Friday, June 18, 2010

Duke Gardens summer intern report

Unlike this stone lantern in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum, a garden that intern Tate Warren is working on will feature broken stone pieces to resemble a ruined ancient house.

A Rotation in the Life of a Duke Gardens Summer Intern: Rotation One

Interview byAmanda Wilkins
Photos by Amanda Wilkins, except where noted.

Summer 2010 has brought Duke Gardens three new horticulture interns. My name is Amanda Wilkins and I am one of the interns. I am a sophomore in horticulture science at N.C. State University. Tate Warren has traveled all the way from Mississippi State University to work in the Gardens. He has one semester left before he gets his bachelor’s degree in horticulture. The third intern, Heather Seifert, is pursuing a second career in horticulture and is at Alamance Community College, after being in nonprofit preservation for many years. So even though we come from different places and backgrounds, we are united in our interest in and passion for horticulture.

Tate Warren visits the site a garden he's working on in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum.

The way our internship works is we each work in a separate garden for three weeks, then switch to another garden. We have been working at Duke Gardens for almost four weeks now and last week was our first week in a different garden since we started. There has been plenty of time to adapt to the sweltering North Carolina summers and get a little wear on our side clippers. Since I never get to work with the other interns, I felt it was time to see how they were doing.

What attracted you to Duke Gardens?

Heather: “Well, I have been a volunteer here since July of last year. My background is historic preservation and this is a second career for me. I was hoping to combine my years of nonprofit preservation experience with my love of gardening, so I quit my job and took this huge plunge and went to school. I am trying to get some background in public gardens and historic gardens. Obviously, being here would be a big help for me, so I have been working for Jan [Watson, a Gardens horticulturist] since July.”

Tate: “Well, for the past two years I have been working in greenhouses, and I feel like I have a good understanding on how to manage greenhouses. So when I was deciding what I was going to do for my internship, I kind of wanted to broaden my knowledge to different fields of horticulture. I decided I would try public gardens to see what it was like and if I enjoyed it, and so far I do, and just broaden my experience just a little bit.”

So we do a three-week rotation. Where did you work the first three weeks? What kind of things did you do?

T: “I worked in the Blomquist Garden, which is the native garden. Well, I cleaned up a waterscape, did a lot of weeding of Microstegium, helped sand down some cedar branches that we are getting ready to build a fence with, and replaced all the rope fences and groomed paths. Stefan [Bloodworth], who is the curator, let me join in on a tour he gave some of the volunteers … . That’s pretty much it. Groomed paths a lot. Maybe twice a week.”

H: “I worked in the Terraces and it was their big annual winter-spring-summer annual switch, and we planted, we figured, 15,000 plants in those three weeks. That’s a lot of holes. And that was really it. It was this major switch.”

What was your favorite part of working in those gardens?

H: “My interest, of course, has been in that particular part of the garden for a long time, and it is fun for me to see the combinations that Mike [Owens, Historic Gardens curator] and Jan come up with. It’s not always the same standard plants together all the time. That’s the fun of being there, seeing the great, unusual combinations they pull together.”

T: “My favorite part was learning about the native plants and noticing the wildlife that these native plants support. I mean, you saw rabbits, you saw squirrels, hawks, all kinds of birds. There is a lot of wildlife in the native gardens and I think I enjoyed learning about that more than anything else.”

Did you have a least favorite part about working in those gardens?

T: “I mean, well, weeding is never fun, but it is a necessity. You have to do it. So I don’t mind doing it, but I would have to say that it was my least favorite part.”

H: “The only thing I can think about is it was hot. But no matter when you do it, it’s going to be hot. Endurance was an important part of the last three weeks.”

Sun shines through a Japanese maple in Asiatic Arboretum.

What gardens are you in now? What have you been doing this week?

T: “I am in the Terraces. We’ve been doing a lot of pruning. We pruned the old wisteria right there on the terrace, right as you walk in on the pergola.

After looking at his arms, we knew immediately: “And roses, apparently,” Heather said.

T: “We pruned some roses yesterday, some spirea. We’ve pruned a lot of stuff the past few days, actually.”

H: “I am in the Arboretum. I have been weeding, which is interesting, though, because it is very specific. It’s this one, not that one. That one, not this one. So, I know a sweet gum tree when it’s 30 feet tall but not when it’s an inch. So that’s been interesting. I’ve spent a lot of time in the [Japanese] Pavilion understanding locking up, cleaning up, how it should look, and sort of the etiquette of that part of the garden. Dead-headed daylilies for about four hours yesterday. Lots of daylilies. There are more little rooms in the Arboretum than I realized. Little rooms, that is the best I can describe it.”

Heather points to one of the many vines of poison ivy she was trying to avoid that plague the area she is weeding in the Asiatic Arboretum. Don't worry, the vines are not near the paths!

What are you looking forward to the most in the garden you are working in now?

T: “For me, it’s basically design. Like Heather said, how plants go together. I am also curious to see how they’re going to grow together. It’s more important to me than what they look like right now, because they have only been in there a couple of weeks. I really like the aesthetics of the Terraces. I think it is a really, really nice spot in the garden.”

H: “I am interested in the Pavilion. There is a tea ceremony that we get to go to. The whys of ‘why this plant?’ There’s the lighting of the lanterns. All that very Asian-influenced gardening. I am fascinated with it, but know very little about it, so here’s obviously a great opportunity to get to the bottom of it.”

As a horticulture intern, we each work on a project that interests us over the course of the summer. What is your summer internship project?

T: “I am working in the Arboretum. There are some woodlands right behind the Pavilion across the path and I am going to try to create a winding path through those woodlands, and in these little pockets we are going to try and build ruins to look like someone has lived there. Take some stones and slab that looks like it used to be part of a house, and then plant Japanese garden-type plants around those ruins in these pockets through there. Just make that extra area people can enjoy in the Arboretum.”

Although it was hiding among harmless Virginia Creeper vines, this poison ivy vine was one of many throughout the future site of the ruin garden in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. The underbrush in the area will be cleared when construction begins.

H: “My project is the redesigning — finding the plans for the James G. Hanes Garden in Winston-Salem. Ellen Shipman did the gardens here as well as that particular one in Hanes’. And there was a Hanes connection and Ellen Shipman connection … and they knew my interest in historic gardens and were kind enough to make that connection. So, we thought we knew where the plans were. Now we are not so sure anymore. … One person says they’re there and another one doesn’t, so now I have to decide when I am going to cut this loose and go on, just design it myself in an Ellen Shipman style. So we went last week to look at it, to see what was left of it and it was interesting.”

Heather Seifert's project involves the James G. Hanes Garden in Winston-Salem. Ellen Biddle Shipman, who designed Duke Gardens' original Terrace Gardens, also designed the Hanes garden, which is now masked by overgrown boxwoods. Photo by Mike Owens.

We still have eight weeks left in our summer internship, but so far we have had an interesting time. Each day and garden bring some new experience for us. Check back in a couple more weeks for an update on “A Rotation in the Life of a Duke Gardens Summer Intern.”