Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Nature journaling day camp for tweens

By Jan Little
Photo by Lauren Sims

Artists, gardeners, writers, scientists and others have kept journals in which they can jot notes, observations, ideas they want to explore and details to be drawn. Leonardo da Vinci’s journals are maintained in a number of museums around the world. In his journals he kept everything from grocery lists to sketches of helicopters!

Journaling is a way to focus your thoughts and explore a concept without losing track of ideas. For an artist, a journal provides a quick way to record a view or a detail for later use. Some artists work on small versions of a larger project in their journals first, searching for just the right composition to help them move forward on the full-size version.

Children ages 11 to 13 will have the opportunity to try out nature journaling in “Drawing on Nature,” two one-week Nature Adventures Camp programs in August. As a group, they will explore nature in the Gardens. Individually, they can record notes, sketches, ideas, poems and observations. The journal requires careful observation and helps develop a vivid understanding of nature, perhaps even a delight in your findings.

The children will be following a popular tradition. Thomas Jefferson maintained decades of garden journals in which he recorded a calendar of when seeds were sown and seedlings planted, the timing and amount of harvest, and plant evaluation. Those journals are still being studied and used by gardeners and researchers to understand gardening and landscaping in Jefferson’s time.

Chuck Hemric, Duke Gardens’ volunteer director and an avid gardener, maintains a garden journal that began when he moved to his home and garden eight years ago.  It helps him track types of plants, planting locations, the plant source, weather trends, and seasonal notes such as first bloom or first fruit.
“It helps me learn and remember what conditions work for a plant and determine just what is meant by part shade, full shade, so I can learn the conditions unique to my garden in which a plant will thrive,” he says.

Self-discovery is inevitable as you maintain a journal, and it will be fun to see what the youngsters who participate in “Drawing on Nature” will learn about themselves. The program will be guided by local artists and experienced journal-keepers, who will help the children pursue their own interests and hone their skills. The children need not have exceptional artistic or writing abilities to participate.

Camp dates & information: Drawing on Nature camp runs from 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Aug. 6-10 or Aug. 13-17 (children may attend both). Extended care is available from 1-4 p.m. The cost is $150 per child per week; $75 more per week for extended care. For complete information, please visit gardens.duke.edu or call 919-668-1707.

UPDATE: We regret to announce that we are canceling the journaling camp due to low enrollment. We thank the many families who filled our other summer camps to capacity, and we look forward to shaping another exciting camp season next summer. If there's a themed camp you would love to see offered, please feel free to suggest it to education coordinator Kavanah Anderson.

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.

Columnist Jan Little is director of education and public programs at Duke Gardens. This column first appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Patterns in Nature

Can you see the Fibonacci sequence in this coneflower?
Photo by Robert Ayers
By Jan Little

Why is it that some things simply appear “right” to our eyes? How is it that we recognize immediately when a flower is misshapen or a fruit has grown incorrectly?

It all has to do with pattern. There are patterns in the world that appear over and over in a variety of plants, animals and even humans. Think of the pinwheels in the middle of a daisy flower, the spiral line of a pine cone, or the average dimensions of a human face. Each of these is part of a pattern called the golden ratio, or Phi. This ratio is commonly written out as a dimension of 1 to 1.65, easily understood as a rectangle that measures 1 along the short side and 1.65 along the long side of the rectangle.

You can measure the width of your face compared to the length of your face and find the same dimension, or the length of your leg from the hip down compared to the length from the knee down to the floor. The same dimensions, drawn graphically as a spiral, are seen in nautilus shells, pineapples, branch distributions on trees, and sedum plants.

People have adapted this golden ratio into everyday objects in our lives. Buildings, such as the Parthenon, are built using these dimensions, and the Chicago-style window and 3 x 5 index cards are all examples of the golden ratio.

Artists use “golden” relationships in their compositions and many books have dissected the geometric compositions of classic artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and others.

Even today people are still using this ratio as a guide to assist them in designing objects, buildings, landscapes, paintings, or photographs that are seen as beautiful and compelling.

Students in design programs, if they are struggling with a shape or solution but don’t feel that it is quite right, are frequently advised to double-check the dimensions.  Their problems are often solved if they can introduce a “golden ratio” within their design.

