Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Workshop Preview: Papermaking with Plant Fibers

A finished piece by Gibby Waitzkin, titled "Florabunda."

By Sarah Leach Smith, Visitor Services Coordinator
Photos courtesy of Gibby Waitzkin

Gibby Waitzkin, up close and personal with some of her pieces.
Paper is everywhere in our lives. There was a time in which people thought of paper as a valuable commodity. Today we hardly think about paper at all. Many people talk about how paper “comes from trees,” but the conversation often ends there. Did you know that you can make paper out of many different kinds of plants? Not only that, but you can color paper with dyes created by plants!

You can try it for yourself in a two-day workshop, "Papermaking with Plant Fibers," offered by Duke Gardens with fiber artist Gibby Waitzkin.

Water lilies "cooking" so that they can be made into paper.
Gibby’s passion for papermaking is apparent as soon as you meet her, and her work has been featured in more than 25 exhibitions throughout the United States and abroad. You may recall seeing her oversized paper sculptures in last year’s Art and Nature Exhibit at the Gardens.

These days, the papermaking passion is ever present for Gibby. “I go on vacation to the beach and I come back with my entire car full of palm leaves that have been thrown in the trash that I find on the street!”

Natural dye created from sandalwood.
Gibby will bring a variety of plant fibers to her upcoming workshop to show participants how different species can produce a range of results. Plants are used for both texture and dye, and there is a lot of variation in the finished product, depending on the combination of plant fiber used to create the paper and the natural plant-based dye used to color it. One of Gibby’s favorite fibers is abacá (Musa textilis), a member of the banana family, because it’s nice to work with and holds dye very well.
Plant fibers after being dyed.
Professionally, Gibby is a trained artist who took a detour through the public service and corporate worlds, eventually building her own award-winning design and communication studio in Washington,  D.C. Working with clients such as the World Wildlife Fund on its climate campaign, Gore for President 2000 and the Pew Center on Global Climate Change (now the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions), Gibby also became intrigued by conservation. During this time she met several papermakers and the convergence of art, conservation and papermaking became her full-time pursuit. Today, Gibby’s work includes large three-dimensional and structural pieces that echo organic forms.

Gibby in action, sharing her love for papermaking with natural fibers and dyes.
One thing that Gibby hopes people learn from this workshop is to think more about how they use paper and where their paper comes from. Participants will make their own paper from start to finish, exploring plant fibers, creating plant-based dyes and finishing with their own unique notepaper, bookmarks and other creations. Absolutely no prior experience is necessary, and all materials will be provided.

Please join us Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 1 and 2, to learn, get a little messy,and create some fantastic original paper pieces. For more information about the papermaking workshop, visit our website. To register, call (919) 668-1707 or email us at gardenseducation@duke.edu.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Plant Sale Preview: Attracting Pollinators to Our Gardens

Bee on a Formosa lily (Lilium formosanum) in the 
Page-Rollins White Garden. Photo by Robert Ayers.
By Jason Holmes

While visiting Mount Mitchell State Park in western North Carolina over the Labor Day weekend, I witnessed a native bee pressing open the lipped petals of the pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii).  It made me think of the importance of that moment and yet how that bee had already visited hundreds of flowers that day in order to collect pollen on the side of her legs.  I quickly yelled to my son to come get an up-close view. This was a perfect opportunity to show him the importance of that little creature.

Insect pollinators may seem like a small part of our daily lives, but they have an enormous impact on us. Fortunately, gardeners’ interest in pollinators appears to be growing, as Duke Gardens saw when we offered pre-orders of a 6-plant “Pollinator Garden in a Box” preceding our Fall Plant Sale coming up on Saturday, Sept. 24. Within less than a week, we had reserved all 50 of the Pollinator Garden boxes we had prepared. We’ll have plenty of other pollinator plants at the sale, and the excitement over them is heartening for horticulturists like me, who are devoted to attracting pollinators to Duke Gardens and teaching visitors about these species’ roles in our lives.

Most people don’t realize that honeybees are not native to North America and that thousands of other insect species were responsible for pollinating many plant species before their introduction. Bees and wasps, flies, butterflies and moths, and beetles are among the thousands of plant pollinators across North America. These beneficial insects are responsible for all insect-pollinated fruits and vegetables that provide us with most of the nutritious vitamins and minerals that we need daily, and they also broaden our diets beyond just meat and wind-pollinated grain foods.

This act of pollination allows many types of plants to produce fruits and seeds, helping to create vigorous plants over many generations.

Approximately 75 percent of all plants in the world require animals for pollination. These animals are part of many humans’ daily diets, something worth keeping in mind as we seek ways to help the plants around us thrive.

A pollinator house in the
Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden.
Photo by Nick Schwab
At Duke Gardens, we celebrate and promote all types of pollinators.  In the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, a sustainable organic food garden, we donate over a ton of fruits and vegetables every year to local food relief organizations.  This is an amazing total, considering that we only garden on 2/10 of an acre.  We could never produce this incredible amount without assistance from the thousands of pollinators we see daily buzzing around the garden. In the Brody Garden, and in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, we have gardens designed specifically to attract these fascinating little pollinators.  We have nine honeybee hives in the Brody Garden. And with the help of dedicated volunteers, we have been building pollinator houses that we’re pleased to see attract many different beneficial species.

