Doris Duke Center Curator Jason Holmes and interns Tate and Heather take a rest from the hot day at a forest classroom at North Carolina Botanical Garden.
A Rotation in the Life of a Duke Gardens Intern: Rotation 3
Article and photos by Amanda Wilkins
It’s been awhile since you’ve heard from the Duke Gardens interns in reports #1 and #2. We haven’t gotten lost in the Blomquist or withered in the sun. We’ve been working hard and learning more about horticulture every day. Since the last time they were interviewed, interns Heather and Tate have been on a field trip and made a lot of headway on their projects. In this post, they reflect on their experiences in the gardens they’ve been in so far and how their projects have progressed, as well as their favorite class.
We are already halfway done with our internship and we have been here at Duke for almost eight weeks now. How do you feel so far?
Heather: Tate feels sweaty.
Tate: I’ve enjoyed it. I like working outside. I’ve never worked in a public garden before, so I am starting to appreciate the work that goes into public gardens, the collaboration of the garden staff as a whole that it takes to efficiently keep the Gardens looking good and aesthetically pleasing. So yeah, I like it a lot.
H: It is amazing how good the Gardens looks with so few [staff] people. I mean, really. So much is done by volunteers. I mean, it would be impossible without the volunteers.
Where were you working the last time, Tate? What did you do?
T: Well, we set a couple of benches in the Memorial Garden, which I have learned to do. There are a lot of different things you need to know to set it, as far as keeping it level horizontally and vertically. You have to make sure it is set just right in the landscape, where you can get a good view of the garden. And I did some weeding, a lot of watering, a lot of weeding. That’s basically what I did for three weeks. A lot of watering, a lot of weeding. We planted a few plants. We didn’t plant as much as Heather did when she was here. But we still planted some hydrangeas and creeping raspberries, a few other things.
What was your favorite part of working in the Historic Core? What was your least favorite part?
T: Well, I know this has nothing to do with horticulture, per se, but I really enjoyed [learning] how to put the benches in correctly and how to set them, where you can sit down in them and see the whole garden and a nice view, a more intimate view. I like it. I really like learning hardscapes and things of that nature, because I know a lot about landscaping, per se, but hardscaping I really don’t know much about. So I have enjoyed that.
I didn’t mind doing anything, really. I didn’t have a least favorite part. The weeding was easy. There was nothing to it. You just go through the Terraces and pull them right up.
I guess the worst part would be the heat, because [the Historic Core] is the hottest part of the garden.
So, Heather, where did you work last time?
H: I was in the Asiatic Arboretum. [Horticulturist Michelle Stay] was gone, so I was glad I could be there to take up what she normally does. So my mornings were very routine. There were certain containers I filled with water, certain plants had to be watered, I had to feed the ducks, so my morning up until 11 was very regimented. And then the rest of the day was whatever needed to be done.
Because of my historic preservation background, of course, I gravitate towards the building. So I enjoyed the pavilion and plantings over there, and that sort of feeling that you get in that part of the garden. I liked feeding the ducks; that was always very fulfilling. They’re always happy to see you.
I’m with Tate; I don’t think I had a least favorite. It was all good. Paul was good to take time to explain things to me that I didn’t know, so that was just good for me personally. The tree came down while I was there, so I got to watch that come down, literally. And water all that moss. So none of it was bad. It’s all good. I liked the routine part; I enjoy routine.
What gardens are you in now, Heather? What kind of things have you been doing there?
H: I am at the Blomquist now, but because of the holiday and being gone, we haven’t been doing too much there. But cleaning paths -- surprise, surprise. Pulling wisteria off of that back fence. That’s really about it.
Interns are met with the reflective vision of the Millstone Pond as they groom paths and sweep the hardscapes in the Blomquist Pavilion and elsewhere.
The curious thing about [the Blomquist], I think, is that for a “native garden,” there is a lot of maintenance still. It seems like we should [let it go]. It’s the forest; let the forest do what forests do. But there still is a lot of maintenance involved. I know in the Terraces a lot of maintenance goes on, and you can’t help it, but it seems like in the Blomquist it would be less.
So, what has been your favorite part of working there?
H: Reading all the labels. I am not a native plant person. This is not my background, so I have made it a point to read every label I can find to try and educate myself. I might as well; while I am cleaning a path, I might as well be reading. And so that has been good.
There is no least favorite. Am I just thrilled to pull wisteria off of a fence? No, but it is just part of it. I expect it.
So where are you working right now, Tate?
T: I am at the Doris Duke Center. It’s not bad. We haven’t done anything that I have just absolutely hated. We’re expanding a flower bed just left of the water lily pool, so we’ve been planning that, putting in edging, taking out some daylilies, cleaning them up, and storing them in the greenhouse and the nursery. I’ve cleaned up about 25 clumps. I don’t mind that.
I don’t have a favorite or least favorite part. I like the watering. I like watching the blue heron come to the lily pond and stare at the water. I like working with some of the volunteers. They’re really nice. There’s one in particular, named Jay, who works all day on Wednesdays and helps out a whole lot. I have put in a few plants in the woodland garden. I put in a bottlebrush buckeye right behind that statue behind the arbor. Now we’re just trying to close that gap.
Volunteer Jay Stoltz helps Jason Holmes load lily of the Niles, an Agapanthus variety, onto a cart in the White Garden.
Where is your last place, Tate?
