Friday, February 12, 2016

A Valentine Photo Contest: Couples in the Gardens

By Cecilia Xie

As a Duke student, I consider Duke Gardens to be easily one of my favorite places on campus. It's my go-to place if I'm feeling stressed and want to relax or if I feel like celebrating and taking some fun photos. 

It's also the most romantic spot on campus. If you're looking for something fun to do on Valentine's Day, or any romantic day, where better to go than Duke Gardens? You won't be able to find a more romantic place, so full of charming spots and beautiful scenery

So we thought it would be fun to celebrate Valentine's Day with a special photo contest devoted to couples. It could be you and your boyfriend/girlfriend or spouse in the Gardens, best friends, a pair of ducks or geese that you imagine might have taken a shine to each other, a pair of flowers that look tailor made for each other...use your imagination! The photos can be from Valentine's Day itself, or any season or year, as long as the photo was taken in Duke Gardens. This is a quickie, though, so act fast. We're looking forward to celebrating the power of two with you!

To enter the photo contest email up to 3 photos to Please send one per email and we will post them in an album on Facebook, with your Facebook name in the photo description. You can then add more information about the photo in the comments if you like, and share with all your friends to vote by clicking "like." You may also post your photo on our wall, but be sure to email it as well, so that it's officially in the contest and albums. Only "like" votes on the album photos will count in the vote tallies, though (polite) comments are welcome, too. Please do not enter photos that the subjects have not given permission for you to submit. Make sure to also visit our etiquette page before posting, because we will not include any photos of people climbing trees, playing sports, or engaging in other activities that are not permitted in the gardens.

Submissions will be due by midnight Feb. 22, and voting will end at noon on Feb. 24. 

Prizes: The first place winner will win a souvenir photo book, second place will win Duke Gardens note cards, and third place will win a Terrace Shop discount coupon. We'll also have special prizes for our favorite photos featuring Duke students. All winners will also have a chance to be featured on the Duke Gardens website or publications -- with credit and only with your permission.

Blogger Cecilia Xie is a junior at Duke University and a Duke Gardens work-study assistant.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Culberson Asiatic Arboretum: Illustrating the Relationship of Humans & Plants Across Cultures

Photo by Karen Webbink.
By Sarah Leach Smith, Visitor Services Coordinator
Paul Jones in the arboretum.

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

On days when traveling to foreign lands seems unfeasible, consider a stroll through the W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum at Duke Gardens. Featuring around 1,500 Asian plant species and cultivars, as well as distinctly Japanese architectural elements, the arboretum gives the sense of being on the other side of the world. Paul Jones, the founding (and current) curator of the Asiatic Arboretum, took time out recently to talk to me about this unique area of the Gardens.

The idea for the arboretum came from William Culberson, a Duke botany professor and former director of Duke Gardens. It started as a solution for one of the Gardens’ biggest challenges – flooding. In 1983, a large pond was created to alleviate the pressure of stormwater runoff from Duke Gardens and its surroundings. The 1.5-acre pond successfully contains the runoff and slowly releases excess water into a stream that carries it out of the Gardens.

Chionanthus virgincus. Photo by Jason Holmes.

Culberson decided that the area around the new pond would be an Asiatic collection, and he wanted it to serve an educational purpose. One aspect that he wanted to highlight was the disjunct distribution of plant species. Disjunct species, also known as vicariad pairs, appear to be closely related but evolved differently, because they were separated by great geographic distances after the Earth's land masses split up and shifted, forming separate continents.

North Carolina is one of the North American hotspots for North America/Asia disjuncts; 65 species native to North Carolina  have cousins in Asia. For example, fringe tree (Chionanthus) has a Chinese species (Chionanthus retusus) and an eastern North American species (Chionanthus virgincus), both of which are planted in the Asiatic Arboretum.

Chionanthus retusus. Photo by Jason Holmes.

It was at this time that horticulturist Paul Jones joined Duke Gardens as curator of the arboretum. In his initial years, Jones spent his days taking out trees and brush, opening up spaces, and improving the area around the pond. Damaged, diseased trees and invasive plants were removed to allow for new plantings. Healthy, native plants remained and were incorporated into the design of the arboretum.

In the early days, there was not much of a budget for development and plant acquisition. Jones networked with seed exchange groups and other botanic gardens to obtain seeds and seedlings to plant in the arboretum. 

“One of the most satisfying things to me is to look at some of those plants out there, which were tiny little seedlings in the 80s but now are flourishing and fruiting," Jones said. "That’s kind of cool."

The first hardscaping came in the 1990s: before then it would have been hard for visitors to tell that they were in the Asiatic Arboretum. With extremely tiny plants and no clear paths, a visitor would have to walk around to each plant tag to get any indication of a theme for the area. The construction of Asian-inspired architectural elements helped to distinguish the arboretum from the other parts of Duke Gardens.

Jones shared with me some of his landscape design philosophies for the Asiatic Arboretum. He aimed to create “rooms” in the arboretum as a way to encourage people to move around from “room to room.” He also made “windows” throughout the arboretum: openings in the landscape where you could look through and see a striking specimen off in the distance, such as a beautiful flowering tree.

