Friday, September 15, 2017

Fine art meets crafting in "Crown Yourself" workshop

By Sheon Wilson
Publications Coordinator

Come join us for a class where crafting meets fine art and creates a beautiful takeaway.

In one afternoon, “Crown Yourself: The Dolci Experience in Flowers and Art” will show you how to create art from everyday materials.

During this three-hour workshop on Dec. 16, co-hosted by Duke Gardens and the Nasher Museum of Art, participants will visit the Nasher’s Carlo Dolci exhibition and then head to Duke Gardens to craft their own crowns, wreaths or centerpieces.

Using botanical materials sourced at Duke Gardens, such as evergreen branches, holly and berries, our instructor will demonstrate how to craft your piece and then provide individual guidance and suggestions as needed. Basic materials will be included, but participants are invited to bring lights or other embellishments.

Nasher Museum of Art staff will give the class a guided tour of “The Medici’s Painter: Carlo Dolci and 17th Century Florence,” which showcases the Italian art master’s eye for color, light and texture.

A celebrated artist of his day, Dolci often painted crowns of foliage on his subjects. That inspired “Crown Yourself.”

“We thought a class that requires slowing down would relate to Dolci, because he was known for his meticulous attention to detail,” said Jan Little, director of education and public programs at Duke Gardens. Dolci was known for spending a decade or more on one painting, resulting in incredible depictions of minute detail.

At Duke Gardens, you'll learn how to use different colors, textures and types of botanicals, and how to manipulate scale, form and light. Dolci’s artistic process should prove inspiring as you craft your own creation, Little said.

“Painters mix their color to their exact goals to illustrate light and shadow, but people who craft with natural materials fashion those materials to respond to existing light and shadow,” she said. “We look forward to exploring the contrasts and similarities between fine art and craft.”

Workshop details: Saturday, Dec. 16, 2 to 5 p.m. To register, please call 919-668-1707 or email For more information about this or our winter "Crown Yourself" workshop, please see the event page on our website.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Beetle infestation prompts tree removal

An arborist lowers a section of a dead tree in Duke Gardens.
By Sheon Wilson
Publications Coordinator

Crews are removing three pine trees in Duke Gardens' Culberson Asiatic Arboretum this week after detecting a virulent pest: the Southern pine beetle

The beetles have attacked two mature pines in Pine Clouds Mountain Stream, so arborists are removing the trees before the scourge spreads. A third vulnerable tree nearby will also be removed.
Southern pine beetle.
Photo by Marc DiGirolomo,
U.S. Forest Service

Visitors will be unable to walk through the Pine Clouds area during this work. They will be redirected with detour signs. We apologize for the inconvenience.

The work should take about three days; we will update here when it's finished. It requires taking down the trees one section at the time to avoid damaging the plants beneath. 

Southern pine beetles bore tiny holes
 into unhealthy pine trees.
During the two-year construction of the Japanese garden, which was completed in 2016, the weight of heavy equipment damaged some roots. That weakened the trees and prompted the beetles to move in. They bored tiny holes and ravaged the trees from the inside.

 “We noticed that the tops of the trees were brown; that appeared over a weekend,” said Bobby Mottern, director of horticulture. “Pine beetles are notorious for detecting trees that have been weakened.”
When pine trees are infested with Southern pine beetles,
as is the tree in the forefront, they look brown and weak.

Southern pine beetles are common, native insects. They know when a tree is stressed - by compacted soil or even drought, for instance - because the tree sends out a pheromone that the beetle detects. 

Once that happens, it’s hard to stop the beetles’ damage without fully removing the tree. Keeping trees healthy is about the only way to prevent infestations.

All photos by Sheon Wilson, except where noted.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Citizen Science: Children Help Crowdsource Vital Data

By Sheon Wilson
Publications Coordinator

Undaunted by drizzle, 13 teens and preteens scurried outside, umbrellas, clipboards and data sheets in hand.

Raindrops fell on blooming water lilies, lotuses and other aquatic plants floating on a pond wrapped in flagstone and populated by frogs, turtles and a wide variety of insects at all stages of their life cycle.

In their T-shirts, shorts, sneakers and sandals, the teens and preteens looked like students enjoying a summer break. But their mission was bigger. They were citizen scientists, collecting data on dragonflies.

Citizen science, which involves members of the public in gathering and analyzing data to aid professional researchers, helps to advance global scientific knowledge. People of all ages and identities can participate in scientific research from anywhere in the world, sometimes providing crucial local data unavailable in laboratories.

At Duke Gardens, these young “dragonfly detectives” were enjoying a weeklong citizen science workshop, one of a wide array of programs that Duke Gardens offers to introduce children and families to the wonder and complexity of the natural world.

On the first day of “Dragonfly Detectives,” participants learned the five dragonfly species they would observe during the week. In the next few days, students also learned about dragonfly behavior, life cycle, and how to differentiate dragonfly nymphs from other aquatic insects.

Sheya, a rising sixth-grader, recorded tips for spotting common whitetail dragonflies in her field journal. They’re shorter than other dragonflies, she wrote. The females have brown abdomens, and all have blackish-brown bands on their wings. “This makes me feel needed because this stuff is going into real research,” she wrote about being a citizen scientist.

Like professional scientists, the children made hypotheses about dragonflies before they ventured out the next day. “I believe the worst weather for a dragonfly will be rain, even though they have muscles on each wing,” Jeremiah wrote in his “Dragonfly Detectives” journal.

Day two was drizzly, but the children headed outdoors with data sheets and simple devices. They recorded the number and types of dragonflies observed, wind direction and speed, humidity, amount of sunlight and more. Sixth-grader Alexander, carefully inspecting the pond’s edge, retrieved a dragonfly exuvia, the inflexible exoskeleton that the insect molts, or sheds, several times in its short life.

The rain seemed to discourage dragonflies from gathering en masse around the pond. But the children’s newly trained eyes caught a few.

“That one looks like a green darner,” sixth-grader Jeremiah said, “but I think it’s a look-alike.”

Campers identified a wandering glider early in the day. But they did not see any dragonflies during their official three-minute count, one of two data collection exercises they did that day.

Students were initially dismayed with their official counts of “0,” but Anderson brought them back to the scientific process and their hypotheses about dragonfly behavior in the rain. Even seeing nothing is data to report. What did their data teach them?

By seeing no dragonflies in the dismal weather, Jeremiah had gathered evidence to support his hypothesis that the worst weather for dragonflies is rain. This and other results uncovered by the “dragonfly detectives” would be sent on to the statewide project to contribute to large-scale scientific research.

That resonated with the students. “I feel good because people are actually listening to children and collecting information from them,” said Freya, a sixth-grader. “I feel honored!”

Students continued questioning, exploring, and discovering over the rest of their week as citizen scientists. They formally presented their findings, and left with even more questions.

Inquiry based outdoor exploration plays a role in all classes and workshops on Duke Gardens’ fall/winter roster, from Nature for Sprouts (for children ages 3 to 5) to the Artists in the Gardens series (ages 9-12) and the Naturalist series (ages 5-6 or 7-9). Please see Duke Gardens’ website for a full schedule of children and family offerings and programs for school groups, and to register online.