April 25, 2011

Picnic at Duke Gardens

Sarah P. Duke Gardens, the botanical garden adjoining the Duke University campus is my favorite garden for its beauty and its memories: it was the location of our wedding last June.

We were supposed to get married in the angle amphitheater (pictured below) on a balmy 96 degree evening. A quick rainstorm came through and we were moved to the tent at the Doris Duke center in the background, which cooled things off a bit and I'm told means good luck. It also made for a photographers dream lighting, the picture above is from our post-ceremony portraits in the garden (copyright Diane McKinney Photography).

So Brian and I finally got a free day together, and not having been able to get out of town for a few months, I grabbed by sun hat and we made the 30 minute drive over to Duke Gardens for a picnic among the spring flowers. We found a grassy spot overlooking a pond under a snowball viburnum.


It was the perfect time to enjoy the gardens, and there was so much to see! Duke Gardens has 4 main garden areas: The Doris Duke Center Gardens (where the angle amphitheater is), The H.L. Bloomquist Garden of Native Plants, The Terrace Gardens, and the Culberson Asiatic Areboretum.

Trillium (unsigned species)
Although there were interesting plants to be photographed everywhere, the terrace garden was the star of the show, with late-blooming tulips and early-blooming Allium. The plant combinations in this area are beautiful and inspiring, with mixes of early-season annuals, perennials, shrubs, and bulbs.

In another stunning area, walking through the largest garden by far, the Asiatic Arboretum, I always discover interesting new plants.  Perhaps this is because the gardens are always adding to their collection, with trips to China and Japan. With a lake as its center piece, and a traditional tea house on the shore, the beautiful details transform the North Carolina landscape into a lush Eastern paradise.

Rhododendron macrosepalum 'Linerifolium' (Spider Azalea)
Illicium henryi (Henry Anise)

Duke Gardens is our special place to get a way for a while outside of Raleigh. Along with a bit of sun and relaxation, I always come away inspired by the unique plants and beautiful designs. With the memories we've made and continue to make there, I'm sure it is a place we will make a point to visit often throughout our lives.

"I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in."  ~John Muir

April 22, 2011

Earth Day Reading

Earth Day is a day that is intended to spread awareness and appreciation for the Earth's natural environment. Things are blooming in the garden, and I was invited by Holley at Roses and Other Gardening Joys to participate in the Earth Day reading project, a fun little blog meme hosted by The Sage Butterfly.

Baptisia x 'Carolina Moonlight' (Carolina Moonlight Baptisia)

The rules are simple: create a post linking back to the person who invited you and the original post, list at least 3 books that have inspired you to preform sustainable living or act green and explain why, and select at least 3 other blogs to tag for the project. What a fun idea!

Rosa banksiae 'Alba Plena' (White Lady Banks Rose)
I was excited to accept the tag for this Earth Day post, as being in the environmental field I am always reading "green"-type books. My choices may be a bit different, as they are more about environmentalism and living in harmony with the earth than the modern interpretation of "green living".

(1) Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, 1962

I'll start with a classic in environmentalism that is also a great read about nature. Silent Spring is the epic book that is often touted as the book that started the environmental movement, and played a large part in the banning of DDT in 1970. What starts out as a beautiful passage about the sounds and images of spring, ends with the silence that was brought by wide-spread spraying of pesticides. The book is a mix of science and passion, and describes the effects of pesticides on humans and ecosystems. It also recommends alternative methods, many of which are used today, such as biocontrol.

"We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road - the one less traveled by - offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth"

Anthyrium 'Ghost' (Ghost Fern)
(2) My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir, 1911

If you read my blog, you probably noticed I like John Muir.  I just love his writing style, his descriptions are almost lyrical and can take me to the deepest gorges of the Sierra Mountains in my bedroom. John Muir was perhaps one of the original environmentalists as founder of the Sierra Club, although at his time he was called a naturalist. My First Summer in the Sierra is John Muir's journal accounting his awe-inspiring visit to the place he loved and protected throughout his career. This book holds a special place in my heart, as the following passage was read by my brother at Brian and my wedding.

"No Sierra landscape that I have seen holds anything truly dead or dull, or any trace of that in manufactories is called rubbish or waste; everything is perfectly clean and pure and full of divine lessons. This quick, inevitable interest attaching to everything seems marvelous until the hand of God becomes visible; then it seems reasonable that what interests God may well interest us. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. One fancies a heart like our own must be beating in every crystal and cell, and we feel like stopping to speak to that plants and animals as friendly fellow mountaineers. Nature as a poet, an enthusiastic workingman, becomes more and more visible the farther and higher we go; for the mountains are fountains - beginning places, however related to sources beyond mortal ken."

