Friday, March 20, 2015

Plant Propagation Techniques

Photo by Orla Swift
By Kaitlin Henderson

Whether you want to add new plants to your garden or expand old ones, knowledge about plant propagation is key.

Propagation is the process of making more plants. It includes a wide variety of techniques and levels of difficulty. The good news is you can choose which ones are right for your skills, time and gardening hopes. Even better news: you can learn these techniques in a series of Propagation classes in April and May at Duke Gardens.

Plant propagation is a great area for new and experienced gardeners to expand their abilities. Sara Smith, who volunteers on Duke Gardens’ propagation team, says she’s been on the team for five years and is still learning new techniques.

Smith and Jason Holmes, each of whom will instruct one of the classes in the series, shared the following tips and techniques.

Seeds are probably the best-known method of plant propagation.  Some seeds are stubborn, and in order to get them to germinate you need to apply specific techniques. Even in the vegetable garden, Smith points out, some seeds “will germinate a whole lot better if you do certain things, for example soaking beans overnight."

Perennials, like shrubs, can also be propagated by dividing. Beyond simply knowing what plants can be divided, you need to know the best season to divide a plant and how frequently to do it. Holmes noted that there's not always agreement on those aspects. "A lot of people tell you to divide your iris every five years, or every three years."

Cuttings are often the most fascinating part of propagation, Holmes says, and with good reason. With cuttings, you remove a plant part so you can grow it into a new, independent plant. This technique works well with woody shrubs and soft wood: for example, roses, lavender, rosemary and catmint.

Layering is a process I knew nothing about before talking with Smith. “It’s almost like cutting,” she said, “only you leave the branch attached to the parent." Layering is a useful propagation technique because it succeeds almost every time. But the technique varies from plant to plant. With blackberries, for example, "what you do is tip layering, which means that you just bury the stem tip into the ground."

Each class in the Plant Propagation series will focus on a different technique. Holmes emphasized that this is a great series for "anyone with a green thumb, with a love and a passion for plants." “All the techniques we're going to teach can be taken home and done" on your own scale, Smith added.

The classes are as follows:

    Dividing a Plant: Tuesday, April 21, 10:30 a.m. - noon
Jan Watson, a horticulturist in the Terraces & Historic Gardens, will teach this class, showing participants what plants may be divided and how to do it, including when and how to successfully divide your plant.

    Cuttings: 2 Tuesdays, May 5 &12, 10:30 a.m. - noon
Holmes will teach this two-part class on cuttings, taking participants through the selection of plants this technique can be applied to, the different methods of using cuttings and the materials to support them, and how to transplant the cuttings once they've developed roots.

    Plant Layering: Tuesday, May 19, 10:30 a.m.– noon
Layering will be taught by Smith, who will provide knowledge about how the process works and how to use it successfully, especially the different hormones and techniques for different kinds of plants. Participants will get the chance to practice their new layering skills on plants from the Gardens.

All classes will be a mix of informational discussions and hands-on experience with Gardens plants to hone your new skills with guidance.

Each class will take place in the Greenhouse Classroom and has a participant limit of 15. You can sign up for just the techniques you'd like to add to your skill set, or all three. Classes are different every year and our instructors are incredibly knowledgeable, so you'll have the chance to learn something new even if you've been practicing a certain propagation method for years.

For more information about this series or to register, call 919-668-1707 or email You can also check our website for additional information on these classes and our other adult education programs.

Check out a video about the Duke Gardens volunteer propagation team at our youtube channel.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

2015 Spring Plant Sale

Rock garden iris

by Erika Zambello

Spring is finally here, and we are all excited to head outside and begin another growing season. Kick-start your garden this year with a visit to the annual Duke Gardens Spring Plant Sale, less than two weeks away! The Spring Plant Sale will be held on Saturday, March 28, from 8 a.m. to noon, with a members-only preview sale on Friday, March 27, from 4 to 6 p.m.

(See a video preview from our greenhouses here, and another about how you can buy plants propagated directly from Duke Gardens plants.)

The sale will feature Duke Gardens plants, trees, shrubs, vines, bulbs, specialty vendors, and decorative plant pots. Not sure which plants will go best in your garden? No problem! Gardens staff and Durham County Master Gardeners will be on hand to provide expert advice and suggestions.


