Friday, October 30, 2015

Spotlight on Mums: from greenhouse to garden

Photo by Ashley Wong
By Micaela Unda

The Culberson Asiatic Arboretum is always a visual treat, particularly in fall, when green trees turn fiery orange and red, doubled by their reflection in the Asiatic Pond. But these last few weeks have brought an additional flourish of fall colors: show mums.

You'll find these long-stemmed chrysanthemums throughout the arboretum, but concentrated particularly in the new Pine Clouds Mountain Stream between the Japanese Pavilion and Flowers Drive. Pinks, oranges, yellows, whites, and with massive blooms, these stunning and photogenic flowers punctuate the landscape with cheerful pops of color.

This weekend will be the climax of the show mums' spectacle, with additional mums brought out from the Duke Gardens greenhouses. It's there where their lives begin, with staff horticulturists observing them carefully and taking detailed notes of their growth and health

The mums start from cuttings, says horticulturist Allison Vuyovich, who grew the flowers with fellow horticulturist Michelle Rawlins. "Then we pick three particular stalks that seem to be the strongest. You then let those grow up and stake them. Then we pinch the suckers and pinch off the buds." With  additional fertilizer, the buds and foliage grow large.

This is the second year that Duke Gardens has grown show-quality mums.  I enjoyed exploring the  aisles of the greenhouse, and seeing seeing the evolution of the plants as they blossom into the spectacular mums that earn their starring roles throughout the Asiatic Arboretum.

Garden-ready mums outside the propagation building.

The shapes and colors of the mums beg to be photographed, but learning how the mums are grown allowed me to truly appreciate their presence in the arboretum.

I hope you can visit Duke Gardens this weekend to appreciate these dramatic beauties, too!

Blogger and photographer Micaela Unda is a Duke University sophomore and a work-study marketing assistant at Duke Gardens. All photographs by Micaela Unda, except where noted.

Duke Freshmen, Stop and Smell the Roses!

The Blomquist Garden of Native Plants has many beautiful paths to explore.

By Cici Xie

So, you're in your first year at Duke, and you’re about halfway through your first semester. You’re probably starting to feel a bit overwhelmed with juggling schoolwork and other responsibilities. I get it. And I have three words for you: Visit Duke Gardens!

"How am I supposed to do that?" you ask. You have back-to-back classes starting at 8:30 a.m. and you don’t even have time to eat lunch before you have to go to a club meeting and then you have to go to practice, and by the time you’re back in your dorm it’s already 9 p.m. and you haven’t started your paper that’s due tomorrow and you have a quiz in math first thing in the morning, not to mention two midterms the day after, and you haven’t called your parents in who knows how long, and you’re running on nothing but 4 espresso shots.

Breathe. I get it.

Sarah studying in the Terrace Gardens.

I promise you that if you can make time to come to Duke Gardens, it will be worth your while. Take Sarah, for example. I found Sarah sitting next to the terraces working on an assignment for her creative writing class.

“I think everyone should take like one day out of their week to come, even if they aren’t nature people, because I think the Gardens offer so much for different kinds of people," she said. "And if you’re a social thinker, the Gardens offers an outside perspective more so than the regular quad would. And obviously if you like nature it’s just a great reset.”

 Faye on her way to class.
If that’s not convincing enough for you, here’s what Duke senior Faye said when I asked what she would tell freshmen:

"There’s way more to the Gardens than you probably see on a regular basis. I just started exploring the gardens more this year, and I found so many places I never knew were here. So I would definitely say even take a Saturday and just, like, go on a date in the Gardens, make your boyfriend or girlfriend or whatever take you around in the gardens. Go exploring. Go find every little nook and cranny of the gardens and just spend the day here.”

Consider visiting the ducks in the Asiatic Arboretum.

So yes, I know you’re crazy busy and you can barely find time to sleep. But next time you have to have a club meeting or you need to write a paper, consider doing it in Duke Gardens; I promise that you’ll feel much better.

