Cherry Allée

Which comes first, the leaf or the bloom? For the Akebono cherry tree, the “usual” order of events is reversed—the bloom precedes the leaf. The botanical term for this sequence is hysteranthy.

The intriguing nature of this tree, (a cultivar of the Japanese Yoshino cherry), doesn’t end there: the blossoms appear first as pale pink in early spring, then turn to white as the flowers open in the following days, only to turn pink again before wilting. The first dawn of pink that these petals display are likened to pink morning skies, resulting in the Japanese name “Akebono” which means “daybreak” or “dawn.”[1]

Akebono cherry trees are one of several varieties on display during the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., and these striking beauties bestow their branches on other parts of the country as well, North Carolina included.

In 2012, Duke Gardens redesigned their main entrance—the Gothic Gate entrance—to include an Akebono-lined cherry allée. Last year, I photographed the fruits of this labor while the trees were pretty in pink. (You can view that photo here.)

In early March, I made my way over to the allée to check things out. The trees weren’t in bloom yet, but I thought I detected a pinkish hue in the works on the trees at the far end of the allée. …Soon and very soon, it would appear! (As a volunteer photographer for the Gardens, the urge to camp out there morning, noon and night was irresistible but obviously impractical.)


Do I detect pink cherry blossoms in the making?! (That’s the Duke Chapel in the sunset.) — Durham, NC

Less than two weeks later, I received word that the allée was in bloom! I high-tailed it over after work that very same day…then the next morning…and a couple days after that, too.

Here’s just a sampling of the photos I took. Enjoy!




The allée was designed to resemble a stream descending gradually toward the Mary Duke Biddle Rose Garden and its focal piece, the historic Roney Fountain.

At the top of the grandiose stairway leading to the Rose Garden, the cherry blossoms create a striking contrast to the rustic stone arbor below.


Merely descending into the Rose Garden does not mean bidding farewell to the slightly fragrant, oh-so-lovely Akebono blooms. Even a backward glance is breathtaking:


A view of the cherry allée from the Rose Garden. — Duke Gardens


Coming or going, morning or evening, it’s been a magnificent spring for Duke Gardens’ cherry allée.



A Tour of the Tulips at Duke Gardens

I planted three dozen tulips in my garden last fall. To date, only one lonely stem-and-leaf has reached full maturity and bloomed a soothing orange on top.

Reportedly, Duke Gardens planted over 55,000 bulbs.  Although I haven’t counted, it would appear that 54,999 of them have bloomed. For the last two weeks or so, I have enjoyed each new wave with wonder.

Come and take a tour of the tulips!



The Terrace in the Historic Gardens is tier after tier of tulips. I took this photo in the early morning hours, which I’ve found to be a gloriously peaceful time for passing through nature and marveling at the Creator’s hand before beginning my workday.


Thanks to the time and talents of the Duke Gardens staff and volunteers, the Terrace is arranged in matching symmetry from left to right, with each row containing different kinds or color themes.


Morning dew on a Terrace Gardens tulip.


The midday sun shines through a mass of red tulips. — Historic Terrace Gardens.


In the Rose Garden, tulips bloom in planters here and there around the 100-year-old Roney Fountain.


Tulips aren’t the only beauties blooming in spring at the Gardens. The trees on the Terrace are canopies of complimentary colors.

OH, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.
— Robert Frost; from “A Prayer in Spring”

Check back soon and I’ll show you what has come and gone but is not to be forgotten–such as the striking Cherry Allee by the main entrance’s Gothic Gate!

Join With All Nature

Hello, World! It would seem that I’ve been living under a rock since early January, doing very little writing. (Let’s see if I can still string a few sentences together!)

I hope that you’ve been weathering winter well. Here in central North Carolina, we’ve had some snow and ice, the latter of which always makes things more interesting. Despite the weather (or because of it), I was able to capture the Duke Gardens blanketed in snow.


The Virtue Peace Pond at Duke Gardens is always a tranquil sight. (Note the splash of orange-red to the right, where construction in the nearby Spring Woodlands Garden is underway. How exciting!)


