Thursday, December 19, 2013

Facebook Photo Contest: Open Theme

Terrace Gardens by Wendell Hull

As we approach the New Year and the 75th anniversary of the dedication of Sarah P. Duke Gardens next spring, we would love to see your favorite photos from the past year -- or the past 75 years -- and share them for others to enjoy in our Facebook Photo Contest.

We often have specific categories in our contests, but this one is wide open. It could be a panoramic photo of the Terrace Gardens, or it could be a tiny nook that you consider your favorite place. We'd love to see your family portraits or your favorite duck, swan or great blue heron. Whether your photo is from December 2013 or April 1939, or anytime in between, we'd love to see it.

Please don't be shy. This exhibit and contest is open to photographers at all levels and all ages. It's just a fun way to share your love for the Gardens with others who love it here, too.

Here's the scoop:

HOW TO ENTER: Email up to 3 photos to At least 5x7" or larger at 72 ppi is best, but if you don't know how to resize photos, feel free to send them as is, 1 per email. We will post them in an album on Facebook, with your Facebook name in the photo description. You can then add more information about the photo in the comments if you like, and encourage your friends to come see it and vote by clicking "like." You may also post the photo on our wall, but be sure to email it as well, so that it's officially in the contest and albums. Only "like" votes on the album photos will count in vote tallies, though (polite) comments are welcome, too. Please be sure to see our etiquette page before posting, too, as we will not include photos of people climbing trees or engaging in other activities that are not permitted. Thank you!

DEADLINE: Photos must be submitted by noon Jan. 27, 2014. Voting will end at noon on Tuesday, Feb. 4.

HOW TO VOTE: It's simple. Just click "like" for all your favorite photos.

PRIZES: We'll have prizes for most "like" votes, as well as judges' awards. Prizes will include Terrace Shop discount coupons and other Gardens-related gifts.

SHARE: Even if you're not interested in prizes or contests, we'd love for you to share your photos just for fun, and share our contest photo album with your own Facebook friends. We look forward to seeing your favorites.

ELIGIBILITY: Anyone of any age may share Duke Gardens photos in this contest. The only people not eligible to win a prize are Duke Gardens employees.

NOTE: This contest is not administered, endorsed or operated by Facebook. 

LEARN MORE: Please check out our education & event listings for photo courses that you may enjoy. We also have a Nature Photography Certificate program that may interest you.

A view of the Terrace Gardens in the early years.
Photo courtesy of Duke Archives.

Wildlife in the Gardens: Birds and Winter Fruits and Berries

Northern cardinal male
By Erika Zambello

As fall turns into winter, our avian friends are looking to a few different sources of food to fatten up for the cold months ahead. One of the most popular trees in the Gardens is the Indian summer crabapple (Malus 'Indian Summer').

On a walk through the Terrace Gardens, I was immediately drawn to the flutter of wings and chipping of cardinals within the bare branches of the crabapple. Though the branches may be devoid of leaves, it was the tiny fruits that the birds were after. As I stood statue-still, I saw more than five species flit in and out of the trees in search of food.

Northern cardinal female
The first species to catch my eye was of course the bright red cardinals. The fiery males and more subdued-colored females cheeped back and forth to each other as they devoured the berry-sized apples, occasionally leaving the tree en-masse only to return a few minutes later. Tufted titmice buzzed, Carolina wrens sang, and eastern towhees looked on with their red eyes as I snapped photo after photo after photo.

Carolina wren
Other than the cardinals, the yellow-rumped warblers were my favorite birds frequenting the crabapple tree. Though they have lost their dramatic summer coloring, they are the most frequently seen warbler during cold months and still retain their signature yellow wing-bars and backsides. A loose flock had converged on the Terrace Gardens and were busily bouncing from tree to tree.

Yellow-rumped warbler
Though in the fall the trees are characterized by their bright orange and red fruits, in spring they boast bright red buds and beautiful dark pink flowers. Not surprisingly these trees need full sunlight to sport their buds and tiny apples, and this Terrace tree reaps the benefits of the open Historic Gardens. 

While we hope you enjoy the crabapple tree here at the Gardens, they are not recommended for home planting in North Carolina. However, there are many other seed-bearing bushes and trees that would make a wonderful addition to any yard or garden. The American beech (Fagus grandiflora) is an important late-fall food source for wood ducks, songbirds and grosbeaks. White oaks  (Quercus alba) make up 62% of the wood duck diet and are critical for many other birds in the winter. The American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) provides food for the bobwhite quail, catbird, mockingbird, thrashers and eastern towhees.

