Friday, July 21, 2017

Cultivate Creativity at Middle School Camp

Teens and tweens may work on visual art, music,
journaling or poetry at Artists in the Gardens camp.
Photo by Kavanah Anderson.
By Sheon Wilson

Camper Sonata squatted down to look into Duke Gardens’ Millstone Pond for signs of turtles, her braided hair falling over the collar of her cartoon bear raincoat. She concentrated intensely.

“Do you see it, Sonata?” Nature Adventures Camp counselor Hope Wilder asked, as a dozen other grade school students craned their necks to see. “His little head is rising over the water.”

Sonata, her eyes glistening, smiled and nodded excitedly.

Those 10 minutes spent sharpening their powers of observation enhanced the artwork the campers would create later that week, including nature journals, drawings and craft projects. Teens and tweens entering grades six through eight will get a similar opportunity to explore the relationship between art and science in Duke Gardens’ Artists in the Gardens day camp that runs from Aug. 7 to 11.

“It’s my philosophy to give them a choice and see what they make,” Wilder says. “The idea is that the same observation skills that apply to science apply to art. We provide the materials and the framework, but what the kids do with it is up to them.”

Picking their own materials and type of art is part of the fun. Campers might use mixed-media, sculpture, music, poetry or drawing for their art project. In addition to learning about the formal elements of art, campers will experience the way garden design affects what they observe during their garden explorations.

During Sonata's camp in June for children entering third through fifth grade, the children walked along a stream near the Iris Bridge in the Historic Gardens, clutching small nets and craning their necks to see whether tiny fish or tadpoles would swim by.

“Don’t fall in ‘accidentally on purpose,’ because the point is to keep the animals safe,” Wilder said, after passing out plastic containers that the children would use to hold what they caught. “If you catch these little creatures, please keep them for only 10 minutes, because there isn’t enough air for them to breathe longer than that.”

A camper named Anna stared into the water for a couple of minutes before declaring, “We can’t see to the bottom. There are no fishes here.”

“It takes time to find them,” Wilder said, knowing that the more the children embrace stillness, the more they will notice all the wonders of the world around them. “The fish like to hide in the bushes and grasses so you can’t get them. You have to be patient until they are ready to come out.”

Teen campers will also have ample chance to deeply explore Duke Gardens. Then as they delve into artwork in their choice of media, their observations about nature’s beauty, logic and mysteries will further inform their art.

“The goal is for teens to be immersed in this process that encourages their creativity,” says education program coordinator Kavanah Anderson. “Art is the basket that holds all the elements of the camp.”

REGISTER NOW: Artists in the Gardens camp will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. August 7 to 11. There is no after-care for this camp, but we will offer an afternoon Citizen Science program for middle-school students. For more information about Duke Gardens’ themed Nature Adventures Camp summer and spring break camp series, or to register for the teen camp, please see our camps web page.

Blogger Sheon Wilson is Duke Gardens’ publications coordinator.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Pergola Area Closed Briefly for Renovation

The pergola and Terrace Gardens in springtime. Photo by Lori Sullivan.
By Sheon Wilson

Visitors seeking to see Duke Gardens’ iconic pergola will need to do so from a distance for the next few days.

Crews are cleaning the pergola’s metal surface to remove corrosion that could endanger the structure. Restoration began today and is expected to be completed by Friday. The pergola is closed during the restoration, along with the upper terrace and the portion of the Perennial AllĂ©e that leads from the Blomquist Garden through the Azalea Court and to the Spengler Camellia Garden. Detour signs direct visitors around the work.

Native wisteria on the pergola in spring.
Photo by Sue Lannon.
“We’re doing a complete removal of the corrosion and paint,” said Bobby Mottern, the director of horticulture at Duke Gardens. “We decided to take everything back down to bare metal. We’ve never done that before.”

Crews are using a vapor blaster, which is similar to a sandblaster but incorporates water to cut down on dust, Mottern said. The blasting is done with recycled glass, which is ground to a sand-like consistency that won’t harm the metal and doesn’t contain shards that could cut someone. Once the surface is clean, the pergola will be repainted to its original color.

The pergola underwent a major renovation in 2014, including removal of the original invasive Chinese wisteria. You can read more about that project on our website. We apologize for the inconvenience to our visitors, but we hope this improvement will keep the pergola and wisteria looking beautiful for decades to come.

Blogger Sheon Wilson is the publications coordinator at Duke Gardens.

