After being in the gardens at Duke University, I though I visited the state’s nicest floral place. I did not know there was something even more beautiful and moreover, right in Raleigh: NC State’s J. C. Raulston Arboretum located next to the West Campus. Named in honor of NC State’s horticulture professor, renowned plantsman and also the arboretum’s founder, it is supposed to have numerous unique plant collections comprising of more than 6,500 species, thus making the place one of the most diverse plant collections in the southeast US. Though I did not count the taxa and have visited only one more garden to compare it with, I dare to say that their advertising descriptions might actually hold lots of truth.
There were a visitor center and an education center, however, they did not bother themselves to be opened on weekends. I do not think it affected my visit too much as the printed guide with a map, and information boards spread all over the place provided me with enough facts to make my time there not only enjoyable but also bearably educational.
The arboretum was huge and out of its 16 sections highlighted in the guide I am aware of being in 14. I somehow skipped Plantsmen’s Woods, supposedly a mix of trees from all over the world and understory plants. I am pretty sure I must have passed through Mixed Border composed of trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs (according to the guide) but I cannot remember anything that would make it stand out from the surrounding vegetation.
I was in the arboretum for about two minutes and already got super excited – I saw a flowering banana plant for the first time! Once I researched the flower and bananas-to-be, I climbed up the education center. It definitely was not a case of trespassing but a peaceful walk to the rooftop terrace offering both a variety of plants right there as well as a view on the arboretum – particularly Xeric Garden next to it. The Xeric Garden was a home to drought-tolerant species including yuccas, palms and cacti. I am sure there were many more but these were the only three species whose existence I was somewhat aware of. D From the roof terrace I walked down the main path which was an opportunity to learn a little bit about geophytes (plants with underground organs – e.g. tubers or bulbs – enabling them to survive winter). On my way I also passed the Perennial Border which could as well be called a Butterfly Heaven. Later I got lost among conifers (Conifer Collection) and in the Winter Garden. The later one included species adapted to winter (surprisingly), so I was not too surprised to find some not very happy plants. There was something special about the collection of conifers, too. It included a huge portion of the known conifer species, thus being a conifer reference. Moreover, planting conifers in North Carolina proved their resilience to hot and humid climate and clay soil. Approved by me – all three of them can indeed be found here.
Seeing a rather weird building, I headed there. It turned out to be Lath House, a temporary shelter for many plants arriving to the arboretum. Its unusual wooden structure is supposed to provide shade in summer and reduce heat loss during winter. Adjacent to it were Japanese Garden and Asian Valley. These two seemed somewhat empty to me – I wonder whether it is characteristic to gardens in Asia or I only was there at a wrong time of the year.
By that time the weather turned out from cloudy and pleasant with light breeze into usual cooking hot. I was about to leave at that point but I wanted to see the Monocot Garden at the same time. Apparently a result of being exposed to too much wheat research and rice stuff. While the Monocot section was little disappointing, on the way there, I passed beautiful flowerbeds. Variety of plant species were arranged according to the color of their flowers and most of them were in full blossom (though little tired from the heat). It was so pleasing to just stand there and admire the beauty around. In proximity of the monocts were three beehives. I have seen many of them before but never got close enough to actually see bees entering and leaving it. Who would expect an arboretum to be beekeeping educational! By the way, did you know that NC has the most beekeepers per capita?
When I saw a direction sign to the White Garden, I thought I confused it with the Winter Garden. But it turned out that the two were completely different things. The White Garden was inspired by a similar garden in Kew, London. It included only white flowering species and together with white wooden gazebo those were put in contrast to conifers in the background. Low brick walls were an unusual component of this unique composition. For me, it was a great occasion for little bit of black and white photography.
Finley-Nottingham Rose Garden – future site. That is what the map said. Thankfully, the roses were planted already and doing well, moreover many of them in blossom. I assume most of the varieties were man-made and thus given funny or weird names – Sexy Rexy illustrates that well. I did not see much diversity in size or shape of the flowers, yet they came in so many colors! And I am sure the place will be even more stunning once the roses are grown enough to start climbing the provided arches.
As mentioned, the arboretum was supposed to be exceptionally (at least for the Southwest) rich in number of species grown there. Here is the diversity described in my own words. Several ornamental species I was familiar with from our or my Grandparents’ gardens but here, most of them have grown much bigger – this was particularly true for yucca (this variety was called Blue Mexican), canna and hibiscus. I have seen banana plants before but these were enormous and flowering! Apparently these must all be heat-loving species. The arboretum’s collection included species I knew from textbooks but do not remember seeing them before, such as agave. Of course, there were also species I knew from Czech forests. Once it started looking to much like home, I would always bump into (a) plant(s) I was not familiar with at all as their homes were Africa or Asian countries such as Japan or Korea.
However, what was extremely well-known to me were marigolds whose typical scent confused me for a while and made me feel like I was in our Czech garden for a while. The vegetable section was not new either – cabbage, sunflowers, plenty of tomatoes, pumpkins. Nothing what I would not find in our garden. But this garden was the most dead one I have ever been to. The domesticated crops did not seem to enjoy the hot weather at all. In fact, many of the plants were literally burned.
I already mentioned bees but there was more fauna to admire – so many butterflies and some of them huge, several funny-looking pollinators and finally, one more hummingbird – like a little helicopter.
I am so glad I recalled Mrs. C’s weeks old recommendation to go there. Having missed that one would be a serious flaw in my stay here and I am so thankfully it did not happen. Both, me as a biologist and me as photographer had a great time. I only cannot tell whether the biologist or the photographer was happier.