JC Raulston Arboretum: A Living Laboratory & Outdoor Classroom


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.


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.


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


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.


“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.


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


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.


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.


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)


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)


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.


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


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)


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.


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)


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.

Duke Gardens: Only Better With Time

It hardly seems possible, but Duke Gardens is getting even better. During a recent gathering of Duke Gardens Volunteers (of which I am one), the Director of Horticulture described the various beautification and construction projects underway or projected for the 55-acre public garden located on Duke University’s campus in Durham, North Carolina.  The underlying goal of each effort is a commitment to environmental sustainability.

Here’s a look at a few of the projects:

Pergola Restoration
The pergola is a focal point in the historic Terrace Gardens. In springtime past, profuse wisteria cascaded from its roof; but last summer, the 75-year-old frame structure was stripped of its floral splendor. The reason? The vine was a Chinese wisteria, which is invasive—over time it spreads, crowds out other vegetation, and even chokes out its own blooms.

Native wisteria will be planted in place of the Chinese wisteria. Although it will take about three years to flower, the results will be amazing color and fragrance.


In addition to native wisteria on the pergola, about a dozen Fortune’s osmanthus evergreens will be planted around the structure. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC

Woodland Bridge and Stream
The Blomquist Garden of Native Plants is getting a new look, thanks in part to 100-year-old reclaimed lumber.


The Woodland Bridge Project includes construction of a 250ft-long stream edged with Smokey Mountain boulders from western North Carolina. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC


A steel-beam bridge replaces the former wooden one. The wooden decking of the new bridge is “sinker Cypress”–reclaimed lumber cut over 100 years ago by loggers and found at the bottom of rivers near Wilmington and Charleston. The logs were specially milled for this project. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC

The bridge and stream project is slated for completion sometime in Spring 2015.

Asiatic-Japanese Garden
In the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum, progress is being made to create a unique space overlooking the Red Bridge. The effort, led by master planner Sadafumi Uchiyama, Garden Curator at the Portland Japanese Garden, depicts a “Passage of Time” theme.

When completed, footpaths will lead to scenes reminiscent of the past, such as an old faux well. Mature Japanese trees, provided by a generous donor, as well as other plantings will add to the sanctuary. A re-circulating stream will flow down several levels of boulders, creating layered pools. A gazebo with a stone tile floor is central to the scene and is well underway—all that remains is for stucco to be applied and for surrounding plants to be put in the ground. The project is scheduled for completion in Spring 2015.

Virtue Peace Pond
Peace has been disturbed at the Virtue Peace Pond. The pond has been drained to replace the old rubber lining with a rebar-enforced base that will retain water. The finished pool will be about 30 inches deep, which is ideal for water plants to thrive. Work continues though February 2015.

The pond in Fall 2014:


The pond this past week:


Future projects include the creation of a Peidmont prairie in the Blomquist Garden, a Hanes Lawn Ampitheater, and a Spring Woodland Garden—the latter of which will include a recirculating mountain stream with a stone overlook and plantings.

Check back in the coming months for updates on these and other projects. Or better yet, visit the beautiful Gardens in person.

The Kitchen Garden

No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden. — Thomas Jefferson

A kitchen garden was an essential element of living in early America. Typically, kitchen gardens were fenced areas consisting of herbs and vegetables, as well as edible and decorative flowers.

Montecello, Thomas Jefferson’s picturesque, mountaintop home in Charlottesville, VA, had a “1,000-foot-long kitchen garden terrace [which] was an experimental laboratory where he cultivated seventy different species and 250 varieties of vegetables.”[1]

I’ve had the pleasure of touring Montecello twice, but both times were years ago and before I became a shutter bug. Nevertheless, the gardens surrounding Jefferson’s dwelling are paramount in my memory.

It’s not surprising, then, that on a recent visit to Historic Stagville, I was especially enamored with the kitchen garden behind the plantation’s historic Bennahan House. It wasn’t a very large space—just a modest, rectangular plot surrounded by white fencing—yet its delightful charms occupied me for long minutes on end.


Perennials, which were used in cut-flower arrangements, added beauty to the kitchen garden’s look and design.

Kale and other green vegetables grew in the kitchen garden as representations of the native plants grown at Stagville. I, however, was preoccupied with the busy pollinators intent on their weighty task:




As well, I was captivated by a delicate flower that appeared to be surviving the cool, late-October mornings and evenings, turning its dainty head toward the warm sun during the many hours in between:


The trellis overtop the entry gate to the kitchen garden was resplendent with beautiful passion flowers. — Historic Stagville; Durham, NC

As I left the garden, I stepped on something green and squishy that sent me heading with mounting curiosity toward the visitor’s center for an explanation:


Just past the outer edge of the kitchen garden lay this odd looking fruit. Hedge apples. And not edible. They fall (as nuisances of little to no use) from the hedge apple tree, which is a hard wood that was used for making furniture and fence posts. The trees were kept low–like a hedge–by careful pruning.


Art Meets Ice: Duke Gardens Amid Winter Storm Pax

As Winter Storm Pax descended on Durham, North Carolina, this afternoon—blanketing it in a layer of powdery snow, followed by sleet and ice—I captured some photos of one of my favorite places: Duke Gardens.


The Arched Bridge in the W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum during Winter Storm Pax. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC


The restored Roney Fountain in the Rose Garden at Duke Gardens weathers Winter Storm Pax. — Durham, NC


Art meets ice: the 100-year-old Roney Fountain in the Rose Garden at Duke Gardens during Winter Storm Pax. — Durham, NC


A male cardinal braves Winter Storm Pax in the Historic Gardens at Duke Gardens in Durham, NC.


A lady Cardinal sits atop a bird feeder near President’s Bridge during Winter Storm Pax. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC


A male Cardinal near President’s Bridge. — Winter Storm Pax. Duke Gardens; Durham, NC.

The Gardens were peaceful. Its human inhabitants—some tossing snowballs at one another, others racing down snow-packed slopes on makeshift sleds—were happy. On nearby streets, sirens wailed as ambulances made their way toward Duke Hospital or police cars responded to traffic troubles. Hardship alongside happiness. … A reminder, as I made my way homeward, that wintery weather can be beautiful but potentially “pax” a punch.