Monday, March 7, 2011

Tour our gardens to plan yours

Allium and golden yarrow make a vibrant team

By Lauren Sims

The time has come to think about this spring’s garden. The seed magazines are waiting on the coffee table. Garden stores await your visit. The only question left is what to choose. If you’re at a loss, the curators at Sarah P. Duke Gardens may be able to fire your imagination and supply some home garden inspiration on your visits or with our guided tours.

Intriguing colors and plant combinations are the order of the day in the Historic Gardens this spring. One of curator Mike Owens’ favorite groupings is that of a golden yarrow with the purple allium ‘Ambassador,’ which stands about 4 feet tall. The mixture of colors, heights and shapes makes quite the conversation starter.

“That is probably the one combination of plantings for the spring that we get the most questions about,” Owens says.

Another fun focus this year in the Historic Gardens will be the blending of roses, like the knockout and drift rose, with annuals and even grasses like the pennisetum ‘Princess Caroline.’ This plant, while not hardy, has a dark burgundy foliage that appears almost black and would be an attention-grabbing addition to any home garden.

Grasses are also on display in the beds and containers of the Doris Duke Center Gardens this year. They add structure and visual interest to the garden, and curator Jason Holmes hopes to highlight opportunities to incorporate grasses into the landscape, whether it’s in a perennial border, shrub border or annual planting. Among the offerings to check out this season are the African feather-top grass pennisetum villosum, switch grasses and pink muhly grass. Another great grass option this year would be foxtail grasses, which are resistant to hot, dry Carolina summers.

If your garden focus this season is more of a full-sensory affair, a tour through the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum with curator Paul Jones may be just the ticket.

“We just try to make it a delightful experience,” Jones explains, “a walk through the garden talking about whatever is on people’s minds.”

While the plants are primary on the agenda, Jones moves beyond that to examine the overall atmosphere of the garden. Consider the fragrances of your plants, he says. Think about the design of your garden, the placement of your various plants and structures. Look beyond the blooms of your plants and notice their underlying form and structure. Also, take time to listen to the sounds that permeate your backyard garden. The landscape is about more than blooms, after all. Enjoy it with all your senses.

SCHEDULES: Spring Flower Walks in the Arboretum will be at 10 a.m. March 11 and April 8. Historic Gardens Color Walks will be at 9 a.m. April 7 and May 12. And Doris Duke Center Gardens tours will be at 10 a.m. May 27 and June 24. The Gardens also offers a Walk on the Wild Side through the Blomquist Garden on the first Thursday of each month, as well as periodic guided bird walks and Water Lily Walks in summer.

To register, or for more information, please call 668-1707 or e-mail, or read our full program guide (PDF) at our website., please go to (or scan our abbreviated list). Our garden walks page also has tour information.

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 March 5 Durham Herald-Sun.

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