Gardeners can find an assortment of colorful hellebores at the sale, a perfect way to give a winter or early spring garden a pop of color. A perennial plant, hellebores grow close to the ground, and feature five "petals," called sepals. Many species are evergreen, frost tolerant and shade tolerant.

Additionally, Camellias can provide great garden color when few other blossoms are open. The plant sale will feature both spring and fall varieties, which generally grow in light sun to full shade. Even when not in bloom, camellias are an evergreen shrub and will provide color to your landscape all winter long.

Leaves of a cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)

If you're looking for green in your garden, look no further than the cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior). It is evergreen in the colder months, and it prefers dry or moist shade. It will reach around 2 feet in height. A perfect plant to add around foundations, cast iron plants are also great houseplants.

Italian arum (Arum italicum)
Italian arums (Arum italicum) also have lovely green winter foliage. Native to Europe, they flower in mid-spring and produce beautiful fruitscapes of red and orange in the summer. This plant prefers shade, and other than its colorful fruits it is largely dormant in the summer.

Finally, many associate irises with the coming of spring and summer. Take home one of the many species of rock garden irises for your own garden, and enjoy their brilliant blue, purple and yellow blossoms. These irises reach only 4 to 6 inches in height, bloom in early spring and summer, and are a great addition along borders and edges of paths and entrances.

Come check out these plants and so many more at the Spring Plant Sale on March 27 and 28. Though the Friday preview sale is for members only, non-members may join on site. Please see our membership page for more information about support levels and benefits.

Blogger and photographer Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying ecosystem science and conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Springtime Stroll for Students

Magnolia 'Ballerina'
Photos and text by Micaela Unda

With the signs of winter melting away, an outburst of life has peeked through in Duke Gardens, eagerly awaiting spring. So what better way to spend the day than with camera in hand and flowers all around?

As the sun rays danced on the dew drops, and the scent of winter daphne and other flowers wafted through the morning air, I found the Gardens calling to me. Deciding to take advantage of the slowly emerging spring, I took a stroll through the flora and fauna, seeking out any budding blossoms and pops of color I could find.

Beginning my walk in the Kathleen Smith Moss Garden, I happened upon a paperbush illuminated from behind by the rising sunlight. The budding flowers, almost furry in texture, had an overwhelming fragrance that practically announced the arrival of a new season! 
Paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha)  
Continuing my morning garden adventure, I perused the pathways of the Asiatic Garden, discovering that the red arched bridge was certainly not the only source of color.  With daffodils blossoming and pussy willow blooming, dots of yellow and signs of spring lined the trails.

Winterhazel (Corylopsis spp)

Camellia japonica 'Kagiri'

Magnolia 'Leonard Messel'

Japanese-style arched bridge,
framed by Okame cherry (Prunus 'Okame')

However, it was not until I made my way from the Asiatic Arboretum toward the Terrace Gardens that I truly felt that a new season was upon us! Covering the hill before me lay a sea of pastel yellow daffodils, sparks of purple crocus petals, and green buds emerging from the grassy field.

Daffodils (Narcissus 'Topolino') on the Hanes Lawn

Crocus vernus 'King of the Striped'
As I delved further into the Terrace Gardens, more and more life emerged. Taking in the beauty of my first spring in the Duke Gardens (I am so ecstatic!), I saw bits of purple, fuchsia and orange popping up all around me.

Feeling like a kid in a candy shop, I couldn’t help but smiling at the thought that such an escape is in my back yard. For whenever the stress of classes or craziness of college overwhelms, I am forever glad to have the Gardens beckoning. Thankful and with pictures galore, I headed back up under the pergola and made my way back to the Doris Duke Center to relive my walk via my camera's memory card.
Pussy willow (Salix caprea)

Pansy (Viola 'Ultima Radiance Red')
So if you are in need of an escape, daily dose of spring, artistic inspiration, or even the sight of a simple flower, head to Duke Gardens; spring has arrived! 

Prunus sp.
 Blogger and photographer Micaela Unda is a Duke University freshman studying Environmental Science and Policy, and a Duke Gardens work study student. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Explore the Outdoors in Spring Break Camp

Running to the next activity after investigating pond life
By Kaitlin Henderson

What better way is there for kids to spend their spring break than investigating Duke Gardens? Spring Break Camp provides a fun, safe and supportive environment for kids to engage with the newly warm outside world and learn from our many knowledgeable educators.

