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Duke Gardens – more big city culture

There were bees everywhere, bathing in pollen, drinking in the day, doing what bees do: pollinating plants, making food, and perpetuating their families.


Once again, I said “Yes!” and found myself absorbing culture in the big city. This time it was Duke Gardens with my good friend Shelley. I had heard of their fifty-five acres of trails and gardens, but had not yet taken the time to go.

It was going to be hot on this last day of June, so we started out at 7:30 AM. The garden paths were still cool and we wondered how it was that they stayed so green until we heard the unmistakable patter of water drops and realized, Hey, it’s not raining – they’re watering the heck out of this place.

Shelley paused at the main entrance by a nicely-layered garden, reigniting my lust for echinacea.

“Yep, gotta get me some of these cone flowers,” I said to Shelley.

A week later Bob and I went down to Big Bloomers in the rain and got ourselves a couple of echinacea plants for our pond garden and a cart full of other “must-haves”.

Bob and I felt like part of the inner tribe, wandering the greenhouse aisles with other die-hard horticulturalists, among them one of Duke Gardens’ very own curators.

I doubt it’s possible to visit Big Bloomers for under $100, which is what we spent, congratulating ourselves for not buying more. If it hadn’t been pouring down rain from tropical storm Elsa, we might have spent twice that.

Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus)

I am happy to report that we have two Rose of Sharon trees at Trouts Farm Gardens.

There were bees everywhere, bathing in pollen, drinking in the day, doing what bees do: pollinating plants, making food, and perpetuating their families.

Cookie on Iris Bridge in the Historic Gardens, only slightly wet with perspiration.

Eye-catching Meyer Bridge at the Asiatic Arboretum, with jets of irrigation water in the background.

Shelley was as taken by the bamboo as I was with the echinacea. She’s been toying with installing some at her place for years, hoping to happen upon a non-spreading variety. Turns out the Fargesia genus (Cold Hardy Clumping Bamboos) will not take over a yard. Or so they say.

Shelley and I couldn’t decide if we liked the bamboo graffiti or not. The rules-based side of my personality bristled at this flagrant disregard for the sign asking that pen knife not be pulled from pocket and used upon the bamboo, but my urban-artsy/anthropologist side found it interesting.

Shelley regarded Duke’s splendid rose garden, a mélange of color with a few roses sprinkled in for validity.

Cicada-killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus)

I captured what I believe to be a European paper wasp on what kind of flower I can’t say. Which is fine. Art doesn’t have to be labeled. Forget what I said about the wasp. It’s a bug with wings on a yellow flower and I liked the way it looked so I took a picture.

Update: Thanks to my naturalist buddy, Linda, I’ve learned that this is not a paper wasp, it’s a cicada-killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus). Although their yellow markings are similar to the paper wasp, Cicada-killers are twice as large and have a much thicker abdomen.

This mesmerizing water feature gurgles away outside the gift shop which was closed for COVID on the day we went. Shelley and I stared through the windows at stuff we probably would have bought had the shop been opened, and congratulated ourselves on dodging that bullet.

Madagascar Palms

The Madagascar palms outside the shop were so bright and spiky I wanted to bring them home where I would somehow graft them to our pear trees and spend the rest of my years thumbing my nose at the thwarted squirrels.

I’m glad I went on this day trip, I’m lucky to live close to big city culture, and I’m grateful for friends like Shelley who keep asking until they get the correct answer.

By Camille Armantrout

Camille lives with her soul mate Bob in the back woods of central North Carolina where she hikes, gardens, cooks, and writes.

One reply on “Duke Gardens – more big city culture”

Very nice! I love spending time walking through gardens because they’re always changing. You’ll have to go at least each season…the photos are fantastic. I’m so glad you got a good camera!!

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