Friday, June 30, 2017

A Closer Look: Rhododendron Prunifolium

By Stefan Bloodworth
Photos by Sheon Wilson

It is somewhat fitting that Rhododendron prunifolium, the latest-blooming of our native azaleas, was the last of that group to be discovered and described by botanists. Native to the thickly vegetated, bottomland streams that crisscross the southern border counties of Georgia and Alabama, the plumleaf azalea proved to be a hard plant to find for centuries.

It was Roland Harper, one of the pioneering botanists of the Deep South, who first found the species in Randolph County, Georgia, in 1903. Working with one of Harper’s herbarium specimens from that trip, botanist John Kunkel Small decided upon the name Azalea prunifolia in 1913. In years to come, the species was reclassified as a member of the genus Rhododendron.

First displayed publicly at the Arnold Arboretum in 1918, Rhododendron prunifolium has garnered much horticultural praise for its large stature, its long, elegantly protruding stamens, and its vibrant reddish-pink blooms, which come forth in mid-summer—appreciably later than its 27 native Rhododendron cousins, most of whom are early to mid-spring bloomers.

Rhododendron prunifolium is endemic to a very small portion of the deep South, and it has been noted in recent years that this limited range has made the species quite vulnerable to habitat disturbance. As a result, it is listed as a threatened species by both national and global plant conservation organizations. In the Blomquist Garden, a sizable stand of this showy native can be found adjacent to the Edwin F. Steffek Jr. Bridge and Fern Grotto.

This plant highlight first appeared in "A Closer Look" in Duke Gardens' 2015 Flora Magazine. It is currently blooming in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants.

Stefan Bloodworth is the curator of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. Sheon Wilson is the  publications coordinator at Duke Gardens.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Class Preview: A Potted Herb Garden

Chives in the Discovery Garden. Photo by Karen Webbink
By Annie Yang

Pineapple sage adds sweetness to desserts and drinks.
Photo by A. Yang.
Duke Gardens in the springtime is bursting with thousands of stunning, eye-catching blooms and plants. But some of the plants here can do more than just brighten up a garden—they can spice up your recipes!

The herb garden in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden is a perfect place to visit to familiarize yourself with a great variety of culinary herbs, as well as herbs with other uses. And you can create your own container herb garden, and learn how to help it thrive, in "A Potted Herb Garden," a 3-hour hands-on class on Saturday, April 22, with horticulturist and garden designer Lauri Lawson (more info below).

You’ll find some of the most frequently used herbs right in the Discovery Garden, including sage, thyme and sorrel. These and other herbs are quite versatile and can be found in drinks, salads, sauces, and dishes both savory and sweet.

Red-veined sorrel has a tart flavor. Photo: Yang.
Sage is often paired with rich, fatty meats and other savory dishes for its pungent taste, but in the Discovery Garden, you may stumble across another variety of this plant. Pineapple sage makes a wonderful addition to sweet desserts and beverages. It can be incorporated into batter to make pineapple sage pound cake, or it can be crushed and added to cool drinks perfect for the rising temperatures. There are many possibilities to be explored with this herb, and it is not frequently found in grocery stores, so growing pineapple sage in your garden is a great decision. Your palate and stomach will thank you.

The herb garden is also home to many different varieties of thyme, including silver common thyme and lemon thyme. Thyme is a savory herb, somewhat spicier than oregano and sweeter than sage, and it works well in sauces, soups and marinades. Lemon thyme, however, is a sweeter variety and not as bitter as its cousins such as silver common thyme. As you might have guessed, lemon thyme has a lemony flavor and is great in salads, teas and meats. Thyme is another versatile herb that makes a fantastic addition to a number of different dishes and to any herb garden.

Lemon thyme is great in salads, teas & meats.
Photo: Yang.
The bloody dock or red-veined sorrel is another herb that can be found in the Discovery Garden. Its blood red veins stand out against its green leaves and make this plant a real attention grabber. But this sorrel has both form and function. Its leaves are best eaten raw or cooked when they are young and haven’t become too tough or bitter to consume. This sorrel’s somewhat tart and spinach-like taste, as well as its striking colors, can make a salad a little more exciting.

These herbs and their uses are just a small sample of the variety of herbs you can learn about in the Discovery Garden and grown in your home garden.

We hope you'll join us for Lauri's "Potted Herb Garden" class, where participants can broaden their horticultural and culinary horizons with growing information and recipes, and create a 6-plant potted herb garden in a 10-inch nursery container to bring home and grow with confidence. The potted garden options for class may include the following: rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, basil, chives or mint.


