Happy Holidays

Blog posts will resume on January 8, 2020. Til then, we hope you enjoy this video from NC State Extension and our previous posts about winter plants traditionally used in holiday decor.

North Carolina grows 40,000 acres of Christmas trees. Learn more about this industry in a new 4-minute video from NC State Extension:

A refresher for reflowering poinsettias

Forcing and “pickling” paperwhites

Mistletoe and running cedar in the winter landscape

Holiday Cacti and Holiday Cactus Care

Evergreen plants for holiday decorating

Learn With Us, week of December 15

Citizen Science – Durham Garden Forum
Tuesday, December 17⋅7:00 – 8:30pm

Sarah P. Duke Gardens
420 Anderson St, Durham, NC 27708
Our program this month is a panel discussion on the topic of “Citizen Science”. Our panelists include Sara Child, director, Duke Forest, and Christine Goforth, head, Citizen Science, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Citizen science brings people back into touch with science, building collaborations between people and scientists for data collection and observation. Both Duke Forest and the NC Museum of Natural Sciences have robust citizen science opportunities. Come learn how you may become a scientist in you everyday life.

Lectures free for members,
$10 general public.
No pre-registration necessary.
CONTACT US: durhamgardenforum@gmail.com

A Personal Reflection on the 2019 Master Gardener Training

by Laura Pyatt, EMGV Intern

As a member of the 2019 Master Gardener training class, I  want to share a personal reflection on my experience with this worthwhile program.

2019 was a big year! It was Extension Agent Ashley Troth’s first full calendar year in her position with Durham County Cooperative Extension, and yet she made navigating the ins and outs of the Extension Master Gardener program a breeze. When our class began in January, Ashley proved her skills by teaching one of our first classes: Entomology, the study of insects. We were set up for success from then on! (A fun fact that I learned in that class is — Ashley raises baby shrimp at home.)

I loved the weekly routine of the class. I am a freelance events coordinator, which means that every day is different for me, juggling a variety of clients, meetings and events. The class was a lovely break from an often chaotic lifestyle. Every Thursday, I set my alarm for 7 a.m., had breakfast and coffee at home, and walked 30 minutes to the Cooperative Extension office so that I could free up a parking space for someone else. I turned it my weekly quiz, then took my seat in the back of the room next to classmate Marya. One of my favorite memories was when Marya reminded the whole class that her name rhymes with “malaria.” The classes were engaging with a variety of lectures, activities and role plays. I left each week feeling incredibly overwhelmed with knowledge and incredibly full from all of the amazing snacks that Master Gardeners Margaret and Taka prepared for us.

I looked forward to walking home each week from class, often with an arm full of plants, while people downtown might have stared at me wondering why I was carrying around so many tomatillo starts. I have never met such a generous class of people. I feel that everyone was willing to share plants, seeds, personal experiences, knowledge, or ignorance around an issue we addressed in class. I also don’t think I had to buy a single start or seed for my spring OR summer veggie garden! The seeds Family and Consumer Sciences Agent Cheralyn Berry generously brought in during the class she taught on growing vegetables were quickly buried in my raised beds, and my family ate radishes, cucumbers, and English peas ‘til we were sick of them.

Extension master gardener volunteers engage with the community in a multitude of ways. Here, they are staffing a table at a life-science networking event. Photo credit: Eric Waters. Used with permission.

I found an opportunity to combine my day job with my new volunteer services, too. I throw a monthly life science networking event at the Chesterfield Building in downtown Durham, and I invited the Master Gardeners to participate in two events. The first one was in August, and the volunteers brought a diffuser filled with lavender, and answered attendees’ questions about all sorts of garden-related problems. The second one was this month, and the volunteers aptly brought the diffuser filled, this time, with pine, and answered lots of questions about house plants. It was so inspiring for me to see the attendees of my event lining up to ask the volunteers questions! What I didn’t tell the volunteers in advance was that these events attract a pretty stuffy life-science crowd, and they often aren’t very engaging. However, the Master Gardeners were so welcoming, knowledgeable, and had the best table display, that people couldn’t stay away!