Camp takes place over the five weekdays of spring break. Spring is a very special time in nature, and each day kids will explore a different aspect of it. They'll start off learning what spring is and why it happens, and they'll go on to find out what happens with different plants, bugs, birds and other animals during this exciting season.

Taking a closer look at a worm found under a log

Why do plants make flowers? Where are all these bugs coming from? What's that sound by the pond? Camp is fueled by the questions and imaginations of the kids who join and the bounty of things to explore around the Gardens.

Creating bugs using imagination and new knowledge about insects

Each day will involve hands-on exploration outside in the Gardens to mentally and physically engage kids' curiosity. We'll go on walks to see flowers blooming, plant seeds to take home, roll logs to look for bugs, and play lots of fun games!

Spring Break Camp is for children in kindergarten through 5th grade. It will take place Monday, March 30, through Friday, April 3, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (with extended care from 1-4 also available).

For more information and to register, visit the Nature Adventures Camp website, call 919-668-1707, or email

All photos by Hope Wilder.

Kaitlin Henderson studies interdisciplinary engagement in Duke's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Art and Nature: Artwork Inspired by the Historic Gardens at Duke Gardens

"Spring Blooms," by Sally Sutton.
By Rachel Weber

A visitor need only take a quick stroll through Duke Gardens to appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature. For many local and regional artists, Duke Gardens serves as inspiration for their creative works. This month, we will celebrate these artists. Join us at the Doris Duke Center between Saturday, March 14, and Friday, March 20, to experience artwork inspired by the Terrace Gardens, the Butterfly Garden and the Perennial Allée.

Horticulture has roots in both science and art. From a scientist's perspective accurate observation and communication is the cornerstone of successful horticulture. At one time all scientists drew often highly detailed renderings to record the specific features of a plant, where it grew and what grew alongside it. From the artist's point of view, design abilities and compositional skills are needed to create beautiful gardens.

In the second annual Art and Nature Exhibit, Duke Gardens will feature work by local artists inspired by the Historic Gardens at Duke. The work will include both 2- and 3-dimensional pieces in both representational and abstract styles.

Ceramics by Sasha Bakaric
One of the exhibiting artists is North Carolina native William Alberti, a member of the American Society of Botanical Artists. As a botanical illustrator, Alberti loves the native and exotic plants in the Gardens. But what he is most inspired by is the hardscaping of Duke Gardens--what he calls the Gardens' "bones."

"The bones of the Gardens create a structure for renewal," says Alberti, who was also part of the inaugural exhibit. "Every year things change, all the flowers change, but the bones kind of stay the same."

Alberti says he's excited that this year's exhibit will be open longer so that more members of community can enjoy the display.

Artist Ippy Patterson calls the exhibit energizing and democratic, "a diversity of artists and media and viewers together in a beautiful room celebrating nature's flora."

The exhibit will showcase a diversity of subjects, media and styles, highlighting the varied connections that artists have with the Gardens. Up to 40 works from more than 20 local artists will be on display.

"Blue Heron & Water Lilies," by Kathryn DeMarco
The opening day for the exhibit is Saturday, March 14, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. That evening, you are invited to join us for a reception with the artists from 4:30 to 6 p.m., where you can ask the artists questions, discuss their work, and share your own connections to the Gardens. The artwork will be on display until Friday, March 20, at 4 p.m. Admission is free. The exhibit is open during Doris Duke Center hours.

Rachel Weber is junior at Duke University majoring in Public Policy with a certificate in Energy and Environment.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Walk on the Wild Side

By Erika Zambello

The snow is finally melting and spring is upon us! Have you ever wondered how plants know when it is time to sprout or bloom? Learn about the workings of spring as we discuss the intricate biochemical cues that lead to emerging buds, flowers and new growth in next month's "Walk on the Wild Side." The walk will be held on Thursday, April 2, from 11 a.m.-noon.

The answer, says Stefan Bloodworth, curator of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, lies in plant hormones. "Temperature and light influence the production and/or degradation of plant hormones in certain plant tissues," he explains, "There's a see-saw going between... the effect of one hormone outweighing the effect of another, and it's the balance of these plant hormones that influences things like spring emergence."

