Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Photo workshop: Learn from the Masters

Photo by John Wigmore
By Jennie Carlisle

Ever look at the fabulous landscape and plant photographs that you see in magazines and wonder what the secret is? Luckily for us there is no secret, and you don’t need top of the line equipment to make a great picture. I spoke with professional photographers and business partners Mark Riedy and John Wigmore, who will be leading a 3-week series of workshops beginning Saturday about what photographers can do to improve their ability to visualize and make good photographs.

A great photographer can take a spectacular photograph with a point-and-shoot camera. It is the vision and skill of the photographer, not the tool, that makes a picture.

Learn to Look

Looking at great photographs is important for developing an eye for what makes a compelling image and for becoming more sensitive to the way that a camera sees and how it is different from the way that we see.

If you spend time studying the pictures in garden magazines and visiting local photography exhibitions, you are already doing this. To get more out of looking at pictures, try this exercise. Ask yourself what is the story being told by an image? How does the photographer convey this? Is the arrangement of the formal elements in the picture pleasing? Why or why not? How does the photographer use color, contrast and texture?

Photo by John Wigmore

Learn the Methods

Beyond learning from looking at great photographs, learning the working methods of great photographers is important to developing your inner vision, according to Riedy and Wigmore. In their classes, they will demonstrate how to effectively use compositional elements like color, tone and contrast in order to create a stunning photograph.

Take the great landscape photographer Ansel Adams, for example. Adams’ work emphasizes tonal range and stark contrasts between black and white forms to convey the drama of the western landscape.

Eliot Porter, who was strongly influenced by Adams, is another photographer worth study and emulation. Porter’s work often takes on the story of the changing seasons. He conveys this story and heightens our interest in it by emphasizing the contrasting textures of his subjects and by showing off the rich hues of the natural world.

How might you introduce dynamic qualities like these to your photographs?

Photo by Mark Riedy

Put it into practice

Now that you're feeling inspired, it's time to take these techniques to the field. When you get to a spot you'd like to photograph, ask yourself what it is about this place or subject that draws you to photography it? What story does this place or subject have to tell? What is the best way to tell it?

Before picking up your camera, visualize the effects that different artistic decisions will have on a finished image. Walk around your subject and think about possible camera positions. Notice that by changing the position of the camera, an object can appear larger or smaller or closer or farther from the viewer.

The effects of shutter speed are also worth considering before beginning to shoot-particularly if your subject is moving. Capturing flowing water or long grasses swaying in a breeze with a slow or fast shutter speed, for example, yield images with different sense of time. Whereas a fast shutter speed of a subject in motion yields an image in which the subject appears frozen in time, a slow shutter speed yields a blurred effect that relates the subject's motion over a passage of time.

Photo by John Wigmore

Keep in mind the things that you found exciting about the images of other photographers and think about how you can incorporate some of those elements in your work.

And remember that practice is the key. As Adams relates of his own photographic process:

“In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular … sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.”

For more advice on how to develop your vision, as well as a chance to practice, consider signing up for “Learn from the Masters.” The Saturday workshop series will run from 8 to 10 a.m. March 31 and April 7 and 14. The class is limited to 20 participants. The fee is: $95; $75 for Gardens members.

To register, please call 919-668-1707. For more information, please email our registrar. To learn more about classes at Duke Gardens, please visit the education/events page, or see a quick rundown on this blog post.

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.

Below are more stunning photographs from Riedy and Wigmore.

Photo by Mark Riedy

Photo by Mark Riedy

Photo by John Wigmore

Photo by John Wigmore

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Vegetable Gardening Tips

Summer campers helped tend a
vegetable garden at Duke Gardens.

Let Duke Gardens help you grow
your own bountiful garden.

By Kate Blakely

Gardening tips always take on the perspective of the gardener. What the gardener cares about intimately shapes the information he or she is sharing. Vegetable gardening is no different. Amidst all the wonderful info about growing veggies, it’s the intent that makes each tip unique and special.

Vegetable gardener Andy Currin has lots of tips to share. Currin will teach a Spring Vegetable Gardening class that begins Thursday, March 22, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. and runs for three weeks. It’s part of Duke Gardens’ Vegetable Gardening through the Year series. Currin shared some tips for how to grow vegetables in a healthy, sustainable way.

