Monday, November 24, 2014

Holiday Greenery: Decorate your home!

By Kaitlin Henderson

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose! Bringing the scent of nature indoors will complete your nostalgic holiday home.

Join us at Duke Gardens to create a personal decoration for your home. The instructors in the Holiday Greenery program on Dec. 6 will work with you to create a swag or centerpiece using the wide variety of evergreens they have selected. Pine, fir, holly and juniper -- each will add color and fragrance to your display.

On this fun and festive afternoon, it will be as if a florist’s winter workshop has opened up just for you. In the 2-hour workshop, you will choose greenery, colorful stems, berries, pods and ribbon to assemble your decoration. You may also bring in some personal mementos to use in your swag or centerpiece.

This year will bring new inspiration from the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, a sustainable, organic food garden. Duke Gardens horticulturist Michelle Rawlins and plant records manager Beth Hall will lead the program, demonstrating their practiced techniques and design ideas and then assisting participants wherever help is needed. Along with the greenery, Beth and Michelle are drying oranges and collecting berries from around the Gardens to provide you a wealth of material.

Please join us for this annual favorite! No experience is necessary.

Holiday Greenery will be held Saturday, Dec. 6, from 1-3 p.m. The fee is $65, or $55 for Gardens members and Duke students/staff. To register, please call 919-668-1707 or email More information about this class is available on our website.

Please also see our website events page for additional classes and programs that you and your family may enjoy:

Here are some photos from a previous holiday decorations class.

Kaitlin Henderson is a graduate student in Duke's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Messages in a Bouquet: Make Your Own Tussie Mussie

Example of a tussie mussie
Used with permission

By Kaitlin Henderson

Bring the beauty of nature indoors to warm up your winter. Duke Gardens is offering two plant craft classes that will introduce you to fun new ways to decorate your home for the season.  Coming up first is a workshop on Nov. 19 titled Tussie Mussie: The Victorian Language of Flowers.

Can you resist something as fun sounding as a tussie mussie?

It becomes even better when you find out what they are: bouquets used to impart a symbolic message. Tussie mussies began in the Victorian era and were used to communicate a wide range of messages:  friendship, romance, or even disdain. Think of them as prettier and better smelling Victorian emoticons!

In the 2-hour workshop, taught by Virginia Zoo landscape coordinator Marie Butler, you'll learn a little of the tussie mussie's history before putting together your own bouquet.

As with any bouquet, they make beautiful accents in your home, but they're even more fun for having a secret meaning. One fun tussie mussie Marie has put together was a wedding arrangement that included sedum, which she explains "meant 'tranquility' at the church but 'welcome home, husband, however drunk ye be' at the reception."

Butler says she likes all kinds of flower arrangements, but she especially loves how the symbolism in tussie mussies can provide a great starting point for original bouquets. In this workshop, Marie will show participants "the beauty of the plant world from a new, old-fashioned perspective." This is a new workshop at Duke Gardens, so be sure to check it out!

Information/registration: Tussie Mussie: The Victorian Language of Flowers will be held Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. More information here.

Want to create more holiday decorations for your home? In our Holiday Greenery class on Dec. 6  we'll help you make your own hanging evergreen displays. You can find more information here, and keep an eye out for a blog preview.

Call 919-668-1707 or email to register for a class at the Duke Gardens. You can find all of our upcoming classes, including Tussie Mussie and Holiday Greenery, on our calendar of events. 

Kaitlin Henderson is a graduate student in Duke's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Landscape Plants: A Walk Through Fall Favorites

By Erika Zambello

I love the outdoors, I always have. Though I have recently begun practicing my skills identifying birds and butterflies, I have never learned how to identify plants and trees or decide which ones would look best in a garden setting. Given that they are the structural elements to all ecosystems, I was excited to begin learning the basics in the fall course of the seasonal Landscape Plants for North Carolina Gardens series, and to file away some thoughts for a future garden of my own.

For our first class we began by gathering in the classroom, where Jan Little, director of education and public programs, gave us a brief overview on what we should be looking for when studying a plant, such as leaf configuration or flower structure.