"Walk on the Wild Side" will be held outside, as Stefan gives examples of spring flower and leaf buds and further explains the cues their hormones use to start spring cycles.

If you think humans and animals are different in their reliance on hormones, then think again! "I want people to walk away knowing the similarities between plants and humans, as far as the ways in which hormones govern our bodily functions," he continues. "We're all governed by hormones."

While it's true that there are major variations in our systems - humans have endocrine systems that produce certain hormones in specific places within our bodies, and plants have diffuse systems - the effect of hormones on flora and fauna is profound.

"The presence or absence of certain hormones in humans, animals and plants governs most of our bodily functions," Stefan says.

The walk is capped at 15 students, so make sure to reserve your space to learn more about plant hormones, biochemical cues, and spring emergence.

The group will meet at the Blomquist Garden entrance, with a fee of $7; $5 for Gardens members and Duke students/staff. For more information and registration, see the event web page or call 919-668-1707.

Blogger and photographer Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying ecosystem science and conservation at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

I Need a Plan: A New Class Series on the Fundamental Steps to Create a Garden

Use color, shape and texture to create an alluring mixed border.
Photo by Karen Webbink
By Erika Zambello

Growing your own garden is a rewarding experience, one that combines a love of the outdoors, a love of plants, and a large amount of creativity. Still, sometimes it is difficult to know where to begin, whether in creating your first garden, improving one you already have, or starting over in a new location. To help, Duke Gardens is launching a new class series: “I Need a Plan: the Fundamental Steps to Create a Garden.”

The class series includes three separate courses, each of which meets for two Tuesdays from 6:30-9 p.m. You can sign up for all three, mix and match, or just take one.

One of the most satisfying aspects of gardening is the ability to masterfully combine colors and textures in one beautiful design. In the first course, “Create a Colorful Mixed Border,” Beth-Rudd Myers, landscape designer for Brightleaf Landscaping, will show you how successful planting design uses a combination of texture, seasonality, color and size. Combining these elements in the planting of shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers will maximize beauty and minimize maintenance.

"My goal is for students to learn the practical skills that you need to confidently make a beautiful garden," Myers says, "It's not just about picking two plants that look nice together in the nursery. You need to know if they will grow in the same conditions, how much space they need, will deer eat one and leave the other," and more. Through the two classes, students will learn how to pick winning combinations for their own gardens.

Learn how to create a pollinator garden at Duke Gardens.
Photo by Erika Zambello

Gardens are not only for human enjoyment, they can also provide valuable habitat to a host of pollinators and wildlife. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, "of the slightly more than 100 crop species that provide 90 percent of the food supplies for 146 countries, 71 are bee-pollinated."

Under guidance from Lauri Lawson from Niche Gardens, in "Create a Pollinator Garden," students will discover the pollinators native to our region and then create a plant list that includes everything needed by them, from food to shelter. However, as we all know, every garden is different, so Lawson will help students filter their lists to match the conditions of their own gardens, whether sunny, shady, dry or wet.
Learn how to grow healthy and delicious
herbs at Duke Gardens.
Photo by Erika Zambello

When most people think of garden products, they think of beautiful fruits and vegetables. But herb gardens are also a great way to add both flavor and scent to your garden and your dinner table. In "Create a Culinary Herb Garden," learn from Heather Hill, children’s program manager at SEEDS, how to build a garden for your favorite herbs and then how to harvest and save those herbs for delicious cooking.

"Herbs are easy to grow," Hill says, "It's a really good place to start growing your own food." Even better, "herbs are really great additions to cooking," she says, "and so it's a way to kind of elevate what you're cooking in the kitchen."

Whether you're just starting out or looking to enhance your gardening skills, the "I Need a Plan" series has a class for everyone. Each section is $45; Gardens members $35, or take all three for only $120; Gardens members $90. All have participant limits of 15, so reserve your spot today!

The complete list is below:

"Create a Colorful Mixed Border" - 2 Tuesdays, March 24 and 31, from 6:30 - 9 p.m.
"Create a Pollinator Garden" - 2 Tuesdays, April 7 and 14, from 6:30 - 9 p.m.
"Create a Culinary Herb Garden" - 2 Tuesdays, April 21 and 28, from 6:30 - 9 p.m.