Elon University: A Botanical Garden

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Alamance Building, a National Register Historic Place in the historic district of Elon University. (Alamance County, North Carolina)

Elon University, a private liberal arts school founded in 1889 and located in Alamance County, North Carolina, has the unique distinction of being classified as a botanical garden. It doesn’t have a botanical garden. It is a botanical garden. And not only that, six buildings of the Colonial/Georgian Revival style and one monument on campus are on the National Register under the designation Elon College Historic District.

Intrigued by these recent discoveries, I paid the campus a visit and was not disappointed. Take a look at some of the beautiful flora and architecture I saw as I meandered winding brick pathways and surveyed lush green lawns:

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Could anyone ever be late for class, I wondered, with this pretty reminder posing at the intersection of two brick walkways?

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Columns and arches, such as those behind this lovely lily, were prevalent practically everywhere on campus.

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The floral splendor attracted butterflies galore, such as this black swallowtail.

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But the butterflies were not to be outdone. I also spotted a hummingbird and even this hummingbird moth.

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The porch of the alumni house looked like it would be the perfect place to stop for a spot of sweet tea.

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You can’t stop progress! Elon’s campus is growing, as the orange construction fencing in this photo portrays. I encountered many folks, such as these leisurely dog walkers, who were taking advantage of the shady sidewalks and beautiful scenery.

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A showy hibiscus bloom flaunts a raggedy petal near the historic O’Kelly monument, which I photographed very poorly and therefore did not make the cut.

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Bees were busy in the lovely flower bed near the historic Carlton Library.

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The relentless heat of a southern summer couldn’t wilt these hearty rudbeckia.

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…and more coneflowers, because I’m crazy for coneflowers. Plus there’s the historic library in the background–nameplate and all.

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Seemingly subtle accents, such as this ivy-covered brick wall, added to the charm of Elon’s campus. I wanted to go back to school all over again!

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“E” is for Elon. (Believe it or not, it took me a moment to put two and two together. …Lightbulb!)

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So many of the places on campus were prettier in real life than through my camera lens. One such place was here by the pergola and Lake Mary Nell.

I left Elon University decidedly appreciative of its visual appeal and southern charm.

JC Raulston Arboretum: A Living Laboratory & Outdoor Classroom

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A view from the top: looking down over the railing from the lovely rooftop garden. — Raleigh, NC

My mother has three daughters. (That’s a rather strange way of saying that I have two sisters.) My Mom would be the first to agree that each one of us is very different.

The Research Triangle region of North Carolina has three major public gardens: Duke Gardens (Duke University’s crown jewel), the North Carolina Botanical Garden (a University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill treasure), and the JC Raulston Arboretum (NC State University’s gem). Two of these locales are listed among the 50 Most Amazing University Botanical Gardens and Arboretums in the U.S.[1]

I’ve visited and written about Duke Gardens many, many times, and I’ve shared photos of the NC Botanical Garden several times as well. Until recently, I had yet to visit the JC Raulston Arboretum.

The main goals of the 10-acre Arboretum are to provide a center for learning and a place to cultivate plants for southern landscapes. The grounds are divided into several themed gardens and borders. Memorial plaques and dedications can be found throughout. I particularly liked a memorial plaque I spotted by the Rose Garden:

“They loved the rose for its beauty and fragrance, a glimpse of God’s glory.”

Here’s a glimpse of the glory through the lens of my camera…and in the meandering order in which I encountered its beauty.

Scree/Xeric Garden
This area contains drought tolerant plants that are native to South Africa, Mexico, and the southern United States.

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Bees pollinate a cactus flower at the JC Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC).

Lath House
The architectural design of Lath House, comprised of iron supports, wooden beams overhead, tiled paths underfoot, and raised beds of plants, is award-winning.

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Lath House is home to over 700 plants that thrive in the shade. — JC Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC)

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The blooms on the Acanthus “Morning Candle” are burning out, but I thought the plant was pretty nonetheless. — JC Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC)

Plantsmen’s Woods
Trees from around the world can be found in Plantsmen’s Woods. An eastern redbud, with its golden-orange new growth, caught my eye.

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“The Rising Sun” gold-leaf eastern redbud. — JC Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC)

Color Trials
This colorful, full-sun space is an official All-America Selections testing site where new cultivars are evaluated for use in home gardens.

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“Supertunia Vista Silverberry” petunias grow profusely in the All-American Selections trial ground of the JC Raulston Arboretum. (North Carolina)

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A spotted skipper sits  atop “Meteor Shower” verbena in the Color Trials area of the Arboretum. (Raleigh NC)

Water Garden
This garden is part of a larger group of gardens called the Model Garden.

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I saw lots of Great Blue Skimmers around the lily pads in the Water Garden. — JC Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC)

A.E. Finley Rooftop Terrace
This garden is so unique (IMHO). Although the conditions of the rooftop garden are severe, plants that can tolerate heat, dryness and wind thrive in soil containing sand and slate.