Chionanthus virginicus (Native Fringe Tree)
(3) 1491 by Charles Mann, 2005

For my final selection, I wanted to choose something a little different. 1491 is a book I was introduced to when I was a teaching assistant for a forest history class. As the title would suggest, it explores what America was like the year before Columbus's famous trip. While the book has many revelations about what Native American cultures and ecosystems were like, perhaps the most significant one is that the number of Native Americans, their advances, and impacts on the land have been severely underestimated. In fact, at the time the life span of a Native American was longer than a European. However, 95% of the population was wiped out by diseases spread to people and forest animals by the European explorers, and when pilgrims came to America its forest had already been going through a century of successional changes. This book is a great lesson in how land management is not a negative activity as long as it is done with a conscious mind to ecosystem needs, and questions our thinking in what is a truly "unaltered" ecosystem.

"Before it became the New World, the Western Hemisphere was vastly more populous and sophisticated than has been thought—an altogether more salubrious place to live at the time than, say, Europe. New evidence of both the extent of the population and its agricultural advancement leads to a remarkable conjecture: the Amazon rain forest may be largely a human artifact."

Amertia maritima 'Nifty Thrifty'
Its been a busy week, and I was only able to get one blog tag together:
Visit Anne blog at Gardening with Binoculars

If you are hungry for more there are some also great Earth Day reading posts from:
 My Nice Garden
 Its Not Work, Its Gardening!
 Sweet Bean Gardening
 Southern Meadows
 Gardens Eye View
 The Gardening Blog

Dutch Iris (unknown variety)
Baptisia x 'Purple Smoke' (Purple Smoke Baptisia)

"You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers.  So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin.  Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother.  Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.  If men spit upon the ground, they spit upon themselves."  
~Native American Wisdom

April 20, 2011

Mother Nature

This past weekend a "family" of tornadoes came through central and eastern North Carolina. One tracked 200 yards away from the greenhouse where Brian works, and headed in a path that took it only 1/4 mile away from our house. We were lucky, no damage... but others were not so lucky.

Damage in Raleigh was bad, and its amazing how people bond together after tragedies. Damage was worse in Jacksonville, NC about 2 blocks from where my sister-in-law lives. My mother in law took the picture below. Luckily they were okay as well.

24 People lost their lives in the tornadoes, 3 in our county, but luckily no one we know was severely affected. One of our good friends and coworkers at the greenhouse lost all the trees in her backyard. Buried deep under the pile is her squashed perennial border. The loss of a garden makes me appreciate the beauty of mine even more. Perhaps I should give her some plants.

"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you." ~ Frank Loyd Wright

April 15, 2011

April Bloom Day

It's once again time to stroll through the garden for the mid-month Garden Blogger Bloom Day, sponsored by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. The star of the show for this months bloom day is the 'Miss Kim' lilac, which has been spreading its intoxicating scent through the garden for a few days now.


There is so much in bloom right now that I could not capture everything, but have included some highlights. Its amazing how much has changed since March's Bloom Day.
Clockwise from top left: Phlox subulata 'Emerald Blue', Berberis thumbergeii 'Rose Glow', Hypericum androsaemum 'Ignite Red', Polemonium reptans 'Stairway to Heaven', Azaleas, Viburum tinus 'Compactum' (Spring Bouquet Viburnum).

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' (left) and Vicia sativa (common vetch) (right)
Clockwise from top left: 'Immortality' Iris, Wigelia florida 'Wine and Roses' and MazusSalvia farinacea 'Agusta Duelberg', 'Well Endowed' Iris, and 'Hill Hardy' Rosemary

Cotoneaster (unknown species) in bloom


Perennial plant of the year (2011), Asmonia hubrichtii (Thread-leafed Blue-star).

"In June as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day.  No man can heed all of these anniversaries; no man can ignore all of them."  ~Aldo Leopold
(In Raleigh, its more like April)

April 12, 2011


Like the Dutch tulip crazy of the early 1600's, I am always interested in the most unusual tulips. It may be a little past the prime time for these bulbs in our area, but Tulipia 'Party Time' is deserving of a spotlight this week, and allows me to illustrate a great lesson in plant history. A member of the Fringed group, this Biltmore Series tulip is definitely unusual, and has put on a show for over a week.