T: My last place is the [Asiatic] Arboretum, which I think is pretty good because my project is in the Arboretum. I can spend a little more time doing maintenance work on my project.
Where are you going last, Heather? Anything particular that you are looking forward to working with?
H: I am all about the Doris Duke Center. …. I am all about the White Garden. That’s good for me.
So, as far as projects, how are they coming along?
H: My plans are in Ithaca [N.Y.]. I am on my way up there on Monday. … A professor of landscape architecture is meeting me there and we are going to the archives [at Cornell University] together to look at Ellen Shipman’s drawings for the garden that’s in Winston-Salem. So I’ll be there Monday, come back Tuesday. So, I’ll know a whole lot more on Wednesday. It’ll be fun. As soon as I get the plans, get a good idea of what’s there, not there, then the decisions have to be made where to go from there. I’m all about these plans right now.
Do you have a list of plants that you’ve been thinking of putting in there?
H: It all depends on these plans. If Ellen Shipman said we’re going to put in "blank," by golly, we’re going to put it in. I know there are two versions of the plan, 1929 version and the 1947 version. So something changed. Something went right or went wrong. She’s from New York and she’s notorious for planting plants that were great in New York but not so great in the South, so it is possible that this revision has something to do with, ‘OK, the first ones you planted didn’t live, let’s try it again.’ Or maybe somebody changed their mind; it’s hard to tell.
So, there’s that issue, and the other issue is it was common for the late ‘20s to plant plants that have turned out to be invasive -- wisteria is the real standard one -- and so a decision will have to be made. There is wisteria in the garden in Winston-Salem now. It just all depends. If there is someone who could love it every day, it’s great. If there’s not somebody to babysit it, then plan B. So these are the decisions that will have to be made after we see the plans.
I am going to take pictures of everything. There are 28 plans [for this garden in Winston-Salem]. It’s not that big. There’s the upper trellis, the lower trellis, the rose trellis. It’s just hard to tell when they are. There is a bulb planting plan, a tulip planting plan, so it’ll be curious. I’ll do what she says. It’s not for me to decide. Ellen decided 75 years ago.
So how’s your project coming along, Tate?
T: It’s coming along a lot better than it was a few weeks ago. I finally got in contact with some people at Chanticleer [Garden] and I am going up there in a couple weeks myself to get a guided tour of their ruin gardens. I got in contact with the landscape architect that designed it, and he gave me just a brief summary of the gardens and why it was created. …
Just today, I went to the site that we are thinking of putting the ruin gardens in. Me, Paul and Michelle marked off some trees where the path is going to be, so probably next Thursday I will be in there trying to take some of that stuff out, get the path started.
The way the path is going to be constructed is we’re going to have one path with steps that winds up in there and comes out right before you get to the tea house. And then we’ll have another path that comes a little further down that is going to be wheelchair accessible that kind of cuts back into the other path. They’re thinking about building a bathroom in there, because there is a septic line that runs right through those little woods. So, we’re getting the ball running. Like Paul said, we didn’t expect construction to start before I left; it’s just to give me a background on it and a history and the idea behind ruin gardens.
I’m really getting into the hardscapes and the waterscapes, as well. They’re going to have a stream eventually. They’re thinking about it. Anything is liable to change. But they’re thinking about having a little stream that runs through right across the path and then have stepping stones. We’re trying to give you a feel of mountainous terrain and the ruins is basically going to be like they had the tea house on this side of the path and say that was built in the 1900s sometime and then we’re going to have the ruins of an old tea house up in this elevated area that dates back to the 1700s and was destroyed somehow, fire or earthquake or something. We’re going to build a ruined garden around that. I think it would be cool to have little a little well to have that off to the side of the tea house and the stream is another cool idea. It makes you think, “Why did they build this tea house here?” and it’s because the stream is right here and not too far from water to make their tea. It’s coming along. I’m pretty excited about the tour of Chanticleer. Everyone I talked to says it’s an amazing garden.
What’s been your favorite field trip or class?
H: Smithfield BBQ.
(Everyone chuckled. On a Thursday Intern trip to Raleigh, we stopped and had Smithfield BBQ for lunch. During the trip, Jason Holmes, curator of the Doris Duke Center Gardens, took all of the interns to Tony Avent’s Plant Delights Nursery and Juniper Level Botanic Garden and to the North Carolina Botanical Garden.)
Tony Avent's xerophytic garden extended behind his house and spilled over into pots. Avent held an open house for interns during a field trip.
T: I really liked Tony Avent’s area. It was pretty cool. I really liked the water plant lecture [by Duke Gardens horticulturist Tamara Kilbane]. I’ve enjoyed all of them. I guess the water lily one is my favorite because I don’t know much about it and I learned a little bit more in it than the others.
A hummingbird clearwing moth, Hemaris thysbe, tries to get at the nectar in a lily near the native water gardens at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.
Horticulturist Tamara Kilbane talks to interns about the plants in the bog garden below the Virtue Peace Pond during a tour of the Doris Duke Center Gardens.
H: I guess I will have to concur for the same reasons. … Tony Avent was a big trip, so it sticks out in my mind.
We’ve had a lot of fun this summer so far. Our classes have been interesting, and working with the Gardens staff members has taught us so much. Time has flown and now we only have three more weeks left in our internship. Check us out in a couple of weeks to hear our final thoughts on our experience.