Sarah P. Duke Gardens

August 22, 2012 – Sarah P. Duke Gardens, NC
(written by Sara Levin Stevenson, photographs by Abby Johnson)

The Fellows spent Wednesday morning visiting the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, located on 55 acres in the center of the Duke University campus.

Entrance of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Upon our arrival, the Director of the Gardens and LGP alumnus, Bill LeFevre, met us.  Bill and part of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens team took time to help us get to know the gardens and its various programs and events.  Our meeting took place in the Doris Duke Center, a focal point in the grand entryway experience.  We then toured the grounds with some of the knowledgeable staff.

White Garden

A few of the tour highlights included the Terrace Garden, H.L. Blomquist Garden, and the Discovery Garden.  The Terrace Garden is located in the heart of the historic area.  It is a vibrant collection of perennials that sit in large rock walls made of a rich blue Duke stone, from a local quarry.  The historic area is a popular spot for weddings and events, especially among Duke University alumni.

Terrace Garden

The H. L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants focuses on conservation and is the most heavily interpreted area of the gardens.  Its design and messaging encourage visitors to embrace native plantings and learn conservation techniques.  Stephan Bloodworth, the curator of this garden, describes it as an education tool for applied plant conservation and he aims to create an interpretive experience that leaves a lasting impression on visitors.

Sign in the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants

The newest garden is the Discovery Garden, a farm education area.  This garden is packed with interesting details, including a vegetable garden, tobacco barn-turned education center, beehives, chickens, fruit orchard, bio-swale, rain garden, herb garden, composting station, and storytelling area.  It was designed for with the public, children, and families in mind with an emphasis on presenting ideas that would be easy for a visitor to replicate at home. The Discovery Garden is a prototype site for the Sustainable Sites Initiative so various techniques were incorporated in the building process that promoted sustainability, such as using salvaged materials.

Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden

The Sarah P. Duke Gardens has over 300,000 visitors every year and is a well-loved and often visited institution on the Duke University campus.  It attracts student groups and classes and the local community through programs such as an annual film and concert series.

Japanese Garden

We enjoyed our visit to this vibrant garden and are grateful to our hosts for their hospitality!

Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden

August 21, 2012 – Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden
(written by Abby Johnson, photographs by Martin Smit)

A burgeoning jewel on historic Main Street, in Kernersville, North Carolina, engages the eyes of passersby with a bright, bold and outstanding curb appeal. That very engaging entrance entices passersby to become visitors. Walking distance from downtown Kernersville grows the embodiment of the mission of Paul J Ciener, “a place of unique beauty, seeking to inspire, enlighten and connect people of all ages to world of plants, gardening and horticulture. ”

Fellow meet staff and founders

The legacy of Mr. Ciener, businessman and plant aficionado, is being fulfilled by his sons David and Greg Ciener. Armed with a master plan, along with the leadership of a strategic board and passionate staff, the Paul J. Ciener Botanic Garden has become reality. In April of 2011, this Garden officially opened its doors to the public with a small but mighty staff. This public garden is making great strides to become the next travel destination in the region. Advance planning for both the site and its interpretation, has guided the staff in the development of the seven acre property. This is key for both informed decision-making and effective communication strategies. Everyone in our visiting group believed that Paul J. Ciener Botanic Garden is headed in the right direction.

Curb your enthusiasm

This garden has some intriguing modern touches as well as traditional features, all with a nod to their Moravian architectural town heritage. The newly constructed main building, or carriage house, reflects the days of old. Equipped with state of the art technology and attractive accommodations for any speaker, this site for hosting events has been a hit within the community. What an added bonus to the town of Kernersville and the greater Triad to gain a botanic garden, a venue for weddings and other corporate events. Additionally, the carriage house has classrooms, administrative offices and a gift shop.

Kitchen garden

The garden collections are in tune with the desires of the garden’s namesake Paul J. Ciener. The kitchen garden, along the perimeter of the carriage house, is bursting with flavor and fragrance. As a point of access as well as education, patrons can have the awesome experience of planting and harvesting the vegetables and herbs grown onsite. The Pattern Garden reflects traditional gardens in the southern U.S. region with a range of plant life, complete with Chapel Hill grit for footpaths. On display during our visit are the wild wonders of summer.