This reflection sums up a small amount of what being a part of the 2019 Master Gardener class meant to me. I thank everyone who made the class a success, and I highly recommend the Extension Master Gardener Volunteer program to anyone inclined to apply to the next training class.

Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is interested in being an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer, call our office at 919-560-0528 and ask to be notified when the application process for the 2021 training begins. The process generally begins the previous fall.

December: To do in the Garden

by Gary Crispell, EMGV

How did it get to be December already? Wasn’t it 100 degrees and October yesterday? Unbelievable! So, I was looking at last year’s December calendar and I can’t think of how to improve it. Therefore, y’all get an encore! Heck, come next year it might be a new tradition.

The holidays
Are upon us.
It’s cold enough
To prune the euonymus.

Most of the leaves
Have fallen down
And into the compost
Raked and blown.

The door is closed
On the potting shed.
Most of the garden
Has been put to bed.

But before the year
Turns over anew
There are a few more things
Left to do.

Ilex x ‘Nellie R. Stevens’ Little Gem Trees CC BY-ND

Mow the fescue
One more time.
Remove the leaves
To keep it fine.

Landscape plants
Can still be planted
There in that space
Where you’ve always wanted.

Prune the nandina
And red-berried holly.
Arrange them on the table
To make it look jolly.

Herbaceous perennials
Can still be cut back.
While weeds and “bad” trees
Can be thoroughly wacked.

While some of us think
Spraying is fun
In the month of December
There should be none.

Other Stuff That’s Mostly Fun
The Christmas tree
Really needs water
And will appreciate
Being away from the heater.

To keep your poinsettias
Cheery and bright
Put them in the room
With the sunniest light.

As to your soil recommendations
Apply the lime.
Save the fert
For the warmer springtime.

If it’s viticulture
Or an orchard you seek
Order plants now
To plant by March’s second week.

For your strawberries
A sweet straw bed
Either wheat or pine
A blanket for their heads.

May your holidays
Be blessed and merry
As bright and cheery
As the holly’s berry.

And may next year’s garden
Be like my Grandmother’s
A bounty for you
And a bounty for others.

Further Reading
December is a good time to explore the NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox: https://plants.ces.ncsu.edu/

Young Black Gum Trees Planted in Historically Significant Black Wall Street Gardens

By Wendy Diaz EMGV

Fall is the season when nature displays its brilliant colors and thanks to trees planted recently in the Black Wall Street Gardens, we should see more of that fall splendor in the coming years right in downtown Durham. Black Wall Street Gardens is a small but centrally located green space that was improved in 2018 as part of the 2014 Downtown Open Space Plan that intended to further develop the former park located at 102 West Main Street into the ‘southern node of an enhanced linear park connecting City Hall to Main Street’.1 The improvements included the planting of four small Black Gum trees alongside a new curvilinear path and larger brick pavement center area with tables and chairs for seating. A public art piece to ‘commemorate and illuminate the importance of Black Wall Street and the legacy of Durham’s African-American business community’2, will be located at this location in the near future.

Foreground: Newly planted Black Gum tree near pathway in Black Street Gardens. Background: The recently completed One City Centre, tallest building in Durham.
Photo by Wendy Diaz on October 24, 2019

Black Gum or Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica)

Black Gum, also commonly known as Black Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica) is a slow-growing tree species native to Eastern North America and a deciduous hardwood tree recognized for its brilliant display of red and almost purple colored leaves in November. The spring flowers are small and produce excellent nectar for bees3. It is dioecious as the female tree needs a male pollinator tree to set their dark-blue fruit. The tree prefers acidic soils, has long taproots, tolerates poorly drained soils so it can be used in rain gardens and endures droughts due to its deep root system4. The Black Gum typically grows from 30 to 50 feet tall with a crown spread of 20 to 30 feet. They can live to be very old and some live more than 600 years.