April 22, 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Location: greenhouse classroom
Fee: $55 Gardens members; $65 general public.
To register: 919-668-1707.

Blogger Annie Yang is a Duke freshman and a work-study marketing assistant at Duke Gardens.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Fun Alternatives to Easter Egg Hunts

Enjoy tree peonies and other flowers in bloom during
Easter weekend at Duke Gardens. Photo by Sue Lannon.

Easter egg hunts are great fun in your home, but they can create problems in Duke Gardens. We want to remind visitors that Easter egg hunts are not permitted in Duke Gardens, and to offer some fun ways for visitors—particularly youngsters—to celebrate Easter and enjoy all springtime visits together.

Why no Easter egg hunts at Duke Gardens? We ask visitors to refrain from egg hunts so that we can keep the fragile plants in this botanic garden safe from excited little hands and feet searching high and low for eggs and candies. We also ask visitors to help protect wildlife, so animals and birds won't try to eat the large number of forgotten eggs and candies later. Many people are unaware that chocolate can be especially harmful to dogs, and we want our visiting dogs to be safe, too. (In related news, please note that dogs are only

What to do instead? We'd love to hear your ideas. Here are some of ours:

Explore the Discovery Garden to see blueberries, kale, chard, peas, mustard and other yummy foods being grown. For children who've only ever seen these foods on a plate or in a grocery store, seeing where the plants are "born" can be fun.

* Play a game of Search with Your Eyes (not hands, please): Kids can have lots of fun looking all over the Gardens for signs of spring, from new buds to colorful blossoms. How many times can they find their favorite color? How about familiar shapes that appear in leaves and flowers? How many circles, triangles or squares can you find? If you visit our information desk before heading out into the Gardens, we'll give you a free Scavenger Hunt for young visitors to follow.

Fun activities to print out in advance: Plan your family visit ahead of time with the following fun activities: Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden Exploration; Gardens Scavenger Hunt for Preschoolers; Sensory Scavenger Hunt; Structures Scavenger Hunt.

Bird watch: From a great blue heron to a red-tailed hawk, a black-necked swan and many other species, lots of birds will be enjoying the spring weather in the Gardens this weekend. How many different birds can you spot? Any you've never seen before? Check out the informational signs at the Asiatic Arboretum Pond or the Bird Viewing Shelter in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, and you can write down species names to learn more about when you get home.

* Shutterbug Madness: We'd love to see your favorite photos that celebrate spring in Duke Gardens. Please share them on our Facebook page, on Instagram (@sarahpdukegardens or tag #dukegardens) or email them to

*Easter Sunday Service: Join Duke Chapel Sunday for a 6:30 a.m. Easter Sunrise Service on the South Lawn of Duke Gardens. If you're coming for the sunrise service, please don't forget to bring a flashlight to help find your way to the lawn in the morning darkness, and a towel to wipe the dew from your chairs. If it rains, the services will be in Duke Chapel.

Thank you for joining us in celebrating spring and protecting the plants and animals that we all love.

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. Duke Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Event Preview: Shinrin Yoku Meditative Walks

The Historic Gardens and Iris Bridge.
Duke Gardens visitors often remark that they feel calmer and more focused after a stroll through the Gardens. Consider taking this benefit to the next level by joining forest therapy instructor Dana Malaguti for a Shinrin Yoku meditative walk. You can opt for a 1.5-hour session (May 18) or a 3-hour session (April 27 or June 8). Dana spoke with us about this intriguing practice that is gaining popularity.
Fountain at the entrance to the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum.

In what ways is being in nature calming, and how does Shinrin Yoku enhance that effect?

People seem to be “wired” for nature – we evolved out of the forests and, deep inside, we recognize the forest as home. Shinrin Yoku helps us tap into that calming space of nature with a mindfulness approach.

Shinrin Yoku translates as “taking in the forest atmosphere” through our senses.  A walk in nature can calm and soothe the mind, and in the process change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our overall mental health. Research studies demonstrate that Shinrin Yoku reduces stress and promotes health by improving our cardiovascular and immune systems as well as elevating our mood and increasing our ability to learn.
The Memorial Garden.

How might a typical Shinrin Yoku gathering unfold?

It begins with an introduction and overview of the walk. I will guide you to an immersive experience through sensory invitations. As I've led these walks I've been surprised at how powerfully these simple invitations connect people to the environment around them and their own emotions.