This golden ratio is a tool used in nature photography as well. Over and over again, if you introduce these numbers into your photograph it will gain strength in composition. The main subject can be set at a “golden” place within the photograph. Or multiple objects can sit along a graphic “golden” relationship.

Many of the photography classes at Sarah P. Duke Gardens help participants practice creating and capturing this sequence, along with other skills. A 3-class workshop beginning June 14, “Composition and Light,” taught by Paul Wingler, will work to take you beyond your preconceptions and challenge you to thoughtfully use this and other tools. Not only will you have the opportunity to learn how to effectively apply this tool, you will also learn from other students. Seeing what another individual does with the same instructions helps each of us find our way to new perspectives and insights. It is one of the primary benefits of class participation.

In your next nature walk, take a moment to look around. Patterns will simply appear where you did not see them before. They are there for us to find, and each discovery is a moment of wonder. Enjoy.

For more information about classes and programs at Duke Gardens, please go to gardens.duke.edu or 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.

Jan Little is director of education and public programs at Duke Gardens. This column first appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun.

Terrarium: a garden in miniature

 By Jennie Carlisle

Terrariums have made a big comeback. You see them in the pages of interior design magazines and do-it-yourself crafter websites. You can even find terrarium necklaces with tiny planted pendants.

The recent surge in terrarium popularity is easy to understand, says florist and terrarium enthusiast Jay Stolz. Terrariums give you all the pleasure of a garden without the effort or expense. 

You can learn to create your own miniature garden in a terrarium workshop led by Stolz on Saturday, June 9, from 10 a.m. to noon at Duke Gardens. Stolz will introduce the basics of making both closed- and open-form terrariums—those with and without lids. Then each participant will select plants and build a terrarium in the glass container they bring to the workshop.

To assemble one at home, you need to do little more than fill an interesting clear glass container with layers of gravel, soil and plants.

Select a container with an opening through which you can fit your hand. Place an inch or two of pea gravel or sand at the bottom of the container. If your terrarium will be closed, add a thin layer of activated charcoal (the kind used in aquarium filters) over the gravel to filter the air. Add a layer of sphagnum moss as the next layer to lessen the draining of dirt into the gravel. Add two or more inches of potting soil.  Finally, place your plants, lightly mist them and add the lid if you are creating a closed terrarium.

Low-growing plants generally work best. Try using a miniature African violet (Saintpaulia) or lipstick plant (Aeschynanthus radicans). Silver leafed pilea (Pilea cadierei), baby tears (Soleirolia soleirolii), small ferns such as button fern (Pellaea rotundifolia) and mosses are also great choices.

“Plant only half of what you think you need, to account for their growth,” Stolz advises. “You need to know how to space them, just as you would in your yard.”

As for care, that’s the easy part. Observe your terrarium closely for the first few weeks after planting and remove dead leaves and plants to minimize disease. If the terrarium seems too moist, remove the lid to dry out the container a bit.  A closed terrarium only needs to be lightly watered every four to six months, an open terrarium perhaps monthly.

After that, all that’s left is the enjoyment of your very own miniature world.

To register for the Terrarium workshop or for more information on all the programs offered by Duke Gardens, please call 919-668-1707 or go to gardens.duke.edu. The cost is $70; $55 Gardens members and Duke staff and students.

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.

Jennie Carlisle is an events assistant at Duke Gardens. This column first appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun.

Nature Journaling Camps in August

Do you love nature and art?  Duke Gardens is offering two nature journaling camps in August for youngsters ages 10-13. 

Drawing on Nature is Aug 6-10 and Aug 13-17. Explore nature in the Gardens through art and nature journaling. Sharpen observation skills with drawing, wordplay and stories from the land while you are inspired by the nature surrounding you. Develop a relationship with the Gardens, where a moment of quiet observation could reveal a dragonfly emerging from its shell, a blue heron’s wings spreading out for takeoff or the intricate pattern of a spider web. No experience is necessary and all skill levels are welcome. Join us for one or both weeks.

Drawing on Nature is from 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m., with an extended day available from 1-4 p.m.

To register or find out more about this and other themed camp programs for children ages 5-13, call 919-668-1707 or go to our camps pdf at gardens.duke.edu.