Deep red fall color of leaf of newly planted Black Gum. Photo by Wendy Diaz on November 13, 2019

The pyramidal growth habit along with a centralized leader and the Black Gum’s ability to tolerate compacted soils are all desirable attributes for the urban environment.5 One undesirable attribute for an urban walkway is the fruit litter of the female trees unless plant cultivars such as Nyssa sylvatica ‘Firestarter’ or Nyssa sylvatica ‘Red Rage’ are planted which do not produce fruit5. Another quality of this tree is the strong connection between its smaller branches and the trunk (branches grow at wide angles horizontally along the trunk) requiring less pruning and maintenance and making it a good candidate for wind tunnels between high buildings in the city.

Crimson color of leaf on new Black Gum Tree in Black Wall Street Gardens. Photo by Wendy Diaz on October 24, 2019

Black Gum trees are perhaps best known for their brilliant scarlet fall color display in North Carolina. Only a couple of leaves have turned red on the newly planted trees in the Black Wall Street Gardens this week and the waxy green summer leaves predominate.

Fortunately, not far from downtown on North Broad Street is a grand old blazing specimen in the backyard of a home in Old West Durham neighborhood and a subject of a previous Master Gardener blog post6.  

Looking north along west side of Broad Street at brilliant fall color of mature Black Gum tree.
Photo by Wendy Diaz on November 13, 2019
Mature Black Gum tree on Broad Street. Photo by Wendy Diaz on November 13, 2019

Its fall foliage is a little past its prime in mid-November but one can still see some very bright crimson and scarlet leaves this week and maybe even into December.  This brilliant display is something to look forward to in the coming years for downtown.

Late fall color of crown of Broad Street Black Gum tree. Photo by Wendy Diaz on November 13, 2019
Closeup of brilliant crimson color of fall mature Black Gum tree on Broad Street. Photo taken by Wendy Diaz on November 13, 2019

Black Wall Street 

Historical plaque commemorating Black Wall Street on the northwest corner of North Magnum Street and Parrish Street Photo by Wendy Diaz November 13, 2019

The four young Black Tupelo trees are located near the north end of the garden park close to West Parrish Street or Black Wall Street. Black Wall Street referred to an area ‘of concentrated African-American wealth, economic and political power’ along the north side of Parrish Street in downtown Durham during the first half of the 20th century. In the early 1900’s, West Parrish Street started to convert from light industrial to commercial use when the black-owned and operated North Carolina Mutual and Provident Association (later renamed the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company) purchased several lots along the north side of this street.9 After the insurance company’s construction of its first office building in 1905, the street soon became known as “Black Wall Street.10  This two-story brick building, also housed the Mechanics and Farmers Bank on its first floor. By around 1910, the entire north side of the block was a black business complex of two- and three- story brick buildings11 . At the start of the 20th century as many as 200 businesses including groceries, shoe stores, banks and insurance companies comprised this interconnected business sector. Scholars Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois nationally acclaimed the street as an exceptionally prosperous black middle class business sector. Perhaps the most well known black-owned businesses were the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Co. and Mechanics & Farmers Bank8 at 106 West Parrish Street, located around the north corner from Black Street Gardens. After urban renewal projects and desegregation, black-owned businesses no longer concentrated downtown.

Looking southwest from the northeast corner of West Parrish Street and North Magnum Street at the former buildings on the site of Black Wall Street Gardens in 1963. Photo courtesy of OpenDurham.
Looking from the same corner of the above 1963 photograph at the north end of Black Wall Street Gardens. Two young Black Gum trees are circled. Photo by Wendy Diaz on November 13, 2019

On the south side of Parrish Street, a  commemorative sculpture is located near the north entrance of the Black Wall Street Gardens and the former site of a two story building built between 1910 to 1915 and demolished between 1968 and 1973 and formally housed a shoe store, Jewelry store, Tailor and Loan company11.  