This walk, which is under a mile, is not exercise or hiking. It is a wellness practice that encourages slowing down, walking, sitting, breathing, observing and opening up your senses to the world of nature in the present moment. We will end our walk with a refreshment that is grown in nature, so we will leave our experience with the forest inside of us.

Is there an age limit for this class, or can children participate?

For this particular group, I would say 18 years old and older is ideal.  This is a very mindful and personal practice for each individual. However, there is not an age limit if a particular individual is mature and understands the guidelines.
The Virtue Peace Pond.

What if I have a hard time walking, or if sitting still and trying to meditate hasn’t worked for me in the past?

The walking time is very slow and mindful. And if people have a hard time sitting still, movement is encouraged. Some people start doing yoga poses during an invitation. They may choose to wander, make art, do journaling or do something playful. While Shinrin Yoku is an organized practice, there is no “right way.”

Can I learn to practice Shinrin Yoku in my own back yard or neighborhood park?

Bird Viewing Shelter in the Blomquist Garden. 
Yes. Many people who have gone on one of my walks have found them to be so beneficial that they have created walks of their own. Others have shared that they have found “sit spots,” a place where they sit in nature and tune in to their senses on a regular basis.

Photos by Duke Gardens volunteer photographer Lori Sullivan.

3-hour walk (April 27 or June 8), 5:30-8:30 p.m. $55 for Gardens members; $68 general public.
1.5-hour walk (May 18), 6:30-8 p.m. $45 for Gardens members; $55 general public.

For more information:
April 27
May 18
June 8

To register, please call 919-668-1707 or email

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Spring Plant Sale Preview: Herb Garden in a Box

We’re excited to continue our “in a box” plant sale feature that we launched at our fall sale, this time with an Herb Garden in a Box.

You can mix and match your favorite organic herbs to create a ready-to-go garden at $18 for 6 plants at our Spring Plant Sale on Saturday, April 1, 8 a.m. to noon. We’ll even have a few veggies eligible for the mix. How can you lose?

In addition, Gardens members get 10% off all plants — making the in-a-box feature an even bigger bargain! Members also get first dibs via our Member Preview Sale on Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Urge your friends and family to join as well, so you can shop together! Learn more about the sale and membership here.

Need advice? Our expert horticulturists will be available to answer any questions you may have.

Here’s a sampling of what we’ll be offering:

bronze fennel
lemon verbena
mint 'Julep'
mint 'Mojito'
golden oregano
rosemary 'Foxtail'
rosemary 'Gorizia'
tricolor sage
English thyme
aloe vera

Hope to see you at the sale!

: Saturday, April 1, 8 a.m. to noon. Free admission & parking. Please bring wagons/carts and boxes if you have them.

MEMBER PREVIEW SALE: Friday, March 31, 4-6 p.m. Sign up or renew your membership online in advance or on site. Your support helps Duke Gardens preserve the Duke and Durham communities and visitors from around the world with educational programs and nationally acclaimed horticultural design. Thank you!

Photos by Cecilia Xie.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Spring Plant Sale Preview: Spotted Beebalm, Eastern Teaberry and Cardinal Flower

cardinal flower
By Annie Yang
Photos by Jason Holmes

Spotted beebalms, eastern teaberries and cardinal flowers are not only attractive plants, they also have interesting histories of cultural, folkloric and medicinal uses. Whatever their practical attributes, their unique physical traits can add color and personality to your garden.

You can find them all at our Spring Plant Sale on April 1 from 8 a.m. to noon.  Gardens members get 10 percent off all plants at the sale, as well as first dibs via our Member Preview Sale on Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Urge your friends and family to join as well, so you can shop together! Learn more about the sale and membership here.

Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower)

Cardinal flower in the
Spring Woodland Garden.
The bright red robes of Roman Catholic cardinals were the inspiration for Lobelia cardinalis, commonly called cardinal flower. Its scarlet and brighter red tones add drama to any garden.

Cardinal flower prefers rich, medium to wet soil in partial to full shade. Although a relatively low maintenance plant otherwise, it requires constant moisture. In areas with hotter summers, such as North Carolina, Lobelia cardinalis welcomes some afternoon shade. Long tubular flowers will attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your garden. Perhaps a little ironically, this plant is not attractive to Northern cardinals, despite a similarity in name.

Cardinal flower plants can grow from 1 to 3 feet tall. You can find it growing at Duke Gardens in the Spring Woodland Garden, where it thrives in the moist banks of the stream and rain garden. If you have a woodland garden, consider planting them at the edge, where they are especially attractive.