The arboretum’s plant collection contains specimens that Jones collected from China, including some that are quite rare in the United States. Metapanax, a member of the Aralia family and also known as false ginseng, is one example. Jones feels that these wild-collected plants help to put the Gardens “on the map” as far as unique plant collections go. Jones has also experimented with Asian species of his favorite genus, Rhododendron, and he has found a few that have performed well in the Gardens, showing no signs of trouble with the local climate.

“I am really interested in pursuing species of plants as they might naturally occur in the wild, and what I am really drawn to as far as a landscape design philosophy is what I might find in a natural setting,” Jones said. “I don’t think that you can do better than what you find in nature.”

Pine Clouds Mountain Stream.
Jones' most recent success  is the completion of Pine Clouds Mountain Stream, a Japanese-style garden along the northwest edge of the Gardens. Pine Clouds Mountain Stream is an example of a Japanese "strolling garden," with naturalistic winding paths, water features, and thoughtful plantings.

When asked if there was one thing that he hopes visitors take away from their experience in the Asiatic Arboretum, Jones immediately responded that he hopes they will be “wowed” by the plant diversity.

What’s next for the Asiatic Arboretum? Jones would love to see more educational interpretation to demonstrate to visitors “the human community and the biological community, and how one supports the other.” He is also interested in what the arboretum has to offer in terms of teaching people about the cultures of Southeast Asian countries.

If you’re feeling in need of a getaway, look no further than the magnificent space that Jones has cultivated here at Duke Gardens. With a unique collection of plants, beautiful architectural details and a glimpse into some fascinating cultures, the Asiatic Arboretum enables visitors to feel like they're on a globe-hopping trek, while remaining in the heart of Durham.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Making Botany Come Alive

By Sarah Leach Smith, Visitor Services Coordinator

Lots of people like to garden, and many appreciate a beautiful garden design, but how many know exactly how plants manage water and nutrients? What makes them grow bigger flowers or juicier fruits? If you have ever wondered about these things like I have, consider joining our upcoming class series "Basic Botany and Plant Growth," starting Tuesday, February 16.

Dr. Motten, relaxing with a sea lion in the Galapagos!
I know what you're thinking - even though this sounds like a fascinating topic, it may be a bit dry, depending on the instructor. Fear not! We are proud to introduce you to Alec Motten, a professor in the Duke Biology Department. Professor Motten and I exchanged emails last week, and he gave me some insight into himself and this wonderful class. 

Tell us about your background and experience.
I earned my Ph.D. in zoology at Duke in 1982 and received undergraduate degrees in botany from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1970 and in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1976.  I've always straddled the line between traditional botanist and zoologist designations and consider myself an equal-opportunity natural historian.

My primary responsibility at Duke has been teaching undergraduates an array of courses, including introductory biology, organismal diversity, botany, ecology, and genetics and evolution. I've also taught writing for first-year students and senior biology majors. This spring will be my fourth time offering the "Basic Botany and Plant Growth" course at Duke Gardens.  My research interests are in evolutionary biology, pollination ecology and plant reproductive biology. 

For my doctoral dissertation I studied plant-pollinator interactions in the spring wildflower community of Duke Forest. I still consider March and April my favorite time to be in the woods, and I like to lead spring wildflower hikes to local natural areas. 

In my spare time, I enjoy hiking, camping and canoeing.  During travels in the U.S. and abroad I look forward to opportunities to learn the local flora and fauna and indulge my interest in wildlife and nature photography. 
Photo by Jie Huang.

What can we expect from your class, and what do you hope participants will gain from it?
Students in the class will get a whirlwind tour of basic plant biology and learn how plants are put together, how they function, grow and reproduce, and how they interact in different ways with animals. Extensive, colorful handouts will be provided to help students follow along with the many different topics we'll cover.  I'll also bring in live specimens and lots of demonstration materials for hands-on activities and student personal observations.  

Although any science class necessarily includes a certain amount of jargon, I'll keep that to a minimum and make sure to explain technical terms in language accessible to a non-specialist. My experience is that folks taking this class all have some interest in plants, often from a gardening or environmental conservation perspective, and my hope is to expand on that interest by helping students make connections with aspects of plant biology they are less familiar with. Plants are often taken for granted in our society -- they can be the unnoticed "wallpaper" of our world -- and I'd like to provide a deeper appreciation of just how amazing plant biology can be.
Photo by Bill Snead.

What are you most excited about in this class?
In a time when much of academia is caught up in either increasingly narrowly focused topics or trendy multi/inter/cross-disciplinary studies, it is refreshing to teach a rather more traditional subject and help students delve into it with fresh eyes and new curiosity.  I always look forward to this opportunity to share my enthusiasm for botany with willing, interested students in a largely informal, relaxed setting -- no quizzes or papers! And, without a set curriculum to cover for an exam, I like being able to go off on botanically oriented tangents as student interests and unexpected opportunities may lead. The students and I always learn something new!

If you are interested in learning more, please check out the class description for "Basic Botany and Plant Growth" on our website. To register, please call 919-668-1707 or email. We look forward to seeing you!