Garden Tours to Enjoy at Home

In the weeks since stay-at-home orders went into place, museums, opera companies and institutions around the world have made their art accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Well, that’s all well and good but, I’d rather visit a garden, wouldn’t you? That is  possible, thanks to the sites and resources listed below.  

In North Carolina

Audobon North Carolina is hosting a virtual Field Trip this Saturday, April 18 from 9 –to 10:30 a.m. via Facebook live. Nesting pelicans, singing songbirds and backyard owls are the stars. Tag along at

Via their Facebook page, Durham’s Sarah P. Duke Gardens posts videos of their staff demonstrating best practices for home gardening. To date, topics have included planting, tree pruning and  dividing perennials.  The videos are several minutes in length.

Mark Weathington is the director of J. C. Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh. He is presenting an hour-long video lecture via Zoom each Wednesday at 3 p.m., Midweek with Mark. The lectures are being recorded so you can watch later if you’d like.  Learn more.  

Native plant landscapes are the highlight of the live video feed on the website homepage of the North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill. (Scroll down the page a bit.)  The Plant Power Podcast is also worth a listen.

Take a virtual trip to the mountains and visit Arborcrest Gardens, a 25-acre ornamental plant evaluation garden in Boone. There is a short aerial video plus photo galleries for every season. Learn more

a little farther from home

The Missouri Botanical Garden is a fabulous place to visit, even if only virtually.  There are dozens of virtual tours, aerial drone videos and videos of featured flowers to enjoy. Their YouTube channel is robust. Learn more

The Brandywine Valley near Philadelphia is home to some wonderful public gardens and, there, spring has just sprung. (So we get to enjoy it all over again.)

The virtual tour of Mt Cuba Center is a most realistic walking tour of this exquisite native plant conservation garden. Learn more

Our Gardens Your Home is an online, curated selection of ways to experience the best of Longwood Gardens from home. It is updated weekly. Learn more

Chanticleer Garden is a colorful, contemporary garden within a historic setting. Never been to Chanticleer? Then you’ll want to go on the virtual tour first, then poke around the more educational offerings such as pruning a boxwood hedge or planting an asparagus bed. Learn more

Go abroad

If you like tulips, head to the Netherlands. Or to the YouTube channel of Keukenhof Holland for a bold glimpse of 7 million bulbs, 800 varieties! Learn more.

London is home to the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and they have a YouTube channel, too. Fifteen of the videos are less than one month old.  Learn more.

Get educated

Plants, Pests and Pathogens is an educational offering from NC State Extension. It’s a series of 90-minute  webinars that are recorded and available to the public. Follow the link to view an index of recordings by date that lists speaker and topic for presentations going back to 2009. Learn More.

Curious about land conservation? Triangle Land Conservancy has hosted webinar conversations with their conservation staff. All are recorded and posted on their website. Learn more

Plant Knowledge

As you are introduced to plants that you might like to add to your own garden, visit NC Extension Plant Toolbox. This online database of thousands of plants will show you which plants will grow best in your landscape. You can search for a plant by its common name or its scientific name. Then read about each plant’s growing requirements, potential disease and insect problems, and scores of other pieces of information useful to deciding if the plant will thrive wherever you live in North Carolina. Learn more.

This list was compiled by Extension Master Gardener Volunteers who serve Durham County. We wish you happy travels from the comfort and safety of your home.

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

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.

Durham Master Gardener Program News

Public Events
Is your community planning a feast, fair or festival? Add to the excitement by inviting the Master Gardeners to staff a table at which your guests can have their gardening questions answered. Our “Ask an Expert” program travels all over Durham County to provide this service. Call 919-560-0528 to make a request or learn more.   

Soil Sampling
Statewide, the soil sampling kits and associated paperwork are now available in Spanish and English! Locally, you may pick them up at 721 Foster Street in Durham from the Durham County Master Gardener office.

The season for free soil samples is coming to a close next month. The last day that samples will be collected at 721 Foster Street is November 25, 2019. From December 1, 2019 through March 31, 2020 residents will be responsible for delivery of their soil samples to the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences in Raleigh and paying for their soil to be tested ($4.00 per box).  Extension will resume accepting soil samples on March 19, 2020. There is much to gain by testing your soil! Learn more.

New Partnership with HUB Farm
Durham County Master Gardeners now serve The Hub Farm, a 30-acre farm, forest, and aquatic educational center in Durham whose mission is to improve the academic achievement and well-being of students in Durham Public Schools through experiential outdoor learning. Hub Farm engages students, teachers, and the greater Durham community in environmental stewardship, health and nutrition, and career development. The farm is a program of Durham Public Schools Career-Technical Education Department and is guided by a small staff and advisory board. It is located at 117 Milton Road. Learn more about Hub Farm.

Edible Plants Sale in April
The addition of a greenhouse at Briggs Avenue Community Garden has enabled on-site seed-starting to flourish. The gardeners hope to share their bounty of seedlings of edible plants at an Earth Day event in Durham in 2020. Stay tuned for more information!

NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox
Though still a work in progress, the North Carolina Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox is a great resource. It contains detailed descriptions and photographs of 3,311 plants that grow in and around North Carolina. You can search for a plant by its common name or its scientific name. Use the “Find a Plant” feature to select a plant for a specific location, or  try “Identify a Plant” to determine the name of a plant based on its flower and leaf characteristics.