Watch when you water. “Of all points of sustainability, the main component is efficient water use,” Currin said. A lot of folks will water their gardens, their lawns and their flowers during the heat of the day, when the sun is working hardest. “You lose more water to evaporation than will actually get to the plants to be useful to them,” said Currin. The best planet-friendly practice is to water in the early morning or after the sun starts going down.

If you want to eat organic, start organically. If you want to grow organic vegetables, you must be vigilant about everything involved, from soil to seeds. “Some of the seeds, if they’re not labeled as organic, could contain seed treatments that would be systemic,” Currin noted. This means that chemical compounds in the seeds will be found throughout the plant. “And that would be included in the vegetables that you’ll be eating. You really have to start with the seed, any soil amendments, anything like that. Everything has to be organic approved.”

Watch (and help) the right bugs. Pollinators and predatory insects are the most beneficial. Currin has a “good list” and “bad list” of insects. At the top of the good list? Hoverflies. They are both a pollinator and a predatory insect, Currin said. Native bees also help out. The orchard mason bee, the bumblebee and the leaf cutter bee work to pollinate plants. Praying mantis, ladybugs and green lacewings also help. “They eat the bad guys,” said Currin. The bad guys? Aphids, thrips and squash bugs.

As part of your organic practices, make sure to complete any pest treatments around dusk, when the beneficial insects are not going to be out and about. That makes the least impact on the beneficial insect population. “Even organic treatments don’t really discriminate; they just take out everything,” Currin said.

Learn more: Want to know more? Consider taking Currin’s vegetable gardening classes at Duke Gardens. The class costs $75; $60 for Gardens members. If you can’t take the spring class (or in addition to it), consider the fall series, which runs from Sept. 20 to Oct. 4, also from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Please call 919-668-1707 to register. Please see our website for more information about classes and other public events at Duke Gardens.

LinkSarah 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.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Spring Plant Sale Preview

Plants from Duke Gardens are always
popular at the Spring Plant Sale

By Kate Blakely

Springtime is a lovely mix of old and new. Old favorite bulbs are sprouting. And gardeners begin scouting out new possibilities for that extra special spot in the garden. Whether you’ve made a tradition of it or it’s your first time visiting us, the Duke Gardens Spring Plant Sale is always a wonderful opportunity to celebrate spring.

Every year Duke Gardens gathers a great variety of plants to offer for sale. This year, the sale will be Saturday, March 31, 8 a.m. to noon, with a preview sale for Gardens members Friday, March 30, from 5 to 7 p.m. (you can join on site).

Many of the featured plants have been propagated by volunteers on the Gardens’ propagation team. Gardens staff members, volunteers and members of the Durham Master Gardeners will be on hand and love to answer questions and provide advice for all your gardening needs.

Here’s a preview of some of the new and old favorites you’ll be able to find at the sale this year.

Purple-leaved smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria 'Royal Purple'): This is an unusual plant of Chinese origin, and it sells out almost every year. The multi-stem shrub can grow up to 12 feet high. Its new growth and foliage provides a splash of purple or burgundy color in the garden.

“They produce flowers in a large panicle that’s open and fluffy,” says Jason Holmes, curator of the Doris Duke Center Gardens. “That’s what gives them the appearance of smoke in the distance. It’s a real unique oddity that would fit well into a woodland landscape.”

Hostas: Hostas always generate interest in the garden, and you’ll see some new varieties at the sale, including ‘Autumn Frost’ and ‘Heat Wave’.

“ ‘Autumn Frost’ is a uniquely blue-foliaged hosta with an awesome variegation through the mid-vein,” says Holmes.

‘Heat Wave’ is certainly the best way to describe our southern summers. During the spring, this hosta has chartreuse centers with blue margins; then in summer the center brightens to gold and the edges turn blue-green.

“If deer are a problem and you love hostas,” Holmes says, “I would try them in a container on your deck or close to the house.”

Roses: If you’re looking for a hardy rose, don’t miss the Rosa chinensis ‘Mutabilis.’ This no-spray rose is a very heat-tolerant cultivar, said Holmes. It also stands up very well against insects and doesn’t appear to get diseases. It will bloom from the beginning of May through November, and you won’t even have to deadhead it. The Rosa chinensis will respond well to a little pruning during the winter months. All in all, it’s an easy-care favorite.

