Friday, November 18, 2011

Decorating from Your Back Yard

Want help putting together your own wreath or swag?
Join Duke Gardens for a class Dec. 3.

By Kate Blakely

Now is the perfect time of year to bring the outdoors inside. Use natural materials from your own back yard to create a beautiful and fragrant winter holiday display. Duke Gardens horticulturist Michelle Rawlins has a few tips and ideas for you.

First, select a variety of colors to add richness. Think of building a colorful tapestry in your home. Use deep greens, yellow, brown and red tones from leaves, stems and berries.

“Choosing magnolia leaves for both the glossy deep green side and the fuzzy brown underside is very useful,” Rawlins says. In particular, she recommends cultivars such as Magnolia grandiflora ‘Southern Charm’ or ‘Little Gem’, which have a rich brown tone underneath. As another source of color, use holly leaves such as Ilex opaca ‘Steward's Silver Crown' to provide a rich holiday green color and red berries – don’t just use green. The variegated form adds a bright note of white or cream color to your display.
Rawlins suggests experimenting with other sources of color, such as spray-painted pine cones. Rawlins also often uses nandina berries (Nandina domestica) and sweetgum balls (Liquidambar styraciflua).

Varying textures will build upon the tapestry effect. You can introduce a fine texture with pine branches, using newer growth because it looks more fresh and the color is more vibrant, Rawlins says. She also suggests adding both color and fine texture with golden threadleaf falsecypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Filifera Aurea’).

“It really makes an arrangement pop with color and adds an interesting texture,” she says.

Fullness in a display with contrasting colors and textures is generally more interesting than a single flat display, says Rawlins, who looks for plant materials that can layer well. Pick a variety of plants, such as white pine (Pinus strobus), cedar tree branches (Juniperus virginiana), Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria radicans), boxwood (Buxus selections), or sweet olive (Osmanthus fragans).
For a swag, you’ll likely need a “cage” or base, which you can get at a craft store or nursery. This holds your natural materials together as you design. Beyond that, says Rawlins, consider using holiday ornaments, ribbon, bells and holiday bulbs to personalize.

“Add that little extra flair for the holiday season,” Rawlins says, noting that you can make a swag and a wreath at once using the same materials. “We’re going to experiment with some fruits and vegetables in the arrangements, as well as a vintage flair.”

Natural swags do best outdoors. But if you decide to use it indoors, you’ll be able to enjoy the beautiful smells of your natural materials. Put a candle in it and display it on a table or a piano. But be careful with candles, she says. “As soon as your materials start drying out, they could go up in flames really quick!”

If you want more tips on DIY swags, consider joining Duke Gardens’ class “Holiday Decorations” on Dec. 3, from 2 to 4 p.m. Rawlins and Gardens superintendent Harry Jenkins will show you how to create several different centerpieces using natural materials. Once the class gets the basics, each participant will create his or her own holiday wreath or swag. All materials and ribbon will be supplied, but Rawlins encourages students to bring their own special embellishments. The cost is $65; $50 for Gardens members or Duke faculty, staff or students.

For information or to register, please call 668-1707. For more information about Gardens events, please go to
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.

Kate Blakely is a graduate student at Duke Divinity School and a work-study assistant at Duke Gardens. This column first appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun on Nov. 12.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Landscape Plants for NC: Winter

Paperbush (Edgeworthia chysantha)
brightens our winter gardens

By Jan Little
Director of Education & Public Programs

One of the great pleasures of gardening in North Carolina is the presence of flowers year-round. Each season has its magic, and the winter—with its spare quality, stripped of leafy ruffles and decorations—is no exception.

The calendar does not rule gardens in North Carolina with an iron fist. Instead, various plants can thrive and blossom all year, thanks to the mild climate. Bobby Mottern, director of horticulture at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, has a list of plants you might consider for your winter garden.

In December, the garden can be decked out for winter holidays with iridescent red berries on the evergreen yaupon hollies (Ilex vomitoria) and the deciduous hollies (Ilex verticillata selections). These are both native plants, and there are a number of forms or hybrids to choose among for ultimate size or berry color. As with most hollies, planting both a male and female form is guaranteed to produce a berry display.

Also, sasanqua camellias (Camellia sasanqua or C. sasanqua x oleifera) begin to flower in late autumn and extend through January, if not into February. The sasanquas have been selected and hybridized with Camellia oleifera to create a wide range in sizes and flower colors. Their dark, glossy green foliage serves as a beautiful backdrop through most of the year and some selections add mildly spice-scented flowers! Considerable work has been done at the National Arboretum in selecting and hybridizing winter-hardy camellias; look for the plant’s “Winter’s” series (Winter’s Charm, Winter’s Hope, etc.) to find some of these selections.