Spotted beebalm. 
Monarda punctata (spotted beebalm)

Monarda punctata's medicinal properties were used by the Meskwaki, Mohegan and other tribes to drive away illnesses. But you can take advantage of its pleasing smell to attract many pollinators to your garden.

Native to eastern Canada, the eastern United States, and northeastern Mexico, spotted beebalm thrives in full sun to part shade and in dry, sandy soils with mildly acidic to mildly alkaline pH levels. While drought-tolerant, this species wouldn’t mind some watering during the summer to help promote blooming. Spotted beebalm does best when sheared once a year after particularly brutal frosts or in the spring. The shallow root systems benefit from added leaf mold and compost.

spotted beebalm
With creamy white flowers specked with purple and pinkish bracts, Monarda punctata brightens up any garden and invites beautiful butterflies and beneficial wasps with its sweet nectar. Thymol, the same chemical that makes spotted beebalm so attractive as an herbal remedy, also repels mites and other pests. Spotted beebalm can get a little aggressive, but the occasional pruning is a small price to pay for all the benefits this plant brings to your garden.

Gaultheria procumbens (eastern teaberry)

A plant of many names, Gaultheria procumbens goes by eastern teaberry, checkerberry, boxberry, drunkards, American wintergreen, wax cluster, spicy wintergreen and youngster, among numerous other identifications. See photo here.

Gaultheria procumbens produces bright red berries that will last throughout winter. Oil extracted from lovely green leaves was once used to relieve common aches and pains. The oil of wintergreen is additionally used as flavoring in chewing gum, candy, and toothpaste. Be aware that as valuable and useful the eastern teaberry is to humans, some animals depend on its berries and leaves during the winter as an important food source.

Gaultheria procumbens is native to the eastern woodlands of the United States, and it grows best in organically rich, acidic, moist soil. Eastern teaberry can tolerate even heavy shade, but it grows and flowers best in sunny openings with partial shade. This evergreen shrub spreads over time, making for great ground cover in a garden, and gets along with other acid-loving shrubs, such as azaleas and rhododendrons.

SPRING PLANT SALE: Saturday, April 1, 8 a.m. to noon. Free admission & parking. Please bring wagons/carts and boxes if you have them.

MEMBER PREVIEW SALE: Friday, March 31, 4-6 p.m. Sign up or renew your membership online in advance or on site. Your support helps Duke Gardens preserve the Duke and Durham communities and visitors from around the world with educational programs and nationally acclaimed horticultural design. Thank you!

Blogger Annie Yang is a Duke freshman and a work-study marketing assistant at Duke Gardens. Jason Holmes is curator of the Doris Duke Center Gardens.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Spring Plant Sale Preview: Dazzling Peonies

Paeonia 'Coral Sunset.'
By Annie Yang
Photos by Jason Holmes

Native to Asia, Europe, and western North America, peonies have fascinated gardeners, botanists and plant enthusiasts for centuries. Scientists have identified dozens of species, all known for impressively beautiful blossoms in a vibrant array of colors. Fortunately, peonies are hardy as well as attractive, and they can make a colorful addition to any garden or household bouquet.

Below are four peony species we’re excited to bring to you at our Spring Plant Sale this Saturday, April 1, from 8 a.m. to noon. Gardens members get 10 percent off all plants at the sale, as well as first dibs via our Member Preview Sale on Friday from 4-6 p.m. Urge your friends and family to join as well, so you can shop together! Learn more about the sale and membership here.

Paeonia 'Coral Sunset'

Gazing upon this gorgeous peony variety, visitors will notice the coral of ruffled petals gently melting into pale pink or white, enclosing yellow stamens at the center. The vibrant, colorful bloom is reminiscent of a warm, summer sunset. Just one look will make it clear how Paeonia ‘Coral Sunset’ earned its name.

Every spring, ‘Coral Sunset’ puts on a bright display. An early bloomer, this peony is especially suited to North Carolina, where springs are short and the summers are hot. Durable and long-lived like its peony cousins, this variety faces few problems with pests and is drought-tolerant once established. Give the plant well-drained soil and partial to full sun, and ‘Coral Sunset’ has the potential to thrive for decades in your garden.

Don’t be discouraged if miniature sunsets don’t light up your garden immediately. Peonies take time to establish deep root systems. But patience is a virtue, and ‘Coral Sunset’ will come back year after year to brighten garden borders and bouquets.