Exploring the garden

Notable features of the entire garden site are the Pattern Garden and Parking Lot Garden. Yes! The parking lot was constructed with permeable pavement and the living curbs are phenomenal since they host a myriad of hens and chicks, also called Sempervivum species.

Exploring wooded area yet to be developed with curator Adrienne Roethling

Of the many guest lecturers and artist who visit the garden, Paul J. Ciener Botanic Garden has had the great fortune of working with the likes of industry greats, such as Chip Callaway and Mark Peters. Our own Dr. Robert Lyons is an upcoming guest lecturer. It was clear following our visit, that it wouldn’t be difficult to encourage anyone to visit this burgeoning jewel of Kernersville.

Chip Callaway talking to fellows

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden

Written by Nate Tschaenn

The second year Fellows have embarked on the North American Experience portion of the Longwood Graduate Program. This year’s destination is just a few states south of Delaware in North Carolina. We arrived in Charlotte last night, our westernmost destination, and will be making our way north to Wilmington stopping at some of North Carolina’s great public horticulture destinations along the way. First stop along out trip is Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden (DSBG) located about thirty minutes outside Charlotte in the city of Belmont.

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is a relatively new public garden having had its official grand opening in October of 1999.  In 1991, the founder of the Garden, Daniel J. Stowe, donated the four hundred acres of prime property to be developed into a botanical garden. He was a retired textile executive who envisioned the evolution of this garden over a period of forty years as an internationally renowned garden.


Entrance to the orchid conservatory.

There are currently twelve display areas at DSBG including a white garden, formal display gardens, and perennial gardens. There is also an 8,000 square foot orchid conservatory, which opened in 2008 and showcases tropical plants and a large collection of orchids in unique and artistic fashion.  There are also many whimsical fountain displays throughout the gardens, and a beautiful, multi-million dollar visitor pavilion serves as the grand façade.

A rainbow of colors in the canal garden.

A rainbow of colors in the canal garden.

It was a treat for us to get some perspective on a public garden that is still growing and trying to determine its full potential. There is a fifty-year master plan approved in 1994 that has been serving as a general guide for the expansion of the gardens since it first opened. DSBG has been constantly growing and still has a large amount of space to expand. The annual attendance has also been rapidly growing and is now around 100,000 visitors per year. The gardens and visitor center have been cleverly designed to support a growing attendance and are capable of supporting up to 600,000 visitors per year. A three-acre children’s garden is the next major expansion project slated to begin in spring of 2013, and is estimated to cost about six million dollars.

Tilandsia archways in orchid conservatory.

Tilandsia archways in orchid conservatory.


Daniel Stowe Botanic Gardens was an outstanding first stop on our journey and definitely worth a stop for anyone traveling to the greater Charlotte, North Carolina area.

A Visit to the Infamous “U”

August 15, 2011 – St. Paul Campus, Minnesota University
(written by Aubree Pack, photography by James Hearsum)

Around here, the University of Minnesota is commonly, as well as affectionately, referred to as “the U.” The Longwood Graduate Program’s current Director, Robert Lyons, is a graduate of “the U,” so we had with us an excellent guide. Although the campus boasts many desirable features, our focus was the Department of Horticultural Science, of which Dr. Lyons received both his Masters and Ph.D. degrees. If you’ve been following our blog, you may remember a recent post about our trip to the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The Arboretum is actually an extension of the University of Minnesota and is within the Department of Horticultural Science.

Upon arrival at the University of Minnesota St. Paul Campus, the first thing we did was discover a photo of Dr. Lyons from when he was a graduate student there. And of course, as any good student would, we teased him a little. He seemed to be fine with that though : )

We then went just outside Alderman Hall to meet with Roger Meissner and Garrett Beier. Roger has been employed by the department since 1976 and since then has worn many “hats.” Garrett is a graduate student there who was hired to manage the display garden, which is a landscape laboratory for the College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Science; involved students generally have a main focus in horticulture or environmental studies.