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A.E. Finley Rooftop Terrace: The rocky mound straight ahead is a crevice garden. Looking over the railing is a view of a waterfall complete with aquatic plants, as well as the JC Raulston paver pictured at the top of this blog post. (Raleigh, NC)

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Winding brick walkways and this gigantic agave ovatifolia succulent are just two of the striking sights on the Rooftop at JC Raulston Arboretum. (Raleigh, NC)

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A Buckeye butterfly pollinates a Winkler’s gaillardia on the rooftop. …Keep doing what you’re doing, Buckeye! From my reading, this blanketflower is considered endangered by the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory. — JC Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC)

Centers of Learning
The Arboretum offers both an Education Center, where programs and private events are held, as well as a Visitor Center.

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The Bobby G. Wilder Visitor Center contains a reading/resource area for the inquisitive. — JC Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC)

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Behind the coneflowers and near the Visitors Center, this Japanese Crepe Myrtle, “Fantasy,”  stands as one of the oldest and largest crepe myrtles growing outside of Japan. It’s a variant resulting from seedlings collected in the 1950s on the island of Yakushima. — JC Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC)

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Here’s another look at “Fantasy.” Across from it (not pictured) is a slightly smaller crepe myrtle. …Pictures are worth a thousand words, but seeing this big guy “live” and in full panorama is worth a million. — JC Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC)

Another historic notable at JC Raulston Arboretum is the 50-foot tall Columnar English Oak, which was the first tree planted there.

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On my way back to the parking lot, I “spotted” this Leopard Lily (or Blackberry Lily). Proper name: Belamcanda chinensis.  Why is it also called a Blackberry Lily? Because their seed pods look like blackberries. (Beware, they are not edible!)  — JC Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC)

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This was one of my favorite scenes, and one of the last ones I photographed: The “Cecil Houdyshel” Crinum Lily, named after its cultivator, is an old southern heirloom. — JC Raulston Arboretum (Raleigh, NC)

Following my afternoon at the JC Raulston Arboretum, I concluded that these three public spaces—beautiful though each one is—are very different from one another. Unlike my mother, who doesn’t have a favorite daughter, I do have a favorite public garden. Most likely, you can guess which one it is. But my personal preference aside, all three are lovely and I encourage you to visit one, or two, or all of them soon. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


Parking and admission to the JC Raulston Arboretum are free, but donations are accepted.
[1]  As awarded by Best Colleges Online.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

garden_051615I enjoy the beauty and tranquility of public gardens, but I also like to dig in my own dirt. It’s a great stress reliever, enables one to stay active, and provides an outlet to use or improve upon creativity.

Last fall, I planted new bulbs in my garden to replace some older ones that had gradually petered out over the last nine years. I had a plan and I worked it—an equal balance of colors and types of flowers.

I waited expectantly. When spring came, chaos broke loose. The orange lilies I had planted on either side of my golden euonymus shrubs popped up near the flowerbed’s border in front of the shrubs. Not only that, the lilies quickly outgrew everything behind them in height.

Over the rainy winter, all my carefully scattered anemones must have washed to the right side of the bed, because they grew up in one massive (but pretty!) clump. The daffodils came up but never got heads; and of the four types of tulip bulbs that I planted, only two emerged and bloomed.

The entire landscape I had worked to develop looked anything but creative; and for a brief moment, I felt a wave of stress threatening to wash over me. Then I recalled one of my mother’s green thumb tricks: transplanting. She’d move flowers from the rock bed to the perennial garden to the stone planter out front until she found the perfect place for a particular plant to thrive.

Armed with a new plan, I set to work. I moved the orange lilies to the back yard, where they are now loaded with buds. I spread the anemones evenly across the front bed’s border–and they lived! I enjoyed those two lone tulips for their unique beauty, and I put a few annuals in for good measure.

Things are shaping up. The garden in filling out. Early bloomers have served their purpose and bowed out to the next wave of foliage. Have a look:

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This “ice cream” double tulip had it’s day in the sun. Because my space was limited, I planted three of these bulbs in a big pot on my front porch. Green leaves grew up from all three bulbs, but only one bloomed. (Here, I’m experimenting with night photography.)

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Anemones (or windflowers) are some of my favorites. For me, they keep blooming until the squelching heat of summer hits and persists–which won’t be long!

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Usually my anemones are red and purple, but this new batch of bulbs produced these pretty white ones as well.

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After the ice cream tulip (singular, sigh) faded, I planted some cascading vines, wave petunias and this pretty African daisy in the large planter on the porch. That’s probably a lot for this container to hold, but I like thick greenery and profuse color!