Paeonia 'Armani'

With a name inspired by the high-end fashion brand, Paeonia ‘Armani’ flaunts an elegant, dark red flower sure to stand out in any garden. ‘Armani’ distinguishes itself among peonies for boasting some of the darkest reds in the family; double flowers bloom in the late spring to early summer before deepening into a rich burgundy.

You may think that this beauty requires a high level of maintenance, but ‘Armani’ is actually quite easy to care for — just make sure to provide the plant with enriched, well-drained soil with partial to full sun. Don’t forget to trim old stems to keep the plant healthy. As a bonus, this perennial is tolerant to drought, and it attracts butterflies but resists deer and rabbits.

The showy ‘Armani’ also makes an exquisite cut flower, a trait especially convenient given that cutting is one way peonies reproduce. So, don’t be afraid to whip out some scissors and snip at these beautiful blooms in your garden, because they will be back!

Paeonia ‘Mrs. F.D. Roosevelt’

Paeonia 'Mrs. F.D. Roosevelt'
A refined, sophisticated flower, Paeonia ‘Mrs. F.D. Roosevelt’ exudes grace and charm. Gentle, soft pink and creamy white flowers unfurl into an almost waterlily-like arrangement — a sight to behold! It also has a lovely fragrance. ‘Mrs. F.D. Roosevelt’ was introduced in 1932 and has continued to delight gardeners into the 21st century.

The pastel color would may suggest that the blossoms are delicate, but ‘Mrs. F.D. Roosevelt’ is another tried-and-true peony — durable, long-lasting, and vigorous. The plant is deer and rabbit resistant, virtually pest-free, and attractive to butterflies. Another low-maintenance peony, it will be perfectly content with enriched, fertile, well-drained soil and partial to full shade. The gorgeous blooms can be relatively large and heavy, so ‘Mrs. F.D. Roosevelt’ will appreciate some support or shelter to keep the rain from weighing her down.

This peony can function well within many different garden roles: it shines as a specimen plant or in groups, as a walkway or driveway border feature, or as  informal hedges. ‘Mrs. F.D. Roosevelt’ is also, of course, an exquisite cut flower, certain to stand out in any floral arrangement and captivate the hearts of many.

 'Felix Crousse'

Paeonia ‘Felix Crousse’ was introduced to American gardeners in 1881, and it is easy to see why the variety has remained popular for so long. Magenta to raspberry hues combined with a silvery sheen and an inviting fragrance have made ‘Felix Crousse’ a crowd pleaser and showstopper for generations.

As with other peonies, maintaining the durable ‘Felix Crousse’ involves relatively little hassle. Fertile soil and partial to full sun will help this perennial thrive. Keep in mind that the brilliant flowers are so large that ‘Felix Crousse’ may require some support in heavy rain to prevent them from arching toward the ground. It will be useful to find a sheltered spot in your garden for ‘Felix Crousse’ to settle down in, but don’t let the extra care dissuade you from cultivating this classic garden flower.

Consider combining  peonies with roses or other perennials in your garden to create riveting color patterns. ‘Felix Crousse’ blooms in the late spring to early summer, and growing this peony with varieties that have different bloom times can extend your peony season for more than an entire month of captivating flowers.

SPRING PLANT SALE: Saturday, April 1, 8 a.m. to noon. Free admission & parking. Please bring wagons/carts and boxes if you have them.

MEMBER PREVIEW SALE: Friday, March 31, 4-6 p.m. Sign up or renew your membership online in advance or on site. Your support helps Duke Gardens preserve the Duke and Durham communities and visitors from around the world with educational programs and nationally acclaimed horticultural design. Thank you!

Blogger Annie Yang is a Duke freshman and a work-study marketing assistant at Duke Gardens. Jason Holmes is the curator of the Doris Duke Center Gardens.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Lecture & workshop preview: Planting in a Post-Wild World

Take inspiration from the Piedmont Prairie in the
Blomquist Garden of Native Plants.
Photo by Annabel Renwick.
By Katherine Hale

Native plant gardening is all the rage these days, and rightly so, but so often the reality falls short of its true potential.

The problem isn’t with the plants themselves. North Carolina native species are robust, colorful and charming, and they provide food and shelter for a wide range of birds, bees and other creatures. It’s really an organizational problem.