I first read deeper into the Dutch Tulip-mania in Botany of Desire, by Michael Pollan (a book I recommend to any plant-lover). However, I have been re-introduced to the topic through a plant pathology class that I am in, and continue to be mesmerized by the power these small bulbs brought. Tulips are important in the field of plant pathology because the first ever described plant virus was the cause of the sought-after color breaking on Tulip flowers... so here's a little gardeners history lesson, and some pretty pictures!


Tulipia, the genus of Tulips, is named for the Turkish word for turban, which the flower resembles. Found growing wild in Turkey, and later cultivated by the local people, the cultivated Tulip was first brought to Holland in the 16th century. The bulbs thrived in the temperate climate, and an industry was born! By the beginning of the 17th century, horticultural experimenting created many new varieties. These exotic and expensive mutations were coveted by the rich for their beauty, rarity, and status. When the middle class realized how much the rich would pay for these bulbs, tulip-mania was born.

Based on futures markets, Tulip prices skyrocketed. For just one rare bulb exhibiting color breaking, the seller received: 2 loads of wheat, 4 fat oxen, 8 fat pigs, 12 fat sheet, 2 hogsheads of wine, 4 barrels of beer, 2 barrels of butter, 100 pounds of cheese, a bed, a suit of clothes, and a silver beaker! The rarest bulbs brought equivalent to US$ 50,000 in gold. The amazing thing is these "rare" bulbs would actually die over time from the virus which caused them to be so unique. But, there was not enough time to make that discovery, as the Tulip-mania only lasted 2 years, at which time the market crashed and sellers were forced to give or throw away bulbs. Plant viruses would not be recognized until almost 300 years later (This information is from Plant Pathology 601 at NC State University). Just a little food for thought, as we all enjoy our spring tulip blooms.

"For look into a flower, and what do you see? Into the very heart of nature’s double nature—that is, the contending energies of creation and dissolution, the spring toward complex form and the tidal pull away from it. Apollo and Dionysus were names the Greeks gave to these two faces of nature, and nowhere in nature is their contest as plain or as poignant as it is in the beauty of a flower and its rapid passing…Could that be it—right there, in a flower—the meaning of life?" 
~Michael Pollan, The Botany of Desire

April 10, 2011

Preparing the Vegtable Bed

Today is the official last frost date for Raleigh! Ive been waiting for months, but its finally time to put in the warm weather vegetables. But first, some work had to be done...


Having our raised vegetable bed on a moderate slope, summer irrigation waters slowly wash down the organic matter, leaving the top layer of the soil with mostly sand. To remedy this, and add nutrients to the bed, each spring we prepare the vegetable bed by turning composted cow manure into the top 6-10 inches of soil. We also apply earthworm castings and TomatoTone to the top of the soil after planting.

However, this was not the first step in preparing the vegetable bed: it was harvest and clean up! The first thing to go were the Brussels Sprouts. Planted late in the fall, these guys shot up after overwintering, and although sprouts were beginning to form along the stem, the warm weather caused them to flower and the sprouts stopped developing when only the size of peas. We left them in for a few weeks to enjoy the flowers, but they ultimately ended up in the compost pile. The spinach and parsley fared better, although what looked like a bountiful harvest of spinach turned out to be infested with aphids. The parsley was really the standout, and the 10 plants I started from seed last spring yielded a huge bag of parsley. The individual plants were very impressive, the largest measuring over 1-inch in diameter at the base (pic below left). I was able to get 13 bunches of parsley out of this. Figuring out what to do with it has been the hardest part, and everyone Ive asked either has parsley or does not use it. Luckily an area garden center patricipates in Plant a Row for the Hungry, a great program that delivers fresh produce to those in need, and they will take my parsley! The 'Quinault' strawberries were left in place (below right), and are now covered in little white flowers, a promising sign of a big May harvest.

 I already put a few herbs and veggies in, but have plans for more. Ive learned over the last few seasons what I do and do not use from the garden, and have put together a good list of edibles for this year.... although I'm sure I will be forever adding to it!