Garrett told us that the site is primarily used for study purposes, but also attracts casual visitors. One thing we found amusing was that there were duplicate plants from the garden elsewhere on campus, for the purpose of preventing students in ID courses from memorizing a location instead of the actual plant characteristics. He also described some of the challenges they face there at the garden, including an invasive weed he referred to as black swallow wart, a member of the milkweed family (pictured above).

Cultivar development and breeding are major endeavors for the department. Many faculty members are reknown for their plant introductions. Jim Luby, in particular, introduced a very well received variety of apple, Honey Crisp, which many of us have enjoyed. More recent apple introductions from the department are SnowSweet, Frostbite, and SweeTango, which are a trademark of the Ball Horticultural Company. Along with their large array of fruit crop introductions, new, cold hardy ornamental plant cultivars have been introduced from the following popular garden plants: chrysanthemums, azaleas, roses, gaura, dogwood, forsythia, pearlbush, viburnum,  maples, white pine,  redbud, buckeye, plums, crabapples, corktree, jack pine, and many grass varieties; both ornamental and turf. This research is done along with the Horticultural Research Center and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, who provides stock or grounds for research.

Como Park Zoo & Conservatory

(written by Felicia Yu, photographs by Aubree Pack)

Just in case we didn’t already think we were spoiled by warm receptions and generosity everywhere we’ve been so far in the Twin Cities, the staff of the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory REALLY made us feel welcome during our visit on Monday.

Old and new: the historic Marjorie McNeely Conservatory with its 64-ft. Palm Dome, and the adjoining new section with impeccable water gardens.

Horticulture Manager Tina Dombrowski met us at the main entrance along with several staff members from the conservatory, and at each part of the Margorie McNeely Conservatory, gardens, and zoo thereafter we met with more members of the staff who were happy to show us around and answer all our questions. We got a thorough behind the scenes look at the historic and new portions of the conservatory as well as the Ordway Memorial Japanese Garden, and the new Polar Bear Odyssey exhibit at the zoo, where we had a delicious lunch before getting a free hour to explore.

The Sunken Garden of the Conservatory, featuring spring, summer, fall, holiday, and winter floral displays.

The Japanese Garden, designed by Masami Matsuda in 1979 to commemorate the friendship between St. Paul and its sister city Nagasaki

Horticulture production supervisor Paul Knuth explaining the greenhouse operations.

An alpine rooftop garden on the upper level of the new visitor center.

The zoo and conservatory are located within Como Park, a 384-acre oasis within the city of St. Paul. The zoo is well over a hundred years old, while the conservatory opened in 1915. Each has undergone major renovations, with more improvements to come in the near future. The building of the new visitor center in 2005 physically joined the zoo and conservatory into one campus for the first time in their histories, along with the merger of their supporting non-profit and volunteer organizations. Some of the most intriguing features of Como Park Zoo & Conservatory involve the direct collaboration between zoo and horticultural staff in combined plant and animal exhibits, such as their Tropical Encounters exhibit and RibbitZibit frog displays in the Children’s Gallery.

Zookeeper Liz feeding fruit flies to the poison dart frogs in the Children’s Gallery RibbitZibit.

It was clear that the zoo and conservatory are beloved by the community, judging from the number of families streaming through the doors as soon as opening hour arrived—and this was on a “slow” Monday, according to the staff. After our half-day visit, I could completely understand why—if I lived in the area I’d be back every week! The zoo remains one of the few remaining free zoos in the country, with just a suggested donation of $2 per adult and $1 per child for entry to both zoo and conservatory, which most visitors seemed glad to pay. The high-quality horticultural and animal exhibits were definitely worth much more than that.

A Walk in the Park – Minneapolis Style.

August 13, 2011 – Minneapolis, Minnesota
(written by James Hearsum, photography by Ashby Leavell)

Few cities enjoy the benefit of a visionary parks department: One that takes a leadership role in economic development, is a broker of community creation and that does this whilst integrating citywide networks of facilities, recreation and environmental services.  Fewer still have the resources and political clout to deliver.  That Minneapolis is one of this select group is evident to anyone enjoying the city on a fine summer day, as we did.