Sculpture dedicated to the ambitions of the African-American business community on Black Wall Street (West Parrish Street) located at north entrance to Black Wall Street Gardens. Arrow points to young Black Gum tree. Photo by Wendy Diaz on October 24, 2019

Prior to 1970 and the construction of the Durham Freeway, Parrish Street businesses actually connected all the way to Fayetteville Street to the Hayti Neighborhood. ‘Urban Renewal’ displaced more than 4,000 families and 500 businesses, and the freeway cut off Hayti from what’s now considered downtown Durham12. Leaders in the community are trying to reconnect Hayti community to Black Wall Street by planning a safe walking route along Fayetteville Street to the Black Wall Street Gardens for Hayti residents.

Angier Corner

The northwest corner of West Main Street and North Magnum Street was known as Angier Corner long before it became the south part of Black Wall Street Gardens. The first mercantile store built in Durham was located here and operated by M.A. Angier and the store and corner became known as Angier’s General Store and Angier’s Corner, respectively13

Looking at the northwest corner of West Main Street and Mangum Street in 1884. Angier’s General Store is the wood frame structure on the right and Morehead Bank is the small building to the left. Note the large brick building in the background (north side of Black Wall Street Gardens) and the wagons parked in between the buildings. The two large deciduous trees in the foreground do not look healthy. Photograph courtesy of Durham County Library
Looking northwest from the sidewalk along the south side of Black Wall Street Gardens and several yards to the west of where the figures are standing in the historical photograph above. Photo by Wendy Diaz October 24, 2019

Brick buildings replaced the wood frame structures in the 1890’s. In 1899, 102 West Main was occupied by the Haywood King drugstore. In 1906, King sold his interest in the drugstore to D. L. Boone, and the drugstore became Haywood-Boone. In 1937, Haywood and Boone sold this store to Walgreens. Walgreens operated here throughout the mid-20th century. John Schelp a local historian, who interviewed John Loudermilk, said this was the store where Loudermilk picked up a candy bar (for his East Durham girlfriend) and flowers were on sale and inspired him to write the song “A Rose and a Baby Ruth” in 195612. These buildings were demolished around 1970 by the city as part of the Federal Urban Renewal program as they were vacant for some time and the area was developed into a park. 

What a better way to commemorate and beautify such an important and central part of Durham’s commercial legacy of its diverse communities’ industriousness than the planting of such beautiful long-lived trees and the promise of fall color in a park dedicated to black entrepreneurship during the Jim Crow Era.


  1. https://durhamnc.gov/3769/Black-Wall-Street-Gardens-Improvements
  2. https://durhamnc.gov/3912/Black-Wall-Street-Gardens
  3. https://www.newhopeaudubon.org/wp-content/themes/nhas/library/docs/native-plant-growing-guide-piedmont-nc.pdf
  4. https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a670
  5. https://extension.unh.edu/blog/urban-and-community-trees-black-gum
  6. https://durhammastergardeners.com/2015/12/21/biography-of-a-durham-finest-tree-no-2-black-tupelo-nyssa-sylvatica/
  7. https://www.heraldsun.com/news/local/counties/durham-county/article213551989.html
  8. https://legacy.durhammag.com/2019/03/31/the-revival-of-black-wall-street-filling-the-gap/
  9. http://www.opendurham.org/buildings/106-west-parrish-street
  10. http://www.opendurham.org/category/neighborhood/Downtown-Central#desc
  11. http://www.opendurham.org/buildings/sw-corner-mangum-and-parrish-109-119-n-mangum
  12. https://indyweek.com/news/durham/durham-separated-hayti-from-downtown-reconnect-black-wall-street/
  13. http://www.opendurham.org/buildings/102-104-west-main-st-angier-corner

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