Moving beyond the theoretical, she then turned on the projector and gave us an introduction to the plants we would be learning that day. For each plant, Jan discussed identifying characteristics, as well as design uses, including the right mature size for different gardens, planting trees or shrubs to best enjoy their particular features, and selecting plants based on their physical attributes throughout all seasons. We focus on 12-15 new plants per class, and afterward I feel like I have made significant progress in my identification and design prowess. I know that my fellow gardeners in the class felt more confident in making their future plant choices.

In our inaugural workshop, we started by discussing paperbark maple, followed by Japanese maple, musclewood, persimmon, seven sons flower, black gum, pistachio, lacebark elm and New York ironweed. After briefly covering preferred habitat and good garden uses for each plant, it was time to head out into Duke Gardens and look at the landscape plants in person!

Our classes have been blessed with beautiful weather so far, and as we walked on that first day the air was still warm and the sun just beginning to set. First stop: paperbark maple (Acer griseum), growing right alongside the Doris Duke Center. It reaches a height of 20-30 feet, with a spread of 15-20 feet.  But its unique copper bark really sets it apart from other trees, a feature that is stunning even in the winter.

We wound around the Gardens, stopping at each plant on our list. Though I liked them all, my favorite of the day was definitely the black gum tree (Nyssa sylvatica). Birds love its black berries, but I especially loved its bright red fall foliage, beautifully on display as we approached the tree near the Gothic Gate.

The best moment however, came not during my first class, but a few days afterward. I was strolling through Duke Gardens with a friend, enjoying the warm weather and fall foliage. Walking up to the Doris Duke Center, she pointed up at a particularly scarlet tree, admiring its color. With a wide smile, I pointed, too, telling her, "That's a black gum!"

A few days earlier, I would have had no idea what we were looking at, but now the identification sprang to my tongue, as did other facts we had learned in class. As I continue on with the fall plants, I know I will have more "Aha!" moments like these. My plant world will begin to take on more species names and attributes, and I will be able to mentally construct different landscape gardens incorporating the plants we learned about.

I've enjoyed the classes so much that I am planning to sign up for the next series, "Landscape Plants for North Carolina Gardens: Winter," which will run for three Wednesdays, Feb. 18 and 25 and March 4, from 3-5:30 p.m. Students will learn identification skills and design use, and they'll get a better understanding of the culture of each plant. While the fall "Landscape Plants" focused on those species that look best in the autumn season, the winter session will introduce plant silhouettes and evergreens.

Participation is limited, so join me and sign up for a slot today! 

Landscape Plants for North Carolina Gardens: Winter
Participant limit: 15
Fee: $110; $90 for Gardens members & Duke staff/students
Information/registration: 919-668-1707 or

Blogger and photographer Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying ecosystem science and conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. 

Diverse Pollinators

By Kaitlin Henderson

Duke Gardens is filled with diverse plants. Our horticulturists and curators select the plants to grow here based on a number of factors, from producing beautiful flowers to belonging to a natural ecosystem. And Duke Gardens is not just for plants. All sorts of animals live here as well. Many of those animals depend on the plants for food and shelter, and some of these animals are just as necessary in the plants' lives. Pollinators such as bees are among those animals.

honey bees (Apis mellifera)

Bees might not be everyone's favorite insect, but they're an incredibly important part of the Gardens' ecosystem. (Not to mention that they, too, would much rather go about that business peacefully, without human interaction.) They eat the nectar and pollen of flowers, and in turn they transfer some of that pollen between different plants.

bumble bee (genus Bombus)

Duke Gardens is home to many different kinds of bees, from the more well known honey bees that you'll see in the Discovery Garden to solitary ones like mason bees that make their homes in hollow stems or holes they burrow in the ground.

flower fly (family Syrphidae)

Different bee species like to visit different plants, and having a diverse range of plants like we do in the Gardens means we can support many different kinds of bees. Squash bees, for example, only visit squash flowers, while honey bees aren't so picky. And of course those different kinds of bees being supported also help that diverse range of plants thrive by pollinating them! Even though both squash and honey bees can pollinate squash flowers, the squash bees are much better at it.

yellow jacket (genus Vespula)

Pollinators aren't limited to bees, though. Many types of flies, wasps, butterflies and moths also help to move pollen from one flower to another, like the flower fly and yellow jacket in these photos. Yes, while we tend to be less fond of them than bees, yellow jackets also play the important role of pollinators.