The view from the Guthrie Museum to the former railroad Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi River

Guided by John Erwin, a Parks Commissioner, the Longwood Graduate Fellows sought the answer to this question – How is it achieved?


As John conducted a whirlwind tour, we visited The Peace Gardens, Rose Garden and The Annuals and Perennial Border.  All were immaculately maintained by staff and volunteers, and clearly loved by Minneapolitans.  A real pride and care by the public is evident throughout the system.  On a Saturday afternoon, the parks were well used, with all types of recreation happening around Lake Calhoun.

Flower vendors at the vibrant famers market at Mill City

It was always evident that the parks comprised a complete system, a network of places and links, tied to specific communities.  A visit to a section of the Grand Rounds, a 53 mile loop of lakes in the heart of the city, showed that they were used both as a destination; for beaches, canoeing, eating, picnicking – and as a route; for jogging, walking, commuting.

John Erwin describes a map of the Grand Rounds in Minneapolis, the only National Scenic Byway located in a major city in the US.

The concept of networks also dominated a presentation by Mary deLaittre, Project Manager for the Minneapolis Riverfront Development Initiative.  Using the advantage of semi-autonomy from the city to great advantage, this project has developed and designed a strategic physical master plan for a 5.5 mile section of the Mississippi River bank, completing the parks path and bike network in challenging industrial and multiuse spaces.  More than this, it seeks to connect existing parks and recreation assets to a wider system and create new interfaces between communities, using the Mississippi as its central corridor.  In addition to all this, it has an economic mission to spur development, as in the district now developed around the beautiful Guthrie Theater (led by a $30 million investment in the area by Parks and Recreation).  It also seeks to create integrated environmental systems, manage storm water, recreate habitats – all whilst maintaining industrial use and jobs.

Looking out on the ruins at the Mill City Museum, once the world’s largest flour mill

So what is the secret? – Yes, Minneapolis Parks have more autonomy, more money, and more public support than many parks.  But this alone doesn’t explain it.  Rather, two things stood out.  Firstly, visionary leadership at all levels in the organization.  Secondly, a truly comprehensive approach to parks – the integration and consideration of all elements as important to the system.  In practice, this means that no one factor dominates, but all are considered – economic, environmental, community, recreation and industry.  It recognizes that people have complex needs, and seeks to address them comprehensively.

Posing with John Erwin, our generous guide for the day and Chair of Minneapolis Parks Department and Professor of Hort. Science at the University of Minnesota

Wow! Our thanks to Minneapolis for a wonderful day in your parks, and please, if you are lucky enough to live here, don’t take them for granted – they are truly extraordinary.

A Day at the Zoo

(photography by Raakel Toppila)

A great day today at the Minnesota Zoo.  We spent the morning with Director Lee Ehmke, Horticulture Supervisor Kim Thomas, and Ken Kornack, Director of Capital Projects at the Zoo.  After meeting Lee at the entrance, we explored the newest exhibit, “Russia’s Grizzly Coast.”  The three grizzly bears are part of a new trend in immersive zoo display that seeks to engage the senses and create a seemingly boundless natural space surrounding the animals.  Plant materials mask the surrounding buildings, key sightlines are emphasized, and sound recordings draw visitors into a more intimate experience.  And by visitors, I mean children.  Lots of them.  Everywhere.  The bears are a huge hit.

Kim Thomas’ lean crew of horticulturalists throughout the year has the unique job of creating regional and species appropriate displays.  This is easier said than done, considering the physical demands on the plants.  For example, Kim quickly discovered that grizzly bears do not pick blue berries.  They just eat the entire bush in one bite.  Thankfully, hundreds of acres of surrounding woodlands provide an abundance of animal browsing materials.

In the new Leed Gold meeting space behind the grizzly den, the Fellows had the chance to ask Lee and his team what it’s like to manage a zoo serving over 1 million visitors each year.  The organization is one of two publicly owned zoos in the country, and covers 485 acres just south of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and equidistant from both.  The zoo is moving towards a denser model of visitor circulation, including a more intense experience over a smaller area.  The older zoo design of “five hundred acres and a monorail” essentially failed.  The wildlife was too far removed from the visitors to create a meaningful experience.