The snow and ice have since melted (and it’s in the 60’s as I write this post!), but it was a mere 24 degrees last Saturday morning when I took this photo of a cute little warbler fluffing its feathers to retain body heat and keep out the cold. — Blomquist Garden of Native Plants at Duke Gardens

A verse from an old favorite comes to mind when I consider the subtle wonder of a tiny bird carefully designed to dwell in “summer and winter and springtime and harvest”–a witness in nature to God’s great faithfulness, mercy and love.[1]

“Great is Thy Faithfulness”; Thomas Obediah Chisholm (1866-1960)


Monarchs of the Garden

I recently learned about “Gardening for Attracting and Caring for Butterflies,” courtesy of Duke Gardens and taught by a volunteer butterfly expert.

Gardening, butterflies, and insects go together.

With this axiom in mind, the time was spent developing a deeper appreciation for the relationship between butterfly and host plant, a keener awareness of seasonal cycles, and the value of protecting or bolstering butterfly populations. Practical tips for establishing a butterfly garden were discussed as well.

There are two types of plants that attract butterflies: nectar plants, which are perennials and annuals that provide nutrients for the adult butterfly; and host plants, such as milkweed, dill and parsley, on which the butterfly lays her eggs.  When setting up a butterfly garden, it’s helpful to not only understand these two distinctions, but to also determine the desired amount of personal involvement. Generally speaking, there are three levels of commitment: none/minimal, moderate, and maximum.

The minimal gardener might be one who enjoys attracting butterflies for their beauty. In this case, nectar plants would serve them well. For the moderate gardener who wishes to aid in the production of butterflies from egg to caterpillar (protecting them from predators or adverse weather), involvement would include growing host plants and covering the plants once the eggs are laid. The hardcore butterfly gardener is that able soul willing to invest an hour a day during the life cycle from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly. Such involvement sometimes entails raising the developing butterfly indoors or in a protected place outdoors depending on the type of butterfly and the season.

Our speaker, who came laden with fully-stocked caterpillar and butterfly cages, could be classified as a hardcore butterfly gardener and caretaker. Primarily raising monarchs and black swallowtails, her learning curve has been steep—she began three years ago. Now, over 40 species of butterflies visit her garden. As “citizen scientists,” she and her husband assist in replenishing the declining monarch population and participate in state and local butterfly counting days (one of which occurs at Duke Gardens). Such opportunities are available to anyone who is interested.


Caterpillars, (swallowtails are pictured here), go through five growth intervals, called instars, shedding their skeleton after each interval before entering the chrysalis (hard skin) stage of development.


A caterpillar eats constantly in preparation for the chrysalis (pupa) stage. The larval (caterpillar) stage in monarchs, pictured here, typically lasts 9-14 days.


On the right, two chrysalides hang as the miraculous development of the butterfly continues to take place inside. The bright colors of the butterfly’s wings will begin to show through the chrysalis as nutrients stored up from the caterpillar’s earlier eating extravaganza fuel metamorphosis. On the left, three empty chrysalides and a recently “born” butterfly. When a butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, the spectacular moment is referred to as eclosing.

The talk ended with a butterfly release! Nearly a dozen monarchs were set free in the Page-Rollins White Garden.


One of the monarchs was removed from the mesh butterfly carrier and placed on my fingers, where it rested for a few moments before taking flight.


Each monarch released that day had a “Monarch Watch” tag affixed to one of its wings. Monarch Watch is a non-profit organization that enlists the help of citizen scientists to gather data on the migration of monarchs. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC


A monarch “rests” on a mum in the Page-Rollins White Garden before beginning its fall migration, which could take it as far as Mexico. — Durham, NC

Nature is amazing! As much as I marvel at creation, I praise the Creator (God) all the more. He is alive and active, declaring His wisdom and power is nature. “In His hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” [2]

[2] Job 12:10
For more information on the butterfly’s transformation, consider reading Metamorphosis—A Symphony of Miracles.