Herbs in the garden:
  • Sweet Basil
  • Genovese Basil
  • Flat-leaf Parsley
  • Boquet Dill
  • German Thyme
  • Chives 
  • Kentucky Colonel Mint
  • Arp Rosemary

Veggies in the garden:
  • 'Mountain Fresh' Tomatoes
  • 'Green Zebra' Tomatoes
  • 'Black Krim' Tomatoes
  • 'Smarty' Grape Tomato
  • 'Brandywine' Tomato
  • Jalapeno Peppers
  • Mixed Bell Peppers
  • 'Black Beauty' Zucchini
  • Straight-neck Summer Squash
  • 'Homemade Pickles' Cucumbers
  • 'Kitchen King' Garden Beans

"Shall I not have intelligence with the earth?  Am I not partly leaves and vegetable mould myself."  ~Henry David Thoreau

April 5, 2011

The Perennial Border: A Spring Study

When looking for our first house, the yard was an important aspect: we knew we wanted a large perennial border. We were lucky enough to find a home with, among other features, a South-facing fence in our garden that makes a perfect backdrop for our full-sun mixed perennial border.


When we moved into our house in January of 2009, the first thing we did when the ground was warm enough to dig was fix the drainage around the property. Snaking its way through the back of the border is a buried drainage pipe that is trouble to dig around, but helped lay the plans for our perennial border. Brian, being the landscape designer, drew out the curvy style of our beds, while I was left with my favorite task of filling it in with plants. A huge area to fill, it took us 2 seasons to complete our plant selections. Starting with some clearance shrubs and home-propagated native perennials we built it up steadily. With almost everything in since last summer, this year promises to be gorgeous. There is one more hole to fill in this area however, an arbor at the far end was taken out, leaving me with some more room to expand the sun-perennial collection... I dread the time when I run out of room to plant!

Another great advantage of our home is the raised back porch. It provides a perfect vantage point to survey and document the garden. The view from above provides a much different perspective, and makes it even more of a challenge designing plantings that look good from every angle. The result of such is usually planting things a little too close to fill in holes seen from above, leaving me no room to walk into planting areas for maintenance. But, that's the thing about your first house/garden: you make lots of mistakes and always learn from them. Anyway, the vantage point on the porch is perfect to take a series of pictures to see how the border progressed over the month of March and early April.

March 9th, 2011
March 20th, 2011
March 29th, 2011
April 4th, 2011
The growth rate of things amazes me this time of year. I swear the Monarda grows an inch every night! As of now almost everything is up in the garden, with a few exceptions like fall perennials such as Joe Pye Weed. The Reeves Spirea (Spirea cantoniensis) really stands out in this series, as the blooms progress from the back to the front, weighing down the branches.

The weight of the blooms on the Reeves Spirea are so heavy that the branches touch the ground in the front of the border, making a rare visit with the "Little Beauty" Tulips. What a beautiful meeting!

I had to include some close-ups of a few other standouts right now in the perennial border. The 'Double Dutch' Tulip is a standout from any angle, at any stage of bloom. From a too-bright-to-capture neon orange, to this rusty aged copper, this Tulip has to be one of my favorites.

The Roman Hyacinth (Bellevalia romana) (left) was one of the first plants to go in the border. Bought on clearance and not planted until the end of January, these little guys have toughed through and are just now beginning to bloom. Not a standout from afar, it sure looks beautiful for its spotlight picture! The 'Stairway to Heavean' Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium reptans 'Stairway to Heaven') (right), on the otherhand, is a standout from afar, and you can see its white new growth in the foreground of the perennial bored time-lapse pictures. Yesterday, the first little sky blue bloom appeared, and soon they will be covered in blooms. Perhaps one of my favorite foliage plants as well, these little guys had to be moved into their shadier location to prevent leaf scorch.

The Easter Rose (Kerria japonica 'Honshu') (left) burst into bloom this week, and is setting many more buds for what looks like will be a long bloom time. I'm enjoying this new addition more and more every day, as the tropical looking flowers add a touch of summer to the spring pallet. The 'Wine and Roses' Wigelia (Wigelia florida 'Wine and Roses') (right) was another standout in the pictures, as you can see the wine-colored foliage appearing in the center of the perennial border time-lapse pictures. What you can't see from those images are the swelling rose colored buds, covered in pollen, but still beautiful!

I will conclude with a bit of a misfit, as it is not in the sun perennial border, but the Wisteria is in full bloom and dropping its lilac-colored petals all over the garden. Tonight promises to be our last night below 45 degrees, very exciting times! Perhaps a trip to the garden center is in store for tomorrow...

"If you've never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom."  ~Terri Guillemets