In addition to managing a wide array of species from dolphins to tapirs, the Zoo boasts a 1,500-person amphitheater for musical performances, several green roof projects, and an active outreach program visiting each of the 87 counties in Minnesota.  Over lunch, the staff covered everything from the master plan to their young friends group, and provided rare insight into their much-loved institution in the suburbs of the Twin Cities.

Second Years Travel to the State of 10,000 Lakes

(photographs by Felicia Yu)

North American Experience has begun yet again.  The second year Fellows and Dr. Lyons landed Wednesday in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota with the goal to explore what the region has to offer in the realm of public horticulture. Minneapolis is a fun city.  The neighborhood near the hotel is filled with eclectic places to eat and spend time. Even better, there are “Nice Ride” bicycles for the public to check in and out of locations all over town to help us get around town during time off.

Our first stop was the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. We were fortunate to be greeted by both Ed Schneider, current Director, and Peter Olin, former Director who served at the Arboretum for 24 years. An hour-long tram tour introduced us to the 1,137 acres of land maintained by the Arboretum, featuring themed collections, gardens, a prairie, ponds and woodlands.  We were especially excited by the Patrick Dougherty exhibition in front of the visitor center, entitled the Uff da Palace.

The Landscape Arboretum faces the challenge of gardening and maintaining collections in USDA plant hardiness zone 4 (average annual minimum temperature -20F to -30F).  However, they do so in stride, boasting impressive collections of crabapple, hosta, lilac, ornamental grasses and roses. Even in the warmth of the summer, the cold temperatures to come are never far from a Minnesotan’s mind. The Arboretum has devoted much of its research to developing cold-hardy commercial fruit varieties such as the Honey Crisp apple, the Frontenac grape and the North Star Cherry. Their ornamental woody plant breeding program resulted in the development of a series of cold hardy azaleas.

Intermingled among the collections of the Arboretum are special places for reflection…

And play….

And discovery…

We enjoyed lunch together with our host, Ed Schneider and Judy Hohmann, Marketing and Communications Manager who gave us insight into the operations of the Arboretum. Three hours of self-guided exploration under the beautiful blue open sky was hardly enough time to return to our favorite spots. Our visit the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum was a great introduction to public horticulture in the Twin Cities.

Don’t Sweat It!

Our final destination, Joshua Tree National Park, is located a few hours east of Los Angeles in the California high desert, where the Colorado and Mojave Deserts meet.  After miraculously escaping most of L.A.’s notoriously nightmarish traffic, we found ourselves on Twentynine Palms Highway, which traversed the north border of the Park and connected the eclectic desert towns of Yucca Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms.  We geared up for a morning departure from our hotel, but before we even boarded our van we were struck by the austere beauty of the barren mountains before us.  The contrast of their running peaks against the cloudless blue sky was razor sharp..  And while the morning temperature was comfortably warm, we knew it was headed for at least 100° F and the low relative humidity would all but eliminate any sensation of sweating!

Bronze art meets blue sky at the Oasis Visitor Center

Marnie enjoyed the cool interpretive signs

Once through the Park entrance, we were blown away by the fascinating ecosystem rolled out before us.  Many of the surrounding boulders were smooth and sculpted, as evidenced by one in particular called “Skull Rock,” aptly named for its noticeable “eye sockets” that stared with frigid determination amidst the desert heat.  When venturing out of the van, we stuck to prescribed trails but were not disappointed by our discoveries, being constantly vigilant for anything sharp, prickly, or spiny.  This was particularly true while hiking within the Cholla Cactus Garden of Opuntia bigelovii, sometimes called “jumping chollas” for the plant’s ability to break off in pieces when touched (ouch!), stick to you for a while, then drop to the ground and root at a distance from the original plant.  A great feature for asexual colonization, but at the painful expense of the vector.  Fortunately, none of us assisted the cholla in its spreading pursuit that day!

