Monday, November 22, 2010

Class: Landscape Plants for N.C. Gardens

Dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor)
Photo by Jason Holmes

By Lauren Sims

As the temperature falls and the leaves follow suit, area gardens are taking on a new feel.

“You see different things in the wintertime,” says Duke Gardens director of horticulture Bobby Mottern. “When deciduous trees and shrubs have shed their leaves you start to see shapes and form a lot more than you do during the other parts of the year when your eye is focused on other things. Evergreen material really does provide the show for the next four months around here.”

Evergreen trees and shrubs may not always flower heavily, but they create impact with form to the garden during the coldest months of the year, he says. Even when the brightly colored flowers of spring and summer have faded away, these hardy plants retain their structure, silhouette, and visual interest.

Many evergreen plants can add exciting outlines to the landscape during winter, for example, Mottern says. Hardy palms like the dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor) and needle palm (Rapidophylum hystrix) grow well in North Carolina and lend a hint of the tropics even in the middle of January. And the bright red berries of the deciduous winterberry (Ilex verticillata) not only provide rich color but also attract wildlife in the late winter.

“You really appreciate them when everything else has lost its leaves and that’s really all you have going on in the wintertime,” Mottern says of these cold-tolerant plants.

Mottern advises local gardeners to keep their planting options open in the coming months. Many people tend to think that they can’t plant during the winter, he says. In fact, with proper plant care and soil conditions, planting can continue this time of year as long as the ground is not frozen.

If you would like to learn more about winter gardens and planting, consider taking the Duke Gardens class “Landscape Plants for North Carolina Gardens.” Mottern teaches the three-class series, which runs Nov. 30 and Dec. 7 and 14 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. Mottern will teach students not only about the plants themselves but also where they can find them and how to utilize them in their own gardens.

For information about this class and other events in November & December, see our previous blog post or call 668-5309. Our Jan.-June schedule will also appear soon in the "news" section of our website,

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 is at 420 Anderson St.

Lauren Sims is a graduate student at Duke Divinity School and a work-study assistant at Duke Gardens. This column first appeared in the Nov. 20 Homes & Garden section of The Herald-Sun.

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