagine that they would not provide a substantial source of calories. In November, the bananas burst open to reveal a white interior that from a distance appears as if they are flowering again.

The pink banana thrives in our heat and humidity and does well with good moisture and lots of sun or even a high canopy of trees.

Though Musa velutina is hardy to zone 7b, it may be best to protect it with a pile of leaves during the winter.

The pink banana is a true hardy tropical for the summer landscape and will leave many gardeners asking, “What’s that?”

Botanical Name: Musa velutina
Common Name: Pink banana
Family Name: Musaceae (Banana Family)
Native Range: Northeastern India
USDA Hardiness Zones7b-11
Locations within Duke Gardens: Doris Duke Center Gardens, Culberson Asiatic Arboretum
Site Requirements: Sun to dappled shade; well-drained but moist soils. Winter protection best.

FALL PLANT SALE DETAILS:
Date: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019
Time: 8 a.m.-noon
Member benefits: Duke Gardens members get 10% off all purchases, plus access to the members-only previews sale and dinner from 5-7 p.m. on Sept. 27, and a full list of plants in advance, plus staff recommendations. Join online or on site.
Parking: Free.
Pets not permitted. Please see Duke Gardens' pets policy here.
Wagons + boxes: Our supply is limited; please bring your own if possible, and you'll have more time to spend gathering beautiful plants.
Your support helps Duke Gardens to provide summer internships to aspiring horticulturists from across the nation.
Please see our event page for more information, and we'd love for you to spread the word by sharing the event on Facebook and inviting your friends.
Thank you!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Fall Plant Sale 2019: Houseplants

'Camouflage' dieffenbachia. Photo: K. Hale
By Katherine Hale

Gardening isn’t limited to those of us with traditional houses and yards. Your space may be too small or dark or barren for a regular garden—but there’s nothing to stop you from living in a lush, temperate jungle, thanks to the flexibility of houseplants.

Houseplants come from around the globe, in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors. Some are known by their Latin names, while others accumulate a hodgepodge of nicknames and misnomers. The one thing they all have in common is an intolerance for freezing temperatures, which makes a heated abode a must.

While they may have beautiful flowers, a houseplant’s greatest charms are its showy foliage; an ability to flourish in the same warmth, light and humidity levels of modern buildings; and fewer special needs than their outdoor counterparts.

Despite their considerable variations, most species of common houseplants can be divided into two groups. Those with lush green leaves have their origins in the shady understory of tropical rainforests—which have the same low, diffuse lighting of a typical living or dining room. The thick, fleshy-leaved succulents hail from harsh deserts, where they are continually assailed by the elements and must cling fiercely to every drop of moisture. Plants in this group generally require more direct sunlight than the tropicals and will rot if over-watered.

Echeveria. Photo: K. Hale
We’ll be offering a wide selection of houseplants at our Fall Plant Sale this weekend, but here are three standouts that will fit into any home, apartment or dorm:

One look at  'Camouflage' dieffenbachia and it’s clear it falls squarely into the tropical camp. Its wide, elegant leaves—a light green flecked with darker specks like its eponymous pattern—allow it to easily blend in any setting or container. Like all dieffenbachia, ‘Camouflage’ is easy to grow, and it will have few problems as long as its soil is kept consistently moist. It’s important to keep curious children or pets from munching on it, as its leaves and stems are chock full of needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals known as raphides, which will cause a painful burning sensation in the throat and esophagus. But it is otherwise pest- and trouble-free.
Echeveria. Photo: K. Hale

On the succulent side, consider members of the genus Echeveria, a large group of Central American natives whose pale, fleshy leaves cluster in rose-like formations. Though they appear like flowers themselves, their actual flowers emerge from a separate shoot, spiraling upward in search of pollinating insects. Sturdy and compact, each echeveria is compelling on its own, but they are hypnotic when massed in groups. Our favorite is the hybrid ‘Topsy Turvy’, which boasts crimped and crinkled edges as if pinched into position by a mischievous sculptor.

Most bromeliads live in the rainforest, but puya (Puya mirabilis) is an exception—a desert-dwelling bromeliad that favors well-drained potting mix over hanging in mid-air like its cousin the air plant (Tillandsia sp.). In addition to its stiff, spiky foliage, puya flowers regularly, sending up bursts of eye-catching  green-white flowers that dangle like bells from elongated stalks. Still relatively obscure compared to better known philodendrons and ficuses, this is the houseplant of choice for someone who likes to to try new things.