White-throated  sparrow
If you're interested in learning more about what to plant for local bird populations, check out the "Landscapes for Life: A Homeowners Guide to Sustainable Gardening" course offered at the Doris Duke Center in five sessions from January 15 to February 12, 2014. Registration is required, as space is limited. Learn more at or by calling 919-668-1707.

Northern cardinal male
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 receives roughly half of its operating budget from Duke University. The rest comes from people like you, who value all that this public botanic garden has to offer. Duke Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.

Blogger Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Create Your Own Winter Holiday Table

By Erika Zambello

Consider giving your home a natural and creative decoration this year with your own unique table arrangement. You can collect from your yard or grow plants that inspire in preparation for next year’s arrangements. Your distinctive creation will “harken back to what people have done for centuries, finding the seasonal beauty in their own back yards,” says Jan Little, Duke Gardens’ director of education and public programs.

Crafting your own table arrangement is also a great way to connect with your natural environment. Instead of buying the usual poinsettia, head off into the yard or garden to harvest the perfect design elements for a holiday display in four simple steps.

The first and perhaps most important step is to take a moment before beginning your design. Make sure to think about the size and height that will match both your chosen container and what you envision. If the table arrangement is meant for the center of a dining room, don’t create an arrangement so high that it’s impossible to see your holiday guests on the other side! Multiple smaller decorations between place settings are also an excellent way to be creative this holiday season.

The second step is to choose colors that will perfect your overall vision. Color and texture are important elements in the overall design, according to Little and Harry Jenkins, the Gardens’ superintendent of horticulture. Christmas colors of red and green are easy to implement, but so are the red, green, and black of Kwanzaa, or the blue and white of Hanukkah.

Green elements will provide a fitting base for any arrangement. White pine, holly, cypress (chamaecyparis), nandina, boxwood and spruce branches are especially beautiful and fragrant. Holly and other red berries bring the perfect Christmas and Kwanzaa red, while juniper berries provide the signature blue of Hanukkah. The cones of white pine trees often present a “frosted” look and can add the white accent of Hanukkah or a wintery look to any table arrangement.

“Don’t be afraid to combine natural plants with holiday ornaments,” Little adds, and ribbons or ornaments can add colorful touches. Seed pods, twigs and even cattails can be painted and added to just the right spot to bring the design to life.

Once you have chosen materials with an eye to color, the third step is to choose accents with texture in mind. Though man-made elements can create a beautiful design, “use as much real stuff as you can,” Jenkins suggests. The possibilities are endless: lilies, ornamental grasses, magnolias, and even okra – yes, okra – provide beautiful seed pods that bring fun shapes and texture to the arrangement.

The key to a homemade decoration is not only choosing natural materials but displaying and interweaving them together. To this end, check out Oasis, a foam-like material used by professionals to hold their stems in place for as long as the arrangement lasts.

Finally, though experimenting with as many eye-catching natural materials as possible is a good thing, there are some materials to avoid. Birds’ nests are pretty, but by this time of year they have been sitting for several months and can often bring insects into the house. Give branches a brief shake and check over twigs and other materials to avoid carrying in any unwanted guests.

We hope you’ll discover the pleasure of constructing your own one-of-a-kind table arrangement! 

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 receives roughly half of its operating budget from Duke University. The rest comes from people like you, who value all that this public botanic garden has to offer. Duke Gardens is at 420 Anderson St. 

Columnist Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.   

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Birding at the Blomquist Bird Viewing Shelter: a Nine Species Morning

House sparrow
I rose before the sun, making it to the Doris Duke Center as light spread over the trees and through the Gardens. My friend Emily and I had braved the chilly morning for one fateful reason: we were going looking for birds.

Not just any birds. Though I am fascinated by the waterfowl in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum, we were in search of the forest species. Though most of the migratory birds have passed through on their way south, many other species have made North Carolina their permanent home for the winter. Heading into the H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, we wove purposefully through the paths until coming upon our destination, the Bird Viewing Shelter. The shelter is beautifully designed to look like a birdhouse, and it offers a direct view of the strategically placed bird feeders.

Bird viewing shelter. Photo by Orla Swift
Right away we saw a flurry of activity. Tufted titmice buzzed as they defended their place on the feeders from chattering Carolina chickadees while bright red northern cardinals foraged for seeds on the forest floor beneath the feeders. Unfortunately, we chose a trail that led us right past the feeders and we spooked the birds. But we settled into the viewing shelter and waited quietly for them to return. 

