Category Archives: Duke Gardens

A walk through Duke Gardens

On Saturday I woke up at the crack of dawn and headed to Duke Gardens.  I had a homework assignment due at noon that day for my photography class, and I figured the gardens could provide some interesting subject material.   There were snow clouds in the sky, and not a ray of sunshine, which concerned me.   As I sipped my morning coffee, I worried that I’d have to use my Photoshop skills to enhance my pictures. Would my instructor notice?

When I arrived, the blue heron was waiting for me, and in perfect position.

Heron at Duke Gardens


Despite the cold and grayness, signs of spring were everywhere.



Seems like the Koi had gotten even bigger since the last time I saw them.

This waterfall wasn’t here the last time I came through with my camera.


I kept roaming, looking for the perfect shot.   For a while I had the whole place to myself.  The peace and quiet was wonderful.

Next I headed for the bamboo forest on the eastern edge of the gardens.
I thought this bamboo-graffiti would make an interesting subject if I put it in the foreground.


Coming out of the bamboo, I stumbled upon  The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden,  a working homestead that includes a transplanted tobacco barn, a vegetable garden, and giant cisterns for water collection.  The Brody Garden is one of two pilot projects at Duke that are part of the new Sustainable Sites Initiative (SSI), an international program created to promote sustainable land development and management practices.


Despite some of the primitiveness of the place, the fancy stonework and other stylized elements reminded me that I was still in Duke Gardens.
To my delight, a fancy pergola led me straight to a fancy chicken coop.
At the hen house, it was a veritable chicken potpourri. I counted 5 different breeds.



As I crouched to take some pictures,  the chickens came running up to me, hoping that I was delivering their morning breakfast.



Having walked around for a couple of hours, I realized I was famished too, and headed back home for a bowl of oatmeal. I’ll be back to the Discovery Garden soon.

Duke Gardens named one of nation’s top 10

Duke Gardens have been named one of the top 10 public gardens in the United States.  Check out the article on  I feel lucky to work right next door.

If you can’t get out to the gardens today, visit them virtually using their interactive map.

The blue herons of Duke Gardens

Now that the weather is warming up, I’m looking forward to seeing the blue herons who hang out in Duke Gardens.  I’m assuming there are more than one of them although I’ve never seen a pair.  They are fearless and let you get really close if you want to take a picture.  Here’s one I snapped a couple of years ago in the Asiatic Arboretum at Duke Gardens.

These creatures have always fascinated me.  A couple of years ago during one of our awful summer droughts, I saw one  walking upright on its spindly legs through an almost-dry Ellerbe Creek.  The heron reminded me of a dinosaur or a freaky creature from another planet.

I wanted to find out more about these birds, so I contacted my friend and ornithologist-extraordinaire  Becky Browning. Becky was the bird collections manager at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences and is now living with her husband in Amsterdam.  She works as a bird conservator at Naturalis Biodiversity Center there.

Becky told me that the herons nest colonially in trees, and are partially nocturnal.  (No wonder I don’t see them eating the goldfish out of my pond, I thought.)  Apparently they are increasing all across North Carolina, breeding in places they haven’t before, and moving to higher elevations in the Appalachians. In fact,  they’ve been spotted in Watauga County at Bass Lake, over by the Cone Manor, one of our favorite places.  They were one of those birds, like the osprey and the eagle, who suffered from DDT in the 60s and 70s but have since made a comeback.

They eat anything: mostly fish, of course, but also crawdads, large insects, frogs, small snakes, and if an unlucky mouse is nearby, mammals too.  You hear folks with garden ponds complain about the herons who swoop in and eat their koi. That’s why I stock my pond with 10-cent goldfish!

I’m sure we’ll be seeing them again in Duke Gardens in the coming weeks.  For more on herons, check out The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s heron page.