Puya. Photo by Chris Carmichael,
UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley.
The sheer number and and versatility of houseplants means that you don’t have to let your circumstances—or even a so-called “brown thumb”—limit your choices when it comes to plants and gardening. No matter your tastes, schedule or living conditions, there’s a houseplant—or two, or three—out there for you.

FALL PLANT SALE DETAILS:
Date: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019
Time: 8 a.m.-noon
Member benefits: Duke Gardens members get 10% off all purchases, plus access to the members-only previews sale and dinner from 5-7 p.m. on Sept. 27, and a full list of plants in advance, plus staff recommendations. Join online or on site.
Parking: Free.
Pets not permitted. Please see Duke Gardens' pets policy here.
Wagons + boxes: Our supply is limited; please bring your own if possible, and you'll have more time to spend gathering beautiful plants.
Your support helps Duke Gardens to provide summer internships to aspiring horticulturists from across the nation.
Please see our event page for more information, and we'd love for you to spread the word by sharing the event on Facebook and inviting your friends.

Thank you!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Fall Plant Sale Preview 2019: Hostas


Hosta 'Cathedral Windows'. Photo by Mandy Cuskelly.
By Katherine Hale
Marketing assistant

It’s never too early to be thinking about next year’s garden—and that’s especially true when it comes to hostas. Though these dependable perennials wind down with the cooler temperatures of fall, now is the best time to plant new ones to fill in gaps in your collection or add additional variety to your landscape. Hosta fans already know why these versatile leafy plants sell out quickly in all our plant sales, while newcomers are in for a real treat with all this genus has to offer.
L-R: Hosta 'Wu La La' and 'First Dance'.
Photos courtesy of Walters Gardens Inc.
While the broad ribbed leaves are the main focal point throughout the growing season, hosta flowers are nothing to sneer at. Stalks of dangling, bell-like flowers rise gracefully out of the canopy in mid-summer, swaying gently in the breeze. The effect is multiplied when hostas are planted en masse in a perennial border or woodland garden, especially if fragrant varieties are involved.
L-R: 'Maui Buttercups' and 'Touch of Class'.
Photos courtesy of Walters Gardens Inc.
All hostas are incredibly tough, though they exhibit their best color and vigor with afternoon shade, adequate moisture, and high organic matter. Their main enemies in the Triangle region are white-tailed deer, who vacuum up any plants they can reach, meaning that fencing or other protection is a must. Slugs may also be a concern in the shadiest areas.
Hosta 'Sum and Substance'. Photo by Jason Holmes.
Because hostas are such regular bestsellers, we always make sure to have a wide variety for gardeners to choose from at our plant sales. This isn’t as hard as it sounds, because every year sees new releases from plant breeders along with the return of old favorites. This year, our list includes 'Cathedral Windows’, a variegated tetraploid hybrid with added vigor; 'Dancing Queen’, a completely yellow cultivar; the giant ‘Sum and Substance’; and 'Halcyon', a popular and reliable “blue” hosta. There will also be the miniaturized ‘Sun Mouse’, the leaf-curling 'Maui Buttercups', and the creamy blended ‘Revolution’.  ‘Touch of Class’, 'Wu-La-La' and 'First Dance' round out our offerings.
L-R: Hosta 'Dancing Queen' and 'Sun Mouse.'
Photos by Beth Hall (L) & Walters Gardens Inc.
Whether you are a beginning gardener interested in exploring this incredible genus, or an experienced connoisseur, the perfect hosta awaits you. And if you need advice or suggestions about which ones would best suit your landscape, we will be happy to help you select the right one—or two or three or more. With hostas, the possibilities are limited only by the imagination.

FALL PLANT SALE DETAILS:
Date: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019
Time: 8 a.m.-noon
Member benefits: Duke Gardens members get 10% off all purchases, plus access to the members-only previews sale and dinner from 5-7 p.m. on Sept. 27, and a full list of plants in advance, plus staff recommendations. Join online or on site.
Parking: Free.
Pets not permitted. Please see Duke Gardens' pets policy here.
Wagons + boxes: Our supply is limited; please bring your own if possible, and you'll have more time to spend gathering beautiful plants.
Your support helps Duke Gardens to provide summer internships to aspiring horticulturists from across the nation.
Please see our event page for more information, and we'd love for you to spread the word by sharing the event on Facebook and inviting your friends.
Thank you!
Hosta 'Revolution' and 'Halcyon'.
Photos courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Fall Plant Sale Preview 2019: Chinese Foxglove

Rehmannia elata growing near the peony collection in
the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. Photo by Beth Hall.
By Annie Yang
Duke Class of 2020

Rehmannia elata is commonly called Chinese foxglove for its resemblance to foxgloves, but this herbaceous perennial is actually a member of a completely different family, Orobanchaceae.  Although this plant is native to China, Chinese foxglove thrives in the warmer climate of North Carolina and is a lovely addition to local gardens.

