Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Winter Delights in the Kathleen Smith Moss Garden

 Lily seed pods

Acer palmatum 'Emperor 1'
By Flora O'Brien
Duke Gardens Volunteer

It's mid-December in the Kathleen Smith Moss Garden, where I spend many enjoyable hours as a horticulture volunteer. The joyous distractions of summer have passed, leaving a calm and verdant richness. The underlying architecture of the garden becomes more evident. It is a time to walk slowly and notice small things.

Budding tree peony.

The Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Emperor 1’) is particularly beautiful.The tree holds its leaves later than many other trees, then sheds them in a flurry of crimson, and they end up in a spectacular array around its feet.

Daphne odora ready to pop! Photo by Sarah Leach Smith.

The lily seed pods (Lilium sp.; photo at top), the buds and blossoms on the tree peonies and Fuji cherry (Prunus incisa ‘Kojo-no-mai’) have begun to appear, and the Daphne odora has set its buds.

Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha)

Look at the small grove of paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) surrounding the beautiful American cherry wood bench. The  leaves have fallen, revealing a mass of nodding satiny flower buds.

Closer inspection will reward you with ferns, the berries of sacred lily, and of course the subtle shapes and colors of the lush blanket of mosses.

Close-up of paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha). Photo by Sue Lannon.

Located between the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden and the traditional Japanese-style arched bridge (see map here), this space is a surprise to be discovered, a cherished jewel within the larger Culberson Asiatic Arboretum.

Now the garden seems to rest, awaiting the evolution of winter. But wonders await those who would spend a quiet moment in this quiet space.

All photos by Flora O'Brien, except where noted.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What IS a botanic garden, anyway?

By Sarah Leach Smith

In case it isn’t obvious, we love plants here at Sarah P. Duke Gardens. From the rare and endangered native perennials to the wise, old magnolia trees, each plant is a special part of the Duke Gardens collection. As the sole public garden in Durham, Duke Gardens is honored to be able to share this collection with our visitors. In fact, you will see on the Duke Gardens website that this is a critical component of the Duke Gardens vision:

Sarah P. Duke Gardens is a premier public garden. Our living collections promote knowledge of the vital connections between people and plants, fostering an appreciation of the natural world, environmental awareness and sustainable practices. It is an indispensable and lasting feature of life at Duke University, accessible to all, providing outreach and respite to a diverse and vibrant local community and visitors from around the world. 

Duke Gardens is a botanic garden, which means several things. According to Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), “botanic gardens are institutions holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education." Duke Gardens’ collection has also been mapped using GIS technology by our plant collections manager, Beth Hall. Not only do we have records of every plant in our collection, but we also know its exact GPS coordinates.

Our commitment to the Duke Gardens plant collection extends beyond our record-keeping and mapping. In addition, we have put together a list of tips for how to best utilize the Gardens. For example, we do not allow sports equipment in the garden. A wayward soccer ball could end up stuck in a camellia or floating in the Fish Pool. Not only would the ball cause damage to the plants, but you could also cause further damage (to the plants and yourself!) as you go to retrieve it. Similarly, kites and balloons could easily get stuck in a tree. And balloons can be harmful to wildlife.

We invite you to come and enjoy Duke Gardens and its extensive plant collection. In case you don’t fancy yourself a “plant person,” or your kids may not be quite as into the Gardens as you are, we have options! Watch for announcements of our Holiday Celebration and spring Exploration Stations. We also have Family Backpacks available at the Doris Duke Center information desk that contain a variety of ideas for enjoying the Gardens. Finally, we have a diverse array of programs that may interest you, from photography to cooking,  birding or beekeeping. 

Help us continue to preserve this internationally acclaimed botanic garden so that it may be enjoyed for many years to come!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Seed Collecting for Biodiversity and Conservation

By Sarah Leach Smith
Visitor Services Coordinator

It was a cool, gray day in late October. Leaves were starting to change color, there were more seed heads than blooms in the Gardens and the morning was chilly enough that I needed a jacket. While this may be prime time for hot chocolate and fluffy scarves, it is also the optimal time for seed-collecting in central North Carolina.

