Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Class preview: spring geophytes

Ornamental onion (Allium)

Planning your spring and summer geophytes

By Kate Blakely
Photo by Robert Ayers

A robin singing, warmth in the wind, a sunshiny breeze, a bright little flash of green and yellow against the brown earth—this mild winter has been laced with signs of spring. So it seems a good time to talk about geophytes.

What’s a geophyte?

“The quick and dirty definition of ‘geophytes’ is plants with underground storage structures,” says Jason Holmes, curator of the Doris Duke Center Gardens, who’ll teach a class on spring geophytes on March 7.

Daffodils, tulips, crocus, gladiolas, dahlias, cannas, crinums and a host of other flowers fit under the term “geophyte.” All of these plants carry their food inside a storage structure such as a bulb or tuber.

Holmes will discuss a variety of spring geophytes in his class at Duke Gardens. But here are two for starters:

Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis): This little geophyte rises about 3 inches off the ground. Eranthis is a long way from home; it comes from the high mountains of Turkey. It has a pretty little buttercup-colored yellow flower. “They’re a rare oddity, a unique plant that you don’t find in a lot of gardens around here,” Holmes says. So if you see winter aconite bulbs, make sure to snatch them up and give them a home away from home in your garden.

Ornamental onion (Allium): These eye-catching geophytes also go by the name “drumstick onions.” Despite the food connotations of the name, Holmes does not recommend putting these on salad or in a stew. They’re best enjoyed in the perennial garden, and are among the Duke Gardens flowers that visitors are most curious about. Watch for a tall green spike with a purple ball of flowers on top, appearing from early to mid-May. At Duke Gardens, you’ll see them in the Doris Duke Center Gardens and in the Terrace Gardens.

If you’d like to enjoy spring-blooming geophytes in your garden next year, make sure to plant them in the fall. That’s probably the trickiest thing to remember about spring-blooming geophytes, Holmes says. Folks tend to look in stores for them at the time they see them blooming. “You just don’t find them then,” Holmes says. “You have to buy them in the fall to plant them for spring flowers.” However, you can plant summer-blooming bulbs now through April, such as lilies, gladiolas, cannas, and dahlias.

Bulbs typically need little care. When planting, people may add bone meal as a great source of fertilizer and maybe a little water. Most bulbs detect moisture in the ground and then flush their roots. Tubers should be watered in once planted.

Once the plants detect the right amount of warmth from sunlight and moisture, they begin to grow. Only cut back the foliage once it starts to turn mostly yellow or brown. Mix these geophytes throughout your perennial garden and other sunny shrubs for added flower power!

Want to know more? Consider taking Holmes’ class, “Plants of Distinction: Spring Geophytes,” March 7 from 1-3 p.m. The cost is $25; $20 for Gardens members or Duke staff or students. Holmes’ “Plants of Distinction” series will continue with “Alba: White foliage and flowers” on May 16 and “Hardy Plants with a Tropical Flair” on July 18. To register, or for more information, please call 668-1707 or email our registrar.

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. Robert Ayers is a volunteer photographer at Duke Gardens. This column first appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Improve your nature photography

Paying attention to lighting can
improve your nature photos.

Article by Jennie Carlisle
Photos by Dick Cicone

There you sit, wrapped in a blanket in your easy chair. Outside you see a flash of color, a vibrant red cardinal at the window bobbing gently on a branch. Granted, the branch may be bare, or still clinging to winter’s brown leaves. But it’s a perfect picture-taking opportunity, one well worth leaving the warmth of your cozy nest to pursue.

These short, sometimes frost-covered days can result in some of the most dramatic photographs of the year. Because the sun is lower in the sky and because its light is often more diffuse, winter offers some of the best light conditions for nature photography.

Leafless trees allow light to penetrate deeply into forests, illuminating details on tree trunks that would be difficult to photograph in the summer. Moss appears to glow. The delicate green spears of woodland plants begin to poke through the soil. Wildlife is easier to spot.

Public gardens such as Duke Gardens are perfect places to begin your search for signs of spring and to hone your skill at photographing flowers. Look for the purple-flecked petals of the Lenten rose, which typically blooms early in February. Other blossoms to look for are Japanese apricot (this began blooming in December this season), witch hazel, cyclamen and daffodils.

Close to home, keep an eye on your bird feeders. Beyond the usual suspects, look for yellow-rumped warblers, dark-eyed juncos and white-throated sparrows. These winter migrants make guest appearances in our area this time of year.
Play with depth of field to get different effects

Duke Gardens volunteer photographers Dick Cicone, Wendell Hull and Charles Twine offered some additional tips for taking better nature photographs.

For starters, take some time to appreciate your lighting conditions. Experiment with different lighting techniques. Try using side light to emphasize a subject’s form and texture, or explore backlighting by positioning yourself so that the sun appears behind a branch or tree trunk for a silhouette effect.

Also, it is essential to know your subject. If you take the time to notice the way a bird tenses its feathers just before flight, you’ll be able to click the shutter at the right moment for a stunning “take- off” image.

Use selective focus to make your subject appear to pop out from its surroundings. Get close to your subject, or use a telephoto lens, and keep part of your image out of focus. On a single lens reflex (SLR) camera, and on some point-and-shoots, you can also experiment with using your widest f-stop (or aperture size) in combination with a fast shutter speed to achieve the same effect.

On damp gloomy days, bring along a tripod so that you can keep the ISO (the film speed, or its digital equivalent) on your camera down and the quality of your images up.

For more tips to help you prepare for the rewards of photographing in all seasons, consider taking one of Duke Gardens’ many photography courses, including the forthcoming 3-class course “Photoshop for the Nature Photographer,” which runs Saturdays from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. beginning Feb. 11. Read more about this class and our Nature Photography Certificate Program at gardens.duke.edu. To register, call 668-1707. Also, consider joining the Durham Photography Club at Duke Gardens, which meets on the second Monday of each month. See the club’s Facebook page for more information.

Please see Duke Gardens' education & events page for full information about our offerings, or see a quick rundown on this blog post.
Adjusting your exposure time can yield dramatic results.

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 Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Dick Cicone is a Duke Gardens volunteer photographer.

This column first appeared in the Feb. 4 Durham Herald-Sun.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Duke employee discount: 2/11 swing dance + lesson

Update: If you missed the dance, stay tuned for our next one on Nov. 10, 2012.

Duke employees
, if you love to dance or would like to learn how, we've got a deal for you. If you buy your tickets to our Feb. 11 Swing at the Gardens dance today or Tuesday, you can benefit from our advance ticket member rate (and student rate) of $8. The price for the general public is $10. And tickets at the door, if any are remaining, will be $12, or $5 student rush.

The dance will be from 8-11 p.m. in the beautiful Doris Duke Center. And for those who've never danced swing before (it's one of the easiest dances in terms of the basic steps), there will be a beginner lesson from 7 to 8 p.m. that's free with admission. Even if you only want to try the lesson and dance for a little bit afterward, before doing something different with your Saturday evening, that's still a great deal.

Call 668-1707 to buy tickets by phone (9 a.m.-1 p.m.), or buy them in person at the Doris Duke Center information desk. Please bring your Duke i.d.

Parking is free after 5 p.m. Please see our dance web page for more information.