The sale will also feature a wonderful variety of herbs and vegetables, including squash, zucchini, fennel, dill and peppers, as well as heirloom tomatoes. It won’t include craft vendors, but it will feature additional plant vendors, with diverse offerings and areas of expertise. (See more info on our plant sale page.)

At the sale, plants will be marked with signs noting whether they’re drought- or deer-resistant. The Duke Gardens-propagated plants will also be marked; you may want to head there first, as people love bringing a little piece of Duke Gardens home to their own gardens.

A final thing to keep in mind is that because the sale is earlier this year than previous years, you should refrain from heading home and planting right away. Keep your new plants indoors until the last frost date, April 15.

For more information about the plant sale, Gardens membership or other Duke Gardens classes and public events, please go to To join Friends of Duke Gardens in order to attend the preview sale, please call 668-1711.

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 March 17 Durham Herald-Sun.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Photo Fridays: Portrait Sessions

Would you like to share the beauty of Duke Gardens while also supporting the Gardens in creating that beauty?

Consider a portrait session with Duke Gardens photographer Rick Fisher.

Rick will take reservations for individual or family portraits each Friday from March 16 to April 27. Each session will be 20 minutes, and the subjects will receive one 8x10" print, with the option to purchase additional photographs.

All proceeds will support Duke Gardens. Rick, a Duke Gardens board member and volunteer, and owner of Rick Fisher's Photography, is donating his time and talents for this fundraiser.
The fee is $45; $35 for Gardens members or Duke University students, staff or faculty.

To register, please call 919-668-1707 from 8 a.m. to noon Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday or Friday, or noon to 5 p.m. on Thursday. For more information, please email our registrar.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Spring Flower Walk in the Arboretum

Japanese flowering cherries

By Jennie Carlisle
Photo by Paul Jones

Spring won’t officially begin in the Northern Hemisphere until March 20. But early signs of the season are already emerging at Duke Gardens. Consider taking a walk with a staff horticulturist to see (and smell) them in person and perhaps incorporate some of the same ideas and plants into your own garden.

On Friday, curator Paul Jones and horticulturist Michelle Rawlins will lead a walk through the H.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum that highlights the season’s sensory treats, little known arboretum spaces and unique plants. The color, vibrancy and gaiety of spring emerging make a wonderful respite from the sparseness of winter, Jones notes. The arboretum is a great place to embrace that awakening.

The spectacular sight of cherry trees with dark branches wrapped in sprays of delicate flowers is certainly an example of this. Cherries, whose blooms precede their foliage in early March, are one of the spring trees for which Duke Gardens is well known. The arboretum displays a number of cherry species from China and Japan.

Admire the extravagant beauty of a blossoming ‘Pink Parchment’ magnolia while considering its relationship to our native magnolias. Be amused by the ruffle petticoat-petaled camellia and learn how camellias came to the U.S. from Asia. Take a deep breath of the fragrant cascade of golden flowers on a winter hazel and observe how this shrub contributes to the garden’s design.

Along with botanical information about the flowering plants in the garden, Jones and Rawlins will discuss the history of the arboretum and aspects of its design. This Friday walk also offers an opportunity to see the Japanese Pavilion and its tea house, which are commonly closed on weekends.

Participants need not be avid gardeners to appreciate these informative walks. They’re also a good opportunity to enjoy a breather in beautiful surroundings.

“I like people to stop and hear the bamboo in the breeze,” says Jones, “to listen to the various birds, to make it a contemplative sort of thing.”

INFORMATION: Friday’s Spring Flower Walk will be from 10 a.m. to noon. A second Spring Flower Walk that focuses on the flowering trees and shrubs of later spring will take place on April 13. Other informative walks offered in the coming months include: Historic Gardens Color Walk, April 5 and May 3 from 9 to 11 a.m.; Gardens of the Doris Duke Center, May 25 and June 15 from 10 a.m. to noon; and Walk on the Wild Side, on the first Thursday of each month from 11 a.m. to noon. Participants may leave the walks early if time is tight. Each walk costs $5; they’re free for Gardens members.

TO REGISTER: To register for either, please call 668-1707 or e-mail the Gardens' registrar. For information about other Gardens events, please see the education/events page or the full events brochure (PDF) at

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