A beautiful plant in all seasons, hybrid witchhazels (Hamamelis x intermedia) are a special treat throughout the winter season. Again, there are many choices here for size, color and fragrance. In general, the witchhazels bloom in late January and February with golden yellow, orange or red flowers, many with fragrance. Look for the hybrids Arnold Promise (introduced by the Arnold Arboretum) for both fragrance and bright yellow flowers, or Jelena, also known as Copper Beauty, with bright apricot to copper colored flowers. Additionally, Primavera is known for the early floral fragrance from abundant yellow blossoms.

Paperbush (Edgeworthia chysantha) also brightens our winter gardens. The winter flower buds of this plant form beautiful, downy chandeliers of buds (similar to its cousin, the Daphne), held in downward-facing clusters. Beginning in February, occasionally in late January, this flower chandelier begins to face up and out toward the sun, opening to a wonderfully fragrant egg-yolk yellow flower. This plant also has a pretty habit and ornamental form that is attractive throughout the year.

A more well-known camellia, the Japanese camellia (Camellia japonica) adds its large, showy flowers to the mix in late January. With large, 3- to 5-inch diameter flowers of any number of white, pink, rose, and red flower choices, this camellia defies winter temperatures.

And late winter is greeted by the superb scent of fragrant wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox). This plant has only one season of interest each year – the fragrant flowers in February – but that season is so wonderful it is easy to overlook its shortcomings at other times of the year. Although a plain Jane the rest of the year, it can be a useful backdrop and worth every bit of garden square footage for that season of bloom.

All of these plants can be seen at Duke Gardens. If you would like to learn more about winter season plants, please join us for Bobby’s next class, “Landscape Plants for North Carolina Gardens: Winter,” beginning on Nov. 29 from 1 to 3:30 p.m. and running weekly for three weeks. The fee is $110; $90 for Gardens members or Duke faculty, staff or students.

For information about this and other classes, or to register, please call 919-668-1707.

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. Visit online at, or call 684-3698.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Preparing for Garden Guild Craft Sale

Don't forget the Garden Guild Craft Sale is Saturday, Nov. 12, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free, and parking is free until 1 p.m.

While you're browsing, check out the Terrace Shop. Pots and bulbs are 30% off.

Below are a few "action shots" of lovely Garden Guild members preparing for the sale. Also check out some more photos of the items they were working with.

Kindle Covers, for that e-reader in your life.

Friendly Robot is looking for a home.

"Butterfly Puddling Trays" - Set these out in your garden for butterflies.

And just a few more items...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Garden Guild Holiday Craft Sale

For most of the year, Duke Gardens' talented volunteer Garden Guild has been busy crafting unique new items to make your home more festive for the holidays, or for your gift-giving needs.

This year's Garden Guild Craft Sale is Saturday, Nov. 12, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is free, and parking is free until 1 p.m. All proceeds from this popular annual sale go toward the upkeep of Duke Gardens, so if you buy a gift, you'll get twice the gift-giving satisfaction. You can even buy Gardens memberships as gifts. Just ask at the front desk for information.

The Guild has been making some popular items from previous sales, and they've come up with many new products. Many items have a garden theme, incorporating natural elements, sometimes even from the Gardens. Everything is handmade and inexpensive.

One new batch of items is “gourdaments.” Happy creatures and elegant Santa Clauses can grace your Christmas tree or holiday decor. Mix and match from several different varieties. Each of these unique pieces will be sure to inspire you and get folks asking about your ornament.

For those who have been collecting the tobacco stick angel over the last several years, we have a new addition that you'll want to add. She is holding a sea basket filled with seashells. At the top of this post are some angels with a tobacco stick Santa.

Also available are Caprice shells, each embellished with dried flowers from the Gardens. What a wonderful way to bring in some summer color during the colder months. Use hand-decorated greeting cards to drop a dear friend a special note or to send holiday greetings. Snail-mail was never so pretty.

Gift wrapping can be easy this year. One-of-a-kind origami gift boxes in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors -- many upcycled from Duke Gardens calendars and other colorful publications -- can serve double duty as gift-wrapping and gift display or storage. Most boxes are 2-5 inches, so these boxes are perfect for jewelry or other smaller gifts.

A favorite from past years, and just as adorable this year, are these handmade headbands. These are perfect for stocking stuffers, or just for fun.

Here are some other items we'll have out for browsing at the sale.

Quilted star trivets help preserve table-tops during delicious dinners...

Garden Veggie Ornaments beautifully remind us to eat our veggies all year long.

Knitted Hats, some with fruit and vegetable themes, keep little heads toasty!

Decorative Storage - Beautiful and useful!

These hand-made chickens can keep you company all year long...

Keep recipes, newspaper clippings, and thoughts tidy in these embellished journals.

We'll also have jewelry, clothing, eye masks, soaps and plenty of other goodies. So please mark your calendars and bring a friend out with you. We look forward to seeing you Saturday at the Gardens.
Here are some more teaser pictures!