On this day, I excitedly joined Horticulturist Annabel Renwick and Plant Collections Manager Beth Hall on a seed-collecting trip around Orange County. They were gathering native plant seeds for use in the new Piedmont Prairie, located in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. I had no idea what a seed-collecting trip entailed, but I was looking forward to finding out

We started the day in Chapel Hill, visiting our friends at the North Carolina Botanical Garden.  We had a nice time chatting with our counterparts – seed program coordinator Heather Summer, greenhouse and nursery manager Matt Gocke and curator of habitat gardens Chris Liloia – and it was a treat to briefly stroll through the gardens. The fall color is looking fantastic! Heather sent us on our way with two species of seeds we were seeking, Symphyotrichum concolor (eastern silver aster) and Clematis ochroleuca (curly heads).

Our next destination was a great hidden gem. Niche Gardens is a mail-order and retail nursery near Chapel Hill that specializes in nursery-propagated plants. They have a unique selection of wildflowers and native plants, so they were a natural stop for us on our trip. Annabel spoke with Lauri Lawson, who helped us purchase several native species: Rudbekia laciniata (cut-leaf coneflower), Symphyotrichum cordifolium (blue wood aster) and Scutellaria incana (hoary skullcap). We loaded the flats into the truck and were off.
For the rest of the afternoon, we cruised around rural Orange County scouting roadsides for wildflowers in seed. Armed with brown paper bags and sharpies for labeling, we walked along the road and through ditches to find our treasures.

“I was particularly excited in finding such a rich vein of wild flowers,” Annabel told me when we returned to Duke Gardens. One of the highlights of the roadside collection was finding Solidago rugosa (wrinkleleaf goldenrod) in seed. Gathering seeds can be a waiting game, Annabel said. “I have one more outing to collect seed, and I have been waiting for several flowers to go to seed.” Annabel’s wishlist includes Solidago bicolor (white goldenrod), Symphyotrichum grandiflora (large flowered aster), Symphyotrichum puniceum (purple stemmed aster) and Silphium asteriscus (starry rosinweed).

Why go to the trouble of collecting seed from roadside ditches? For Annabel, it’s important that the Piedmont Prairie has “a sense of place," she says. "We want it to contain the progeny of plants whose parents populated the roadsides of this region before there were roads.”

Additionally, growing plants from seeds ensures genetic diversity, unlike asexually-propagated cultivars. Creating a prairie landscape rich in biodiversity is one of Annabel’s primary goals.

Joining Annabel and Beth was a wonderful experience that will cause me to forever look at roadsides in a different way. We are in an area that is so rich with native plant species! We’re excited to be part of this conservation effort and hope you make time to enjoy the Piedmont Prairie on your next visit to Duke Gardens.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Beauty of Autumn – and the Science Behind It

By Ashley Wong (T'16)

Culberson Asiatic Arboretum

Anyone who has taken a stroll through Duke Gardens within the past few weeks can resoundingly attest that fall is in full swing.

Now that the foliage has taken an autumnal turn and the air holds a pre-winter crispness, you may have wondered about the processes governing nature’s lovely color transformation that we witness at this time every year. It’s a phenomenon poignant enough to have inspired countless works of literature by writers and philosophers -- so poignant that renowned autumn-enthusiast Henry David Thoreau notably wrote an entire journal chronicling his observations of autumnal beauty as an homage to the season.

The Spring Woodland Garden

Unsurprisingly, the transformation of green leaves into sundry shades of red, orange, yellow, and brown has evolved into a particularly lucrative tourist attraction over the years. Autumn-inspired tourism, an activity so prominent that it has earned the name “leaf peeping tourism,” brings in approximately $1 billion dollars in revenue to North Carolina each year, a sizable chunk of its more than $20 billion dollar annual tourism income. Luckily for us, North Carolina seems to be a prime location for admiring fall foliage.