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Out back, I tried something that might be a bit unconventional. I put these tall perennials, called Speedwells, in a deck box that hangs from the railing and serves as a privacy screen. I wasn’t sure if they would like it there, but it’s three weeks and counting and all’s well. (Blue: “First Glory” Speedwell ; White: “First Lady” Speedwell)

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At a recent Triangle Gardeners Volunteer Recognition event hosted by Duke Gardens and attended by volunteers from four area gardens, I received as a parting gift this “Slim Jim” phlox pilosa, courtesy of Juniper Level Botanic Garden. It nicely compliments a white “Minnie Pearl” phlox that comes up faithfully and blooms from late April until early June in my front garden.

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During a recent visit to the North Carolina Botanical Garden, I purchased Piedmont Barbara’s Buttons (Marshallia obovata var. obovata) at the garden’s gift shop. This perennial, the 2009 NC Wildflower of the Year, is drought resistant and tough despite its delicate, lacy blooms.

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On Mother’s Day weekend, my seven-year-old nephew gave all the girls in the family two flowers apiece in celebration of Mother’s Day. (He didn’t mind in the least that I’m not a mother.) It was very touching, and I planted this pretty vinca with tender care in my front flower bed.

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The “heart” of a shasta daisy–the second flower that my nephew gave me. Very charming.

That’s a glimpse of my garden. But that’s not all! Soon to bloom are my “Maryland, My Maryland” black-eyed susan and my ever-reliable “Jeff Gordon” yellow lilies, the latter of which were given to me when the 24/48 shop at Hendrick Motorsports was re-landscaped about eleven years ago. There’s nothing like a flower with some history!

Then, of course, there are my blue stars that shine in June through September. And the pretty pink perennial my younger sister gave me when thinning her own garden a few years back. …Dividing and sharing perennials is another joy of gardening, something I watched my mother and our neighbor Francis do from time to time while I was growing up.

Well, you get the idea. (I could go on and on!) Do you have “green space” in which to tend a garden? If so, how does your garden grow?

A Spring Photo Tour of Duke Gardens (Part 1)

Color abounds this time of year at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, “the crown jewel of Duke University” and the recipient of multiple horticulture awards. In recent weeks, steady streams of visitors have enjoyed this lovely, living showcase of plants and wildlife.

The tulips on the Italian-style Historic Terraces have been spectacular!

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The Duke Gardens Terraces in early April. (Durham, NC)

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Tulips & daffodils bask in the sunshine near the Historic Terraces pergola. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC

Although such dazzling displays steal the spotlight, there are other gems tucked among the tulips.

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When walking the allees of the Historic Terraces, the tendency might be to look down—at clusters of colorful tulips or at the koi in the fish pool (the latter of which is especially popular with the kiddies). When one looks up, behold! Beautiful magnolia blooms. The variety pictured here, called a Sunspire Magnolia, grows on a narrow tree with upward-facing flowers, making it great for small gardens or tight spaces. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC

The adjacent Culberson Asiatic Arboretum is replete with wildlife and flowering trees.

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In early April, pops of color from the flowering peach, cherry, and redbud trees took center stage in the Asiatic Arboretum. — Duke Gardens, Durham, NC (pictured here: Chinese redbud)

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The story behind this photo: As I was leaving the Gardens after a lunchtime photo-taking extravaganza earlier this month, I spotted a cardinal perched near the Japanese-style Arched Bridge. My camera was already turned off and stowed away. In my experience, cardinals are skittish so I wasn’t sure I could capture the scene–but I wanted to try! A short way off to my left, a chattering group of garden guests were approaching. I snapped three pictures before the happy visitors reached the spot. A fourth photo is of the iconic red bridge…and the tips of a cardinal’s tail feathers in the top right corner!

Subtle splendor of the indigenous variety springs up along the meandering paths of the Memorial Garden and the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. To the casual onlooker, these areas of Duke Gardens may appear a bit drab. Not so, in my humble opinion. A closer look reveals the intricacy of the leaves and blooms—displays of creation that are carefully planned and far from ordinary.

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Dutchman’s Breeches are commonly found on the forest floor of a woodland habitat. These native plants are a wild version of Bleeding Hearts. — Blomquist Garden of Native Plants

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Celandine poppies in the 6.5-acre Blomquist Garden of Native Plants add a splash of golden-yellow color to the predominantly green landscape. These native wildflowers are sometimes referred to as wood poppies. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC

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The 1.5-acre Memorial Garden doesn’t get as much foot traffic as the neighboring Terraces or the Asiatic Arboretum, but it’s a tranquil place to sit for a spell. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC

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The delicate white flowers of this “Summer Snowflake” plant didn’t look like much until I stooped down for a closer look. — Duke Gardens’ Memorial Garden; Durham, NC

Although each area of Duke Gardens is distinctly themed, the entire 55-acre expanse flows seamlessly. (There are four main gardens in all: Historic Gardens, Doris Duke Center Gardens, H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, and the W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. Part 2 of my photo tour will feature the Doris Duke Center Gardens.)

With the passing of time, the early spring colors are beginning to fade. Not to worry! There always seems to be something in bloom in this “garden for all seasons.”