Effective design is what separates a beautiful meadow or functioning rain garden from a high-maintenance nightmare. Traditional garden placement, in which plants are treated as individual units separated by wide swathes of grass or mulch, just doesn’t measure up to the organic vitality and sustainability of landscapes organized by Mother Nature. But letting things run wild doesn’t always produce aesthetically pleasing results, bring in the species you’d prefer, or keep the homeowners’ association off your back.

What’s a busy, conscientious, nature-loving gardener to do?

In two upcoming events at Duke Gardens, landscape architect Claudia West will illustrate that it is possible to have a garden that is ornamental, functional and ecological all at the same time. The secret is to mimic the way plants layer and space themselves in the wild. It’s unorthodox but highly effective, and it’s not an exaggeration to say this will revolutionize the way you see the world.

West’s lecture on Thursday, March 30, will be based on the groundbreaking book she co-wrote with colleague Thomas Rainer, “Planting in a Post-Wild World: Designing Plant Communities for Resilient Landscapes.” Duke Gardens is pleased to host this event as part of the annual Taimi Anderson Lecture Series.

Drawing on key archetypal landscapes—grassland, woodland and forest—West will explain how to find the one that best suits your project or property, and how to find specific species from that landscape that will work in your eco-region. She’ll also detail how to lay out the plants in functional groups based on their roles in the landscape, and how to space plants to avoid any pesky weeding after installation. The Piedmont Prairie in the Blomquist Garden, for instance, could be the perfect inspiration for a backyard meadow featuring native wildflowers and drought-tolerant grasses, or perhaps a border around a more traditionally mowed lawn. Aside from a few basic ground rules and concepts, the limits are only determined by your imagination and creativity in applying them.

Haven’t read the book? Don’t worry—copies will be available for purchase on site with a book signing reception following the lecture. The lecture is free for garden members and Duke students, and $10 for the general public.

For those who prefer a more informal approach, West will also offer a small group workshop on Friday, March 31. Capped at 25 people, this is the perfect opportunity to ask West specific questions about plant selection or home or garden projects and get personalized feedback. The workshop is $80 for Gardens members, and $99 for the general public. Lunch will be provided for participants.

Finally, if you’re inspired by West’s enthusiasm for native plants and eager to try out these principles for yourself, don’t forget our Spring Plant Sale on April 1, and the Preview Sale for members the evening before. Here you can purchase grasses, shrubs and other native perennials selected for their premier ornamental qualities, with unique colors and textures you can’t find in the landscaping section of the average big box retailer—and use them to create a beautiful, ecologically-designed and resilient native garden of your own.


“Planting in a Post-Wild World” lecture: Thursday, March 30, 7 p.m.

“Planting in a Post-Wild World” workshop: March 31, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Location: Doris Duke Center, Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson Street, Duke University, Durham.

Information/registration: or 919-668-1707.

Spring Plant Sale: Saturday, April 1, 8 a.m. to noon.

Preview Sale for Members: March 31, 4-6 p.m.

Blogger Katherine Hale is an intern in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Duke Gardens and a graduate student in the Field Naturalist program at the University of Vermont. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring Plant Sale Preview: Little Bluestem

Schizachyrium scoparium 'The Blues', also known as little bluestem.

By Katherine Hale
Photos by Jason Holmes

Call it by its Latin name, Schizachyrium scoparium, or by the common name little bluestem – either way, this plant is a winner.

Native to the wide Midwestern prairies, little bluestem is right at home in sunny urban landscapes of North Carolina. In Duke Gardens, you can find this species growing in the Piedmont Prairie in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. We’ll be selling several cultivars at our Spring Plant Sale.

One cultivar, 'Prairie Blues', has blue-green spring foliage that turns reddish-purple by mid-summer, sporting tall stalks bedecked with tiny florets that dry into attractive curls. Another selection, ‘Smoke Signals’, has striking dark coloration that makes it stand out at a distance. Leave the frost-killed stalks up for wildlife shelter and winter interest, or cut it back to the base and use in dried flower arrangements—it will look great either way.
Schizachyrium scoparium

The design possibilities with little bluestem are endless. Beautiful in formal mass plantings and perennial borders, adding visual interest to parking strip buffers and rain gardens, or scattered among wildflowers in a meadow—you can’t go wrong. Upright and tidy, little bluestem thrives in heat and humidity as the ultimate low maintenance perennial. Rip out your lawn, never have to mow again and enjoy a continuous show year-round.