Blomquist Garden. Photo by Micaela Unda.
So what are the biochemical processes that lead to this revenue-boosting spectacle? Stefan Bloodworth, curator of the Blomquist Garden, recently presented a lecture on the biochemistry of fall color for Duke Gardens volunteers. He says that the onset of fall color is essentially a signal that photosynthesis has ended for the year.

As the number of daylight hours dwindles, the energy cost of photosynthesizing begins to climb, since the inputs of sunlight and warmth that are necessary for photosynthesis are no longer steadily coming in. Thus, plants are triggered to stop producing chlorophyll, which absorbs red and blue light and reflects the leafy green for us to see. In addition, the plant grows a corky membrane between the leaf and the tree, essentially cutting off support of the leaf. At this point, we begin to see pigments that have been there throughout the growing season but were masked by chlorophyll the rest of the year.

One class of pigments, carotenoids, helps enhance the annual photosynthetic process by allowing the leaf to absorb light from the blue spectrum. Carotenoids have an additional part to play as well: acting in a photoprotective role throughout the growing season. Carotenoids protect leaves by cleaning up free oxygen radicals within the leaf. Also, as the level of sunlight declines, excess energy can build up and harm the leaf; carotenoids help in dissipating that energy as heat. This class of pigments is predominantly responsible for the vibrant orange and yellow hues associated with autumn foliage. 

But what about the purple and red colors? Anthocyanins, another class of pigments, are responsible for those hues, and they also emerge after photosynthesis ends and chlorophyll is no longer present. These pigments absorb blue-green light wavelengths, allowing the red wavelengths to be visible to us as red. Anthocyanins are also integral to photoprotection, acting as light screens to modulate light absorption and minimize the damage from too much sunlight. We have these molecules to thank for our visual and emotional pleasure every autumn. 

So even as the end of fall semester approaches and work inevitably begins to pile up (mercilessly so), take a minute to step outside and absorb the brilliant autumn coloration surrounds you – believe me, it’ll be worth it.
Japanese maple in the Historic Gardens. Photo by Lori Sullivan.
Blogger Ashley Wong is a Duke senior majoring in environmental studies, with minors in biology and visual & media studies. She is also a Duke Gardens work-study marketing assistant. All photos by Ashley Wong except where noted.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Spotlight on: The Garden Guild

By Sarah Leach Smith

This holiday season, it’s all about local, handmade gifts. Shopping locally can seem daunting, especially when big-box stores are so easily accessible. But you don't need to look further than the Terrace Shop at Duke Gardens – here, you’ll find awesome gift ideas created with care by the Duke Gardens Garden Guild.

The Garden Guild started in the summer of 1999 to create garden-related crafts to sell at the fall plant sale to benefit Duke  Gardens. Their efforts were a great success, netting approximately $2,000 from their first sale! Since then, the Guild has become a popular fixture here at Duke Gardens.

Today, the Guild has 20 active members who meet Monday afternoons at the Gardens for crafting sessions. Each member has different experiences and talents, and they teach each other new skills to create beautiful, practical and one-of-a-kind items while having a great time socializing together.

This year, in lieu of the annual craft fair, you can find their unique offerings in the Terrace Shop year round. They are presently getting ready for the holiday season with tree ornaments, note cards (sold individually and in boxed sets), ceramic angel figurines and more. 

I recently had the opportunity to spend time with the Guild during one of their crafting sessions and was floored by the creativity and originality I saw. Come out and see their wares in the Terrace Shop. You are sure to impress a friend or loved one with a thoughtful, handmade gift. The Garden Guild brings out new items often, so be sure to check back regularly.

If you are interested in getting involved with the Garden Guild, we’d love to have you. Learn more about volunteering at Duke Gardens on our website. Happy Holidays!