If you’re excited about helping pollinators, try planting species that will bring them to your garden. “Attracting Native Pollinators,” by The Xerces Society, is a great resource to learn more. If you already have these plants, consider leaving perennials longer through the fall and winter for habitat. Many of these species will create nests within the dead stems of perennial species.  Get creative and build pollinator houses or insect hotels.  They’re similar to bird houses, but you leave off the front wall and pack it with small stems of bamboo so that solitary insect species can build nests inside.  Remember, if you build it, they will come!

Jason Holmes is curator of the Doris Duke Center Gardens at Duke Gardens.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Bamboo at Duke Gardens: Friend or Foe?

Winter view of yellow bamboo (Phyllostachys 'Robert Young'). Photo by Rick Fisher.

By Sarah Leach Smith, Visitor Services Coordinator
With help from Beth Hall, Plant Collections Manager

Bamboo restoration by the Arched Bridge. Photo by S.L. Smith
For most homeowners, bamboo is perceived as an annoyance. The general consensus is that it spreads aggressively, it’s impossible to control and it can be destructive. Many people wonder why it’s planted at Duke Gardens and why it’s roped off and protected as part of a “bamboo restoration project.”

Paul Jones, curator of the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum at Duke Gardens, has incorporated bamboo into the arboretum's design for decades, and he uses it purposefully and artfully.

The Gardens' bamboo collection contains what Paul refers to as the “trifecta” – large species, short species and clumpers. Large species, such as the black-stemmed bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra), can get as tall as 35 feet. Shorter species in our collection include those that reach a maximum height of 6 feet, such as the Kuma bamboo grass (Sasa veitchii). Clumping species have gotten popular lately because they don’t spread as quickly; they form close-knit “clumps” rather than growing out and away. One of the clumpers in our collection is Green Panda™ bamboo (Fargesia ‘Rufa’ Green Panda™), which typically reaches a maximum height of 10 feet.  In total, the Duke Gardens bamboo collection contains 24 different species.

A young bamboo shoot that has been damaged.
Photo by S.L. Smith.
How does Duke Gardens control its bamboo, given its bad reputation for spreading exponentially? We don't, Paul says with a laugh. We can exert some control on the part growing above the ground, but the roots continue to spread. Bamboo makes new shoots once a year in the spring, and the shoots are fragile when young. Breaking them off in that early stage causes the new shoots to die back, but the roots stay alive beneath the soil. This robust root system can prove challenging, especially if Paul and his team want to plant things near the bamboo. Digging through the roots is tough!

However, Paul hesitates to refer to bamboo as an "exotic invasive," as some people do. That designation is best applied to non-native species that spread by running or vining agressively, by wind or water, or by producing seed that is consumed and transported by birds and other animals. Because bamboo very rarely flowers and goes to seed – many only flower once every 80 to 125 years – its spreading is very localized and it is simply an ever-increasing clump. It doesn’t spread nearly as fast as some of the most invasive plant species in our area, such as Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), callery pear (Pyrus calleryana) and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis).

Cutting unwanted new shoots helps prevent spreading above 
ground. Photo by S.L. Smith.
“There are so many things you can do with bamboo. It’s a great building material and a delectable food source for people and animals,” he adds. For example, at Duke Gardens we use our bamboo to create handrails and "wickets" to edge plant beds.

As it turns out, when you actually want bamboo in a garden, there are some that present challenges. “One of my goals early on was to establish a grove of Japanese timber bamboo (Phyllostachys bambusoides) that would take up maybe 1/8 of an acre with a path going through it," Paul says. "It’s a very surreal and beautiful type of landscape environment.”

Pretty soon after planting the Japanese timber bamboo, though, Paul learned that the squirrels in the Gardens loved eating the young shoots. Additionally, foot traffic through the planted area caused a lot of damage to the bamboo and ultimately led to the area being closed off to visitors. Now, every spring and through the summer, there are several stands of different bamboo species that get roped off and a “Bamboo restoration in progress" sign is posted to deter people from walking through and harming the young shoots. The Japanese timber species is the only bamboo that has actually flowered at Duke Gardens, and remnants of the original planting still remain in the Asiatic Arboretum.

Engraving in the bamboo. Photos by S.L. Smith.
Along with discouraging people from walking through the young bamboo, the ropes also discourage people from engraving the bamboo, an impulse that it's critical to curb.

“For one thing, it suggests that it’s OK to carve on plants in the Gardens," Paul says. "Even if it’s just the bamboo, it then suggests that it’s OK for that beech tree over there to be carved, and that it’s OK for that bench to be carved on, too. Would you go into an art museum and carve your initials into the frame of a fine art piece? Carving is graffiti, whether it’s a plant or a bench or a frame." 

Engraving is also harmful to plant health. In some cases, there is so much carving on a bamboo cane or tree trunk that the damage goes all the way around. When this happens, the vascular system of the plant is harmed, which prevents water and nutrients from traveling throughout the plant. This weakens and can ultimately kill it. As a botanic garden, we want to protect plants from this sort of preventable tragedy. 

But bamboo can be amazingly strong, too, Paul notes. One of the coolest examples he had seen was its use as scaffolding to construct high-rise buildings in the south of China when he visited in the early '90s. Bamboo has a tensile strength competitive with steel.

Please help us preserve this unique plant collection for generations to come. Watch your feet for young bamboo shoots emerging in the Gardens and refrain from carving into the bamboo. If you have further questions about bamboo or any of the other intriguing plants in the Asiatic Arboretum, we hope you'll seek out one of our staff members or volunteers. We would be happy to share more about Duke Gardens' many delights.