Formerly known as Andropogon scoparium, this species has been reclassified as the genus Schizachyrium. Whatever you opt to call it, look for it at our Spring Plant Sale on Saturday, April 1, from 8 a.m. to noon, or at the Gardens Member Preview Sale on March 31 from 4 to 6 p.m. See you there!

Blogger Katherine Hale is an intern in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Duke Gardens and a graduate student in the Field Naturalist program at the University of Vermont. 

Friday, February 10, 2017

A Sculpture Emerges on the South Lawn

Scaffolding helps to keep the foundational
elements in place during creation. Photo by Bill LeFevre.
By Katherine Hale

A bird’s nest. A treehouse. An alien spaceship.  A new sculpture, constructed entirely out of locally harvested saplings, is taking shape on the South Lawn of Duke Gardens. Starting this week and for the next two weeks, Triangle sculptor Patrick Dougherty will construct his latest creation with the help of a rotating crew of Gardens staff and volunteers. Even in its unfinished state, the sculpture is already drawing a great deal of talk and opinions. And that’s just how Dougherty likes it.

Dougherty and a volunteer add
more sticks to the mix.
Photo by Orla Swift.
“It is clear that a good sculpture causes many different personal associations with those who see it,” he wrote in his 2010 career retrospective Stickwork. Throughout the process of construction, he enjoys flipping the questions of curious passers-by right back at them:  “What do you think it is? And what should I call it?”

Beloved for picnicking and sunbathing, strolling and (ostensibly) studying, the South Lawn now takes a turn as host to a public art installation. Already this sculpture has undergone several transformations. On Friday morning, the third day on site, a small forest of red maple and sweetgum saplings harvested in Duke Forest earlier in the week had sprung up on the center of the lawn, complete with a luxurious carpet of mulch and surrounded by a halo of temporary scaffolding. More saplings, piled in thick bundles, lay nearby. By lunchtime, Dougherty had begun to pull the tops of the branches into graceful, looping curves and lash them into place, while three volunteers gracefully wove smaller branches in between the trunks at their base.

Weaving sturdy walls.
Photo by Orla Swift.
Everyone moves carefully but efficiently, as if they were all born to this work—and perhaps they were.  “When we were young, the ubiquitous stick was an everyday part of childhood play. It was a tool, a weapon, a rafter,” Dougherty writes in Stickwork. “I point out my belief that we inherit stick know-how from our first ancestors. So any volunteer can quickly find that knack, that basic urge to build.” Trees are natural architects, too, and much of the charm of Dougherty’s designs comes from letting them drive the development of the work as it unfolds. The end results are organic, undulating, clearly fabricated yet oddly natural--and intimately reflected of the surrounding landscape.

Duke Gardens executive director Bill LeFevre approached Dougherty several years ago with a proposal to bring his artistry to the Gardens. As the project date drew closer, they agreed upon an ideal location. When the work began, LeFevre and Gardens staff members enthusiastically signed up for opportunities to play a hands-on role.

“We are thrilled and thankful to have the opportunity to work with Patrick Dougherty and his team to create this site-specific work of art in Duke Gardens,” said LeFevre, whose shifts with Dougherty left him somewhat scratched up but also energized and inspired.

“We collected thousands of saplings from Duke Forest, and now we all get to play a role in bending them into Patrick’s emerging vision for the piece,” he said. “I hope visitors will enjoy witnessing this process of creation.”

Dougherty explains his techniques to
staff members who will assist.
Photo by Orla Swift.
Like the forests that spawned them, these sculptures cannot be built in one day—three weeks from start to finish is typical for Dougherty’s constructions. The ongoing process of installation is both an opportunity for the community to interact and participate and a piece of performance art in itself. Once the sculpture is complete, time and the elements will help dictate how long it will remain, but Dougherty’s sculptures typically stay standing for a couple of years.

So, what is it exactly taking shape on the South Lawn? It’s a castle. It’s a forest. It’s a home for elves. It’s a photo opportunity. It’s a chance to get in touch with nature again or an inspiration to build a tree fort of your own at home. Or perhaps it’s none of those things at all for you.  But one thing is for certain: whether you’re involved with the construction or just passing through, Dougherty’s work is likely to intrigue and engage you.

Katherine Hale is an intern in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Duke Gardens and a graduate student in the Field Naturalist program at the University of Vermont. 

Read more about Patrick Dougherty and his work in the latest issue of Garden & Gun magazine.

Update: Below is the finished sculpture, in a photo by Rick Fisher.  You can read more about it in our 2017 Flora Magazine.