Thursday, January 28, 2016

Create a Bird-Friendly Garden

By Sarah Leach Smith, Visitor Services Coordinator
Photos by Charles Twine

Joyful gardens are often more than just plants – insects, birds and other wildlife add color, energy, life and song. If you’re interested in learning more about how to attract birds to your garden, consider joining us for “I Need a Plan: Bird-Friendly Gardening." 

Lauri Lawson, a horticulturist with Niche Gardens in Chapel Hill, will teach this 2-session class, which will meet Feb. 2 and 9 from 6:30-9 p.m. Niche Gardens has been a pioneer for native plants and ideal plants for Southern gardens since 1986. Niche has a devoted local and regional following, as well as a thriving nationwide mail-order business.

Lawson has extensive experience teaching gardeners how best to grow a sustainable, low-maintenance landscape, and how to garden for birds, butterflies, pollinators and other beneficial wildlife.

“We all know about bird feeders and birdbaths, but there are many wonderful plants that are both beautiful to our eyes and attractive to a wide variety of birds,” Lawson says. “These plants can create habitat for adults and be a prime spot to raise their nestlings.”

The class will cover the basic needs of common backyard bird species and a roster of easy-to-grow plants to make them happy year round, she says. “I'm especially excited about giving bird-lovers in the class good personal attention to their specific questions and give them the knowledge needed to make their gardens an oasis for our feathered friends."
This class will happen around the same time as an excellent national event called the Great Backyard Bird Count, which encourages people to count birds in their back yards and submit the data online. The collected data will help scientists find out more about bird migration and how it is impacted by environmental changes.

We hope you will join us for “I Need a Plan: Bird-Friendly Gardening” (email or call 919-668-1707 to register), and perhaps participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count as well!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Blomquist Garden of Native Plants: A Museum in the Woods

The Blomquist Pavilion. Photo by Sue Lannon.
By Sarah Leach Smith
Visitor Services Coordinator

This post marks the first in a series highlighting the curators and plant collections of Duke Gardens. It is thanks to them that we are a world class botanic garden!

Curator Stefan Bloodworth. Photo by Cecelia Xie.
When walking through the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, many people find themselves thinking a common thought: "I feel like I’m in the middle of the woods!"

The Blomquist Garden is one of four unique gardens in Duke Gardens. Its curator, Stefan Bloodworth, is glad that people feel like they are in the middle of the woods rather than the middle of the city of Durham. As with each distinct area within Duke Gardens, this garden has a unique history and mission. 

The Blomquist Garden was dedicated in 1968 in memory of professor Hugo L. Blomquist, the first chair of Duke University’s Department of Botany. At that time, the garden was an extensive fern collection to honor professor Blomquist’s extensive knowledge of native ferns. The collection was about one-quarter of the size of the present-day garden.

Bloodworth’s tenure as curator of the Blomquist began in 2002. By that time, the garden had expanded beyond ferns to include other types of plants native to the southeastern United States. The collections were well established, but Bloodworth was excited to put his spin on things. His background was in forest ecology, landscape design and carpentry.

McNabb Family Bridge and Stream. Photo by Rick Fisher.
Since his arrival, Bloodworth has worked to advance and evolve the Blomquist Garden in several ways. One of his first goals was to incorporate signature hardscapes that would complement and enhance the existing landscape elements. When planning for these projects, Bloodworth is deeply thoughtful with his aesthetic. From the material type and origin to the structural design, everything has to have a reason for being used.

One recent project is the McNabb Family Bridge and Stream. The integration of the wood and metal in the bridge serves both a functional and aesthetic purpose, tying together nature and man-made materials. The wood was locally sourced  southern reclaimed sinker cypress, and the metalwork, integrating sculptural accents inspired by native species, was created by a local artisan.
Close-up of metalwork on the McNabb Family Bridge. Photo by Bob Ayers.
“Everything has a purpose. There are stories everywhere, in every element of the design,” Bloodworth says. 

This same philosophy encompasses the horticultural goals that Bloodworth has for the Blomquist. “Just like every landscape architecture design decision you make has a story behind it, so does every planting decision that you make.”

Bloodworth wants the garden to communicate the idea of “conservation horticulture” to its visitors. He takes into account ecosystem science and wildlife habitat design when creating new spaces. His aim is to create a “museum in the woods” to help visitors understand that they are in a botanical garden with unique and special collections, and he uses educational signs to interpret the space and help people appreciate what they are seeing and experiencing.

A male red-bellied woodpecker in the Blomquist. Photo by Stefan Bloodworth.
One of the “exhibits” in Bloodworth’s museum is the Steve Church Endangered Species Garden. Created in 2004, this collection of plants aims to educate people about the importance of conserving rare species. Most of the species in the collection have a sponsoring organization or a custodial partner, such as a fish and wildlife agency or a botanical garden, which is responsible for monitoring and actively conserving these plants in the wild. The sponsoring organizations will also take action as needed to promote the protection of the species’ natural habitats and ex-situ conservation. Visitors can learn about these organizations from interpretive signs in the Endangered Species Garden. Smartphone accessible QR codes included on the signs link visitors with in-depth information about each species, including the names of the groups charged with their care.

Bloodworth believes that with its more than 300,000 visitors each year, Duke Gardens has a unique opportunity to teach people about the importance of plant conservation and connect visitors with the organizations working to protect these disappearing species. More information about plant conservation and sponsoring organizations can be found on the Center for Plant Conservation website.

Starry rosinweed. Photo by Sue Lannon.
The Blomquist Garden of Native Plants is a special space any time of the year. Because of the garden's unique collections and wildlife, dogs and bicycles and not allowed. We hope you'll take a stroll through this “museum in the woods” on your next visit to Duke Gardens!