Blogger Cici Xie is a Duke sophomore majoring in behavioral economics.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Behold Your Next Study Spot

The Culberson Asiatic Arboretum has many scenic benches.

By Ashley Wong (T'16)

For those exhausted from being in the confines of Perkins Library and desiring a change in workspace, look no further than Duke Gardens for a de-stressing and productive environment (yes, productive – science says so!).

There is no shortage of scientific literature extolling the merits of a sustained contact with nature, most notably benefits related to mental health – but also, as it turns out, cognition as well. A 2008 study on the cognitive benefits of interacting with the natural environment supported nature’s role in improving directed-attention abilities (like the ones crucial in memorizing details or solving calculus problems). When you pore over a term paper, you are depleting finite stores of voluntary, directed attention. The remedy is to activate your involuntary attention so that your directed-attention mechanisms are given a chance to replenish.

Nature does precisely this by providing softly fascinating stimuli. As Alex Hutchinson of the New Yorker puts it, "Our eye is captured by the shape of a branch, a ripple in the water; your mind follows." A major takeaway from the experiment is that one can benefit greatly from the restorative value of nature. After interacting with it, one is able to perform better on tasks that require direct attention.

There you have it: scientific evidence supporting your next visit to Duke Gardens. From here, the  natural segue would be to highlight some of my favorite places to tuck myself away and be productive among beautifully designed landscapes. For your ease in finding the particular spots listed below, I will note its corresponding location on this map.

Culberson Asiatic Arboretum entrance (pictured below; A1) - I love this spot for shade and seclusion, particularly during autumn's mild weather. Whether settling down on a bench or lying out on the grass, you can't help but bask in the zen atmosphere.

Virtue Peace Pond (right, D1): The Adirondack chairs overlooking the Virtue Peace Pond provide exactly what the name of this site implies: pure serenity. Tucked behind the Doris Duke Center, this pretty pond is where I go to sit and lean back, and to enjoy the seasonal water lily display.
Blomquist Garden (left; B1-10): On certain days, I prefer the quiet seclusion of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. Scattered around the Blomquist Pavilion are various benches suitable for studying; many paths lead to quiet nooks, and the Bird Viewing Shelter is also a peaceful refuge.
South Lawn (below; near H13 on map)- An already popular student attraction, the South Lawn tends to be bustling with students and Durham families alike, especially on warm days and weekends. It's perfect for simultaneous sun-soaking and problem-solving and it's an easy walk from West Campus!

Hanes Iris Garden (below; near H10 on map) - I always come to the Hanes Iris Garden ready to sprawl on the grassy hillside. More removed from the bustle of the South Lawn, Hanes is another favorite of mine when it comes to being productive on especially warm and sunny days. 

Asiatic Arboretum Pond (below; A2, A9, A10) -  Along the paths around this large pond are bountiful spots I believe are optimal for light reading while being surrounded by flora and fauna and the steady chatter of ducks. I say light reading because in such an aesthetically appealing workspace, it's difficult to not be overly distracted by the incomparable scenery, topped off with a view of the nearby Japanese-style arched bridge. 

There are so many more great places in the Gardens' 55 acres. What's your favorite spot for studying or relaxing? Share it in comments below and we will feature it in a future post. Happy studies!

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.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Great Blue Heron: Three Photographic Approaches

By Sarah Reuning

As I was walking in Duke Gardens last spring, I saw a great blue heron perched in a tree. I took my first shot of him (right).

It's easy to get caught up snapping photos and forget to look at the camera's display. I try to always check the display to see what I have captured and what I'd like to change.

Looking at the photo, I decided it was OK. The lighting was good, but I didn't like the branches in front of the heron's face. I decided to move to the other side of the tree and shoot from there.

Moving around has really improved my photos. I try to shoot from different angles, different sides, even lying on the ground. When I move, the light on the subject changes and the changing light alters the mood of the image.  