Cholla Garden Vista

Many plants were weathering the heat nicely, like the Missouri or Buffalo gourd (Cucurbita foetidissima), an herbaceous, native perennial.  This plant has an enormous tuber, which facilitates survival under extreme drought. Apparently, the fruit is edible only when harvested young, as it gets increasingly bitter with age.  The Joshua tree itself (Yucca brevifolia) occurred as sparsely distributed individuals or in dense populations, depending upon your location.  Some appeared to be holding on for dear life, while others were statuesque, well branched, and stately.

Buffalo Gourd

Buffalo Gourd

We continued to trek the easier trails, such as the Barker Dam loop that led to a grand pool of water – a great surprise amidst the desiccated landscape and simply a beautiful sight.  We drove to Keys View, exited the van, and walked up to the overlook to witness a sweeping vista.  The signage indicated the relative location of the infamous San Andreas Fault, the city of Palm Springs, and a snow covered Mt. San Jacinto in the distance.

Barker Dam

So literally and figuratively, don’t sweat it when visiting Joshua Tree National Park.   Enjoy and appreciate the extremes!

8 intrepid travellers, a few Joshua Trees, and a not-so-small pile of rocks

Photos by the Class of 2011

Pot Party!

A pot (washing) party that is – that’s title of the flyer inviting volunteers to help wash flower pots at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden (RSABG). The volunteers at the party had visions of the mother lode of pots being washed when we popped into the nursery on our tour of the Garden.

Patrick Larkin tours the group throughout Rancho Santa Ana's foliar tunnels.

Patrick Larkin, Executive Director of RSABG and former fellow of LGP, generously spent a full day touring us around this lovely native plant garden in Claremont, California. Patrick believes that Suzanna Bixby Bryant was visionary in establishing the Botanic Garden on her Orange County Ranch back in 1927. Her impetus was the disappearance of the native California plant habitat due to development, combined with being saddened by the largest Californian plant collection not being in California but in Kew Gardens.

Follow the leader...

Follow the leader...

Today the Garden still displays and promotes the landscape use of native California plants. The topography at Rancho Santa Ana has defined the location of the Garden’s collections:  the desert plant collection is on a dry gravel alluvial washout; the clay soil of the Indian Hill Mesa area is the location of California natives and cultivars arranged to inspire visitors to grow native plants; the northern Californian plants are situated in a cooler east facing site where the cold air drains down from the mountains overlooking the garden and the native plant communities collections such as the Chaparral and coastal sage shrub are situated further from the entrance for visitor who want a more in depth experience.

The Container Garden casts some intricate shadows.

The Container Garden casts some intricate shadows.

RSABG has a strong research component to its mission and is associated with the Claremont Graduate University. The RSABG research staff is affiliated with the University and responsible for the University’s Botany Program. Dr. Lucinda McDade, Director of Research, explained that the focus of the Garden’s research is on systematic and evolutionary botany. There are currently 2 masters and 11 PhD students studying at the Garden.

This Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri) really POPs!

The Botanic Garden has four types of collections, in addition to the living plant collection that includes live oaks and salvias; there is a library collection of rare plant books started by Bixby Bryant, the fourth largest herbarium in the US with 1.1 million specimens and a seed collection of native California plants including rare, endangered and threatened species. “It’s all high tech in the seed processing and storage lab” jokes Michael Wall, Seed Conservation Program Manager, as he points out the Sears bought freezers to store the seed collection.

Rancho Santa Ana's Library houses many intricate and ancient texts. The group is in awe of the botanical art!

Rancho Santa Ana's Library houses many intricate and ancient texts. The group is in awe of the botanical art!

Becky and Dongah are captivated by the Seed Manual that Michael Wall, Seed Curator, displays to the group.

“Take the time to invest in your volunteers” was the advice from Shawn Overstreet, Plant Collections Manager and RSABG has certainly found inspiring and fun ways to engage the volunteers. A volunteer “Sign Tsar” regularly inspects the gardens for proper plant signage and interpretation, a “Bench Brigade” maintains the donated benches, an entomologist staffs the butterfly house, not to mention the pot party crowd!

The 100F heat of the desert was beckoning as we left Rancho Santa Ana and headed out to Joshua Tree for our final stop on this wonderful Southern Californian North American Experience.

Photos by Kate Baltzell