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.”

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