When I moved the to the opposite side of the tree, I took the second shot (left).
Checking the camera's display, I decided  I liked the warm feeling of the sunlight filtering throughout the tree limbs and I liked the shape of the heron, but I found the green of the leaves a little distracting. I wondered, what would this shot look like as a monochrome image?

 I knew if the photograph were a traditional black and white, I would lose the warmth of the sunlight. Light gray is not a warm color. I decided instead to make the image an antique black and white, or cream tone since cream is a warmer color than gray. Experimenting with the tone gave me the next image (below).

As I had predicted, the cream tone did retain a sense of warmth while eliminating the green shades I had found distracting.

However, the change of image tone also pleasantly surprised me. Suddenly, my photograph resembled a Japanese silk painting. I found it beautiful and vastly different and more interesting that the first heron shot I took.

Had I not looked at the camera display, moved around, and experimented with tone, I would not I have captured the last image.

Blogger Sarah Reuning is a Duke Gardens volunteer photographer. Click here to learn more about volunteering at Duke Gardens. Click here to see nature photography and other classes offered at Duke Gardens.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"Zoom In: Grass Family"

Grasses provide gorgeous color, texture and architecture. Photo by Jason Holmes

Miscanthus flowers backlit by the sun.
Photo by Jason Holmes.

By Sarah Leach Smith

You may simply think of mowing your front lawn when someone starts talking about different kinds of grasses. Be prepared to have your mind blown – there are more than 10,000 species in the grass family! With varying heights, colors and floral displays, grasses have a lot to offer the home gardener beyond turf. 

However, having that many species to choose from can be overwhelming. Where to begin? Our upcoming class, “Zoom In: Grass Family,” may be just the ticket. This class will be taught by high school teacher Robert Thornhill, who is a passionate promoter of ornamental grasses, and will be held on Thursday, November 5. Thornhill was more than happy to oblige when we asked him to tell us more about his experience with this versatile plant family.

Thornhill teaching a class.
 Photo provided by Robert Thornhill.

 Q: Tell us about your background and experience.
A: I'm a high school science teacher during the week and a plant-lover on the weekends.  I fell in love with the floral world during undergraduate school in Alabama and then had the opportunity a few years later to pursue that passion as a graduate student at N.C. State, where I earned a master's degree studying the flora of longleaf pine savannas in the N.C. Coastal Plain.  For that to have counted as research, and not just pure pleasure, was inexplicably wonderful to me! 

Q: What can we expect from your class, “Zoom In: Grass Family”? What do you think participants will gain from this class?
The magical flowers of pink muhly grass.
Photo by Micaela Unda.
A: The class will provide an overview of the grasses, starting with their relationships to other, more familiar plants and then proceeding to their cultural and economic significance.  We will then delve into the morphology of grasses, with special emphasis on the unique flowers and fruits of the family (Yes, grasses produce both flowers and fruits!).  We will then proceed with a survey of some of the most commonly encountered grasses, including those used in landscaping and those growing wild.  Finally, we'll conclude with an examination of grass specimens--either pressed specimens brought into the classroom or living specimens in the garden (or, time permitting, both!).

Q: What are you most excited about in this class?
Close-up of Miscanthus flowers.
Photo by Micaela Unda.
A: Grasses are everywhere, occurring worldwide in nearly every environment--even Antarctica (which hosts only one other flowering plant species!).  They are the 5th largest plant family on Earth and the most economically important, providing over half of humanity's calories.  Yet despite their abundance and unrivaled importance, they are poorly known by almost everyone except well-trained botanists.  But this is totally unnecessary and even tragic, as grasses are far more accessible (and beautiful) than most people realize.  What excites me most about this class, therefore, is the opportunity to share the "secrets" of grasses with people who may not know their graminoid brethren--yet!

Space is still available in "Zoom In: Grass Family." For more information, you may visit the Duke Gardens website. To register, give us a call at 919-668-1707.