Rehmannia elata grows best in loose, moist, and well-drained soils. It prefers part shade, especially appreciating the morning sun and afternoon shade during hot summer days, and it also tolerates almost full shade. Once established, it is also drought resistant. However, be sure to protect it from freezing temperatures during the winter with a good layer of mulch. Chinese foxglove is also generally pest-free, attracting only the occasional slug or snail.

Unlike true foxgloves, Chinese foxglove will repeat bloom for 3-4 months, usually unfurling its bell-shaped petals from May to September, with the heaviest bloom around June and July. It is generally low maintenance, but if you want to see it keep blooming, you’ll have to remove its spent flowers. However, this little bit of work is well worth it. Its attractive rosy purple color is sure to brighten up any shade garden.


FALL PLANT SALE DETAILS:
Date: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019
Time: 8 a.m.-noon
Member benefits: Duke Gardens members get 10% off all purchases, plus access to the members-only previews sale and dinner from 5-7 p.m. on Sept. 27, and a full list of plants in advance, plus staff recommendations. Join online or on site.
Parking: Free.
Pets not permitted. Please see Duke Gardens' pets policy here.
Wagons + boxes: Our supply is limited; please bring your own if possible, and you'll have more time to spend gathering beautiful plants.
Your support helps Duke Gardens to provide summer internships to aspiring horticulturists from across the nation.
Please see our event page for more information, and we'd love for you to spread the word by sharing the event on Facebook and inviting your friends.
Thank you!

Fall Plant Sale Preview 2019: Fragrant Tea Olive

Osmanthus fragrans v. aurantiacus 'Beni Kin Mokusei'.
Photo courtesy of Nurseries Caroliniana Inc.
By Katherine Hale

The first sign of fall isn’t shorter days or cooler nights—it’s the apricot-like scent wafting through the air as the fragrant tea olives bloom. Hailing from China, these evergreen shrubs boast hundreds of tiny flowers that pack a big punch, filling the air with massive quantities of perfume. When the season peaks here at Duke Gardens (it’s starting now!), you can follow your nose to the tea olives lining the paths near the lower parking lot and in the Historic Gardens, long before you see them.

The plant’s official name—Osmanthus fragrans v. aurantiacus—is a lengthy one, but don’t let that intimidate you. The first three words are a fancy way of saying it’s an especially fragrant tea olive with orange flowers in place of the usual white. What makes 'Beni Kin Mokusei' so special is that its blooms are much deeper orange than the garden variety auranticus, so much so that they appear almost red in certain lights.

The late horticulturist J.C. Raulston of N.C. State University once saw a sprig of ‘Beni Kin Mokusei’ in a flower arrangement during a visit to a Korean temple and fell in love; he reportedly claimed he would have been willing to risk jail to acquire a specimen of his own. Fortunately, you don’t have to go to such lengths—this variety has now been introduced to the United States and will be available for purchase at Duke Gardens’ Fall Plant Sale on Sept. 28, and the members-only preview sale and dinner on Sept. 27.

What to do with ‘Beni Kin Mokusei’ once you’ve purchased it? The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Take advantage of its heavenly scent and plant it in a sunny place near a porch or patio or anywhere you care to linger on cool autumn evenings. Or use it as a privacy hedge or to line outdoor paths, as we do with the Osmanthus at Duke Gardens. Tea olives are deer- and disease-resistant, and incredibly low-maintenance once established, fading into the background until the fall. You’ll wonder how you ever managed to live without them.

Read more about Osmanthus at Duke Gardens in this 2016 blog post.

FALL PLANT SALE DETAILS:
Date: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019
Time: 8 a.m.-noon
Member benefits: Duke Gardens members get 10% off all purchases, plus access to the members-only previews sale and dinner from 5-7 p.m. on Sept. 27, and a full list of plants in advance, plus staff recommendations. Join online or on site.
Parking: Free.
Pets not permitted. Please see Duke Gardens' pets policy here.
Wagons + boxes: Our supply is limited; please bring your own if possible, and you'll have more time to spend gathering beautiful plants.
Your support helps Duke Gardens to provide summer internships to aspiring horticulturists from across the nation.
Please see our event page for more information, and we'd love for you to spread the word by sharing the event on Facebook and inviting your friends.
Thank you!