Sunday, November 19, 2017

Fall Colors in Duke Gardens

The Woodland Bridge in the Doris Duke Center Gardens.
Photo by Clarence Burke.
By Sheon Wilson
Publication Coordinator

Fall colors are spectacular at Duke Gardens, and despite our dry summer, this year is no exception.

Visitors are marveling at the sugar maples (Acer saccharum) that flank the parking lot as they enter, and they're raving about the camellia flowers in the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum.

Japanese maple leaves.
Photo by Sue Lannon.

“They all comment, saying [the maples] are so pretty and the color is breathtaking,” says Sue Schneider, a Duke Gardens ambassador who greets visitors at the Gothic Gates. “And in the Asiatic Arboretum, the red bridge with the maples in the Japanese garden are spectacular.”

Schneider also volunteers in the arboretum, where fall visitors are often surprised by the blooming camellias.

“People who aren’t from this area say, ‘Wow, what is that?’ ” she says. “They can’t believe what they’re seeing.”

Seasonal color has peaked in western North Carolina, but deciduous trees in the Triangle weren’t in any hurry to put on their fall coats of yellow, orange and red in early fall. Now the show is on.
Fall's changing colors. Photo by Sue Lannon.
Each fall, changes in temperature and the length of daylight cause leaves to stop the food-making process in cells containing the chlorophyll. As chlorophyll breaks down, the green color disappears, and the yellow to orange colors become visible. The College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, N.Y., offers a fuller explanation.

If that makes you want to learn more, check out classes at Duke Gardens that delve into plant life, including “The Winter Garden” at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 6, “Landscape Plants for North Carolina Gardens” in February, and “Basic Botany and Plant Growth” in February and March.

Ginkgo biloba.
Photo by Jason Holmes.
Horticulturist Michelle Rawlins has the perfect picture of fall in her head, and it involves the magnificent large maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba) in the Historic Gardens, planted about 50 years ago.

“A couple of years ago, there was a girl, probably about 5, in a red petticoat underneath the ginkgo, picking leaves up and throwing them in the air,” Rawlins said. “It was the epitome of perfect, and it's a mental picture that I carry with me.”

The ginkgo is one of Rawlins’ favorites because “it's a tree that turns gold one day, and then the leaves start falling, and it's raining fall color.” There’s still time this fall to see the tail end of the ginkgo’s golden display.

Camellias in
Pine Clouds Mountain Stream.
Photo by Sue Lannon.

Rawlins, a prize-winning chrysanthemum grower, also recommends checking out the numerous mums displayed throughout the Asiatic Arboretum. The diversity of color, shape, size and form makes these plants eternally fascinating.

“We've had a lot of good compliments on them,” she said. “It's a flower that's doing its thing when not much else is.”

Student perspectives: fall’s varied palette

Camellia sasanqua in the Culberson
Asiatic Arboretum.
By Annie Yang
Duke Class of 2020

One of the pleasures of returning to Duke Gardens time after time is that it is constantly evolving throughout the year. Every week I visit, the scenery gradually changes with the cycle of the seasons, and a new plant that has just started to bloom catches my eye.

More pretty camellias
in the Asiatic Arboretum.
Autumn is a chance for trees to play starring roles, their red, orange and yellow leaves creating brilliant fall vistas. But walk through Duke Gardens and you’ll see a wider palette than you may expect, with berries and blooms offering additional visual delights.

All around the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum are camellias (Camellia sasanqua), whose bright yellow stamen against vibrant pink and white petals are sure to catch your eye. This species of camellia also emits a pleasant fragrance, so keep your eyes and nose open while you walk through this part of the gardens.

American beautyberry
in the Asiatic Arboretum.
Near the edge of the Asiatic Arboretum, as well as in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants and elsewhere in Duke Gardens, is a plant I initially mistook for grapes when I first encountered it. The bold purples of the berries hanging on these small shrubs certainly demand attention. It’s no wonder that this plant is called the beautyberry (Callicarpa americana). The berries cluster together along the branches, and it’s almost impossible not to be mesmerized by the deep purple hue.

Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) adds visual punctuation throughout Duke Gardens, including in the Asiatic Arboretum and the Historic Gardens. The small, bright red berries of this plant give a festive feeling to its surroundings and are a reminder that winter holidays are almost upon us!

Kohlrabi in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden.
The Discovery Garden was not a place I expected to see “showy” plants, but I was pleasantly surprised. I came upon kohlrabi, a vegetable bred from the wild cabbage plant.  A relative of kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and many other vegetables, this wild cabbage is stunningly versatile.

Kohlrabi can come in pale green or deep purple, and the bulbs grow above ground, its many stems appearing to shoot up from the soil. This is definitely not your average vegetable, and it definitely pops right out. It’s edible, too, as with everything in this sustainable, organic food garden, so it has both form and function.

On your next fall visit to Duke Gardens, stay tuned to the palette beyond the palette. Fall’s fiery leaves put on a spectacular show, but you may decide that some of their co-stars also deserve top billing.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Fall for Orchids exhibit: an interview with Pei-Fen Liu

Visitors love taking photos of the wide variety of blooms
featured in the Fall for Orchids exhibit.
2016 exhibit photo by Kathy Julian.
By Sheon Wilson
Publications Coordinator

Musicians may know Duke instructor Pei-Fen Liu for her talent as a pianist. But this weekend at Duke Gardens, Liu will share another longtime passion: growing orchids.

Liu's blooms are part of the third annual Fall for Orchids exhibit, a collaboration between Duke Gardens and the Triangle Orchid Society. The exhibit opens Friday at 1 p.m. in the Doris Duke Center, with extended hours through 7:30 p.m. It will continue  through the weekend. Admission is free.

“Growing up in Taiwan, my mother grew all kinds of plants in our garden, orchids being one of them,” Liu, who has taught classical piano at Duke since 1994, wrote in an email interview this week. “She mounted Dendrobiums on tree ferns and hung baskets of Cattleyas behind shade cloths in the summer heat. The natural environment in rural Taiwan was pristine and we often took hiking trips in the mountains in search of wild orchids.”

North Carolina’s climate is also orchid-friendly, Liu says. So she and other orchid society members have ample opportunity to build and share their orchid-growing skills. 
Pei-Fen Liu with one of her orchids.
Photo courtesy of Pei-Fen Liu.

The exhibit will feature hundreds of stunning blooming orchids in lush garden-like settings, with displays by orchid societies from North Carolina and neighboring states. It will also include workshops and lectures about growing, repotting and caring for orchids (see schedule here), and visitors will have a chance to buy orchids and supplies.

Liu shared more about her love for orchids in the following Q&A:

What is the allure of the orchid? Orchids have always fascinated me with their diversity and endless variety. From the delicate blooms of the Phalaenopsis to the splash petals of peloric Cattleyas, orchid-growing is a hobby that never gets old. Each genre has its own appeal, and it has become an addiction to collect every single kind!                                                               

What orchid varieties do you grow?  I grow many varieties and have recently started to collect various species, particularly Dendrobiums. One of my favorites is Cattleya orchids; they can range from large and fragrant to compact and floriferous. Some of my favorites are Cattleya Sea Breeze, Cattlianthe Blue Boy and Rhyncholaeliocattleya Malworth ‘Orchidglade’.

What does it take to grow an orchid and keep it thriving? We are lucky to live in a climate that is both humid and warm enough to grow orchids outdoors in the summer. Finding the best medium, fertilizer and growing spot can take time, and I'm still trying to find better ways for my orchids to bloom bigger and healthier. It’s a giant learning curve but well worth making the effort.

What are some notable attributes of the orchid? What I find most interesting is that many species have different variations, which are typically expressed as a "var" at the end of their botanical names. This variation is usually a difference in color, but it also can be a splash in the petal or a different form in the flower. This variety in the orchid kingdom is passed down to hybrids, which has led to some amazing crosses.

Do orchids inspire your music, or does you music inspire your orchid-growing? Orchids and music represent each other.  I am inspired by both.


DATES: Friday, Nov. 10, 1-7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 11, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 12, noon-4 p.m.

COST: Free drop-in exhibit for all ages. Adult chaperone required. Parking fees apply Friday through 5 p.m. and after 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

LEARN MORE: exhibit information; workshop & orchid society information.