Well, we should have waited quietly. Something about the space, the quiet of the woods, the early morning, the fact that we hadn't seen each other in over a week, made it nearly impossible to stay quiet. The temptation to chat was too strong! At least the gray squirrels didn't seem to mind.

gray squirrel
As we caught up about school and work and Duke, we watched Carolina wrens bob their tails up and down as they raced under bushes and to the feeders. A brown thrasher was throwing leaves in the air as it searched for grubs in the damp detritus, and eventually the titmice, cardinals and chickadees did return. Unfortunately for Emily, she had to leave for an early class, but after she left I saw a downy woodpecker and white-breasted nuthatch swinging on the feeders. White-breasted nuthatches are one of my favorite birds. They may be a common species, but their deep blue backs almost look like capes as they race up and down tree trunks looking for food.

northern cardinal
As the sun continued to rise, a look at my watch told me I would soon have to head out, too. Before I left, however, one last species revealed itself to me: a white-throated sparrow. Most sparrows are too difficult for me to identify, as they look and sound exceedingly similar. The white-throated sparrow, however, has two large, bright yellow eyebrows that set it apart from any other bird I've ever seen. 

white-breasted nuthatch
With the white-throated sparrow, my morning list stood at eight species: carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, northern cardinal, brown thrasher, mourning dove, downy woodpecker, white-breasted nuthatch and white-throated sparrow.  

white-throated sparrow
After leaving the Blomquist Garden, I  saw my ninth species of the morning. Unlike his smaller, flightier compatriots, the great blue heron stood stalk-still surveying his kingdom from his perch atop the stone structure in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum pond. As he posed perfectly, I couldn't help but name him my favorite (and most cooperative) bird of the morning.

great blue heron
Blogger Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Landscapes for Life: A Homeowners Guide to Sustainable Gardening.

By Erika Zambello
As we continue into the 21st century, we are looking for ways to be healthier, happier and more environmentally friendly. Gardening can tackle all three, and Duke Gardens can teach you how to create a sustainable landscape in its five part series, “Landscapes for Life: A Homeowners Guide to Sustainable Gardening.” 

The course is based on a program developed by the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to teach gardening techniques that work with natural ecosystems to promote healthy local environments.

Whether your garden is a small plot or pot outside an apartment, or a suburban lawn or huge farm, a few simple steps can ensure that your garden is both beautiful and sustainable. 

Soils in conventional gardens can be over-compacted. To create a sustainable landscape, add a thick layer of compost to the top of planting beds. The compost will allow earthworms and other decomposers to naturally blend the compost into the soil below, loosening the compacted soil and improving its capacity to store water. To prevent soil compaction in the future, plant vegetation or lay mulch over bare soil, stick to pre-determined paths or trails to avoid tamping down the soil, and try not to do too much garden work when the soil is wet.

Storm water and rainwater should not be treated as wastewater, as excessive runoff causes water pollution problems. Instead, rainwater should be strategically captured and allocated to irrigation purposes via rain gardens. These gardens absorb excess rainwater, prevent runoff from polluting streams or lakes, clean the water as it filters through the soil, and restore local groundwater levels. 

To create a rain garden, find the drainage area in your landscape, dig the garden to a depth of 6 to 12 inches, depending on your soil type, and then plant vegetation that thrives in the expected moisture levels. Plants that can grow in very wet conditions should be planted in the deepest part of the rain garden, and plants that prefer dry conditions at the edges.

Sustainable landscapes cleanse the air and water, inspire physical exercise that promotes your health, and provide produce without harmful pesticide residues present on many non-organic vegetables and fruits found in grocery stores. To fulfill the health-benefit potential of your garden, refrain from using synthetic pesticides, design areas for exercise and activities, and avoid using too many electrical light fixtures that waste electricity and contribute to light pollution. 

Residential properties are now the primary source of pollution in this country. By creating and maintaining sustainable landscapes, you can do your part toward creating a healthy world for you and your community.

There are so many more methods to create a sustainable landscape in your own back yard, and Duke Gardens’ “Landscapes for Life” series is the perfect way to learn new skills and improve your garden this spring. The course will be held on Wednesdays from Jan. 15 to Feb. 12, 2014, from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Doris Duke Center. For more information or to register, call (919) 668-1707 or visit us 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 receives roughly half of its operating budget from Duke University. The rest comes from people like you, who value all that this public botanic garden has to offer. Duke Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.

Columnist Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. This column first appeared in the Durham Herald-Sun.