It's a wonderful ecosystem relationship, rich with life, and it's great to have here at the Gardens!

Kaitlin Henderson is a graduate student in Duke's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program.

The Colors of Fall

By Kaitlin Henderson

My favorite part of fall is walking outside in cool weather while newly fallen, colorful leaves blow across the ground. It's the perfect moment of the season! Here in Durham, that time of year is just starting to come around. Temperatures are dropping and leaves around the Duke Gardens are beginning to change color and fall to the ground. Here's a glimpse of the fall leaves I found on a recent walk.

Fallen maple leaves welcome you in the Duke Gardens parking lot.

Walking through the Spring Woodland Garden provides a view of all the fall tree colors.

At this early point in the season, you can see leaves at all stages of their transition on the same tree, like this white oak in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum.

This bright Japanese maple looks beautiful reflected over the duck pond, and it matches the red bridge perfectly.

Each individual tree has its own colors and pace of changing, making areas like this one in the Historic Gardens collages of color.

Gingko leaves on this tree in the Historic Gardens show the beautiful transition from green to yellow. 

The Blomquist Garden of Native Plants has many local trees you might recognize from your neighborhood that are beginning to change to their fall colors, like this bright yellow bottlebrush buckeye.

Daybreak Yoshino cherry leaves have amazing combinations of yellow, green, red, and everything in between that almost look painted on.

It's a wonderful time to visit the Gardens. Fall colors pop up quickly before the leaves fall down; it's different every day!

Kaitlin Henderson is a graduate student in Duke's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Garden Guild Holiday Craft Sale

gourd birdhouses
By Erika Zambello
It's almost time to visit the Duke Gardens Garden Guild Holiday Craft Sale to stock up on nature-themed holiday gifts or fun decorations for the home! This year the Garden Guild members have really outdone themselves, with a host of new items to sell along with classic favorites. The sale will be November 15, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Admission is free. And all proceeds benefit Duke Gardens.

place settings and napkin rings
I arrived at the Garden Guild's regular Monday meeting last week to get a sneak peek at some of the items that will be in the sale. The ornaments are always among my favorite holiday gifts, and so I looked through them first. The sale will feature all varieties, including the tenth year of their tobacco stick angels (this time with each holding an even tinier angel), tobacco stick Santa Claus dolls, painted Christmas bulbs, and creatively cut paper pagodas that would make an excellent addition to any holiday ornament collection. Beautiful dolls reminiscent of Japanese geisha made out of small gourds are some of the new ornament additions. And always popular are the ornaments crafted from dried flowers set against the opaque circle of a capiz shell.
dried flowers on a capiz shell ornaments

paper pagoda ornaments

gourd geisha ornaments

tobacco stick angels
Favorites from last year, purses upcycled from felted sweaters will come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Each purse is unique, and so soft to the touch. Buttons and pin embellishments further add to the intricate design that goes into each individual purse.

Purses & brooches made from recycled felt sweaters

The sale will also feature beautiful jewelry, to purchase as a gift or for your own personal collection. Earrings crafted using origami techniques are available in different colors and patterns, while button bracelets add a flash of light and brightness to any outfit.

Origami earrings

Button bracelets

Knitted goods are also part of the mix, including adult and children's hats as well as small stuffed owls. The owls are child-safe, and each has its own shape, color, and quirky personality.

Knitted owls

Finally, back by popular demand and with more to choose from this year are the gourd birdhouses, each painted individually and coated with a lacquer finish. Whether you prefer flower shapes, geometric patterns or painted pictures, there is a gourd bird house for you!

Gourd bird houses

To check out all these crafts and more, stop by the Garden Guild Craft Fair and see for yourself what the volunteers have created this year. Interested in joining the Duke Gardens Garden Guild? Please go to our Volunteer Page for information on how you can join and attend weekly meetings to learn new skills, teach the group a new craft, and be part of the vibrant Duke Gardens volunteer community!

ceramic coasters

jewelry and key chains
fall scarves
tobacco stick Santa Claus ornaments
origami pins
gourd ornament
butterfly pudding dish
gourd birdhouse
Scarves in Duke colors
Upcycled decorative boxes

Beautiful printed fabric trivets, each one unique

Asia-themed ornaments

Decorative bird house ornament
Reed ornament
Traditional ornament varieties