The primary goal of the plant database is to help consumers select plants that will bring them joy, provide a valuable function in their landscape, and thrive where planted. Users are encouraged to consider year-round functionality and potential disease and insect problems as part of their selection process. Access the database at now and in the future. It will only get better!

— A. Laine

From Boll to Yarn: Teaching Kids About Cotton

by Ariyah Chambers April, EMGV intern

Extension Master Gardener Volunteers commit to spreading research-based gardening practices within our communities. One of the ways we share knowledge is by teaching kids (grades K through 5) in afterschool 4-H programs across Durham County.

I spent most of my own grade school years in South Carolina. Teachers took us on field trips to nearby cotton fields to learn about the state’s socio-political and agricultural histories. Holding cotton stalks in my young hands—gently, because we all know what happens if not—my appreciation developed for the intense drudgery required to pick and process cotton before modern machinery became widespread.

It occurred to me to create a cotton lesson for the local 4-H kids, replete with actual cotton stalks, bolls, and fiber samples (after all, show-and-tell is much better received than a PowerPoint presentation… no matter the age group). A few email exchanges later with the North Carolina State University Textiles Building staff, I drove out to Raleigh to pick up some samples they kindly offered to fortify my cotton lesson.

NCSU’s Zeis Textiles Extension (ZTE)  manages five world-class “TexLabs,” all critical to the textile and apparel industries by enabling cutting-edge research and product development. Experienced professionals and faculty at each lab assist students and industry partners in reaching their academic or industry goals.

The Spinning Lab—one of ZTE’s five TexLabs—is designed to help meet the needs of the textile industry in applied research. The lab’s state-of-the-art machinery converts cotton fibers (less than 65mm) into spun yarn. Lab services include evaluating the processability of various fibers and running trials to determine optimum machine settings and speeds.

I recently joined Senior Lab Operations Manager Tim Pleasants for a tour of the Spinning Lab. Our time together provided the opportunity to reflect on the major changes modernization has made to the U.S. textile industry. Tech advancement has streamlined equipment, fully automated much of cotton processing operations, and tremendously increased machine speeds. Tim is both an expert and an enthusiast when it comes to cotton, hailing from a Durham-based cotton family himself.

So what are the steps of modern cotton processing, from boll to yarn?

Step 1: Ginning is the opening, cleaning, and carding of cotton bolls. The opening of cotton bales at most mills is fully automated. Lint from several bales is mixed and blended together to provide a uniform blend of fiber properties. To ensure that the new high-speed automated feeding equipment performs at peak efficiency, and that fiber properties are consistent, computers group the bales for production/feeding according to fiber properties.

The blended lint is blown by air from the feeder through chutes into cleaning and carding machines that separate and align the fibers into a thin web. Carding machines can process cotton in excess of 400 pounds per hour.

The web of fibers at the front of the card is then drawn through a funnel-shaped device called a trumpet, providing a soft, rope-like strand called a sliver (pronounced SLY-ver).

STEP 2: Drawing, or sliver processing, is when as many as eight strands of sliver are blended together. Drawing speeds have increased dramatically over the past few years and now can exceed 40,000 feet per minute.

STEP 3: Combing makes cotton fibers nice by making strands more parallel and removing short fibers. This process can add light crimping for more surface cohesion of fibers. 

STEP 4: Spinning, or yarn making, can happen in one of several ways:

Ring spinning is slower than more modern spinning systems—and the end resulting bobbins don’t hold a lot of yarn in comparison to the output of other spinner types—but is a dependable process for producing high quality yarn. Ring spinning first requires roving, which draws the slivers out even more thinly and adds a gentle twist; this process makes the fiber tighter and thinner until it reaches the yarn thickness (or count) needed for weaving or knitting fabric. The yarns can be twisted many times per inch.

Open-end or rotor spinning uses rotors that, totally automated, can spin 10 times as fast as a ring spinning machine. Rotor spinning is becoming more widespread as it eliminates the roving process; yarn is produced directly from sliver, saving time. The result is a cone of yarn that goes on to create cotton fabric that is coarser than yarn from ring spinning creates.

Air Jet & Vortex spinning (not pictured) eliminate the need for roving, similar to rotor/open-end spinning. Air jet and vortex spinning also address the key limitation of both ring and open-end spinning: mechanical twisting. This method uses compressed air currents to stabilize the yarn, faster and more productive than any other short-staple spinning system. The Vortex spinner at NCSU is its newest spinner and became commercially available in the 2000s.

STAGE 5: Twisting happens after spinning, when the yarns are tightly wound around bobbins or tubes and are ready for fabric forming. In case you’re wondering, ply yarns are two or more single yarns twisted together, while cord is plied yarn twisted together.

You can see this and more machinery in action on the Spinning Lab’s website. The equipment’s humming brings a Zen-type comfort that the resulting cotton fiber does, too.

For the 4-H cotton lesson, Tim Pleasants kindly gave me sliver and other samples representing the different phases of cotton processing. I have no doubt these samples, held in the hands of the students, will awaken them to the complexity of textile production. It’s not simply magic that the cotton cultivated in fields turns into their sweatshirts and jeans—it’s thanks to necessity, technology, and human ingenuity we have the cotton to create everything from dollar bills to baseballs.

All photos were taken by Ariyah April.

Resources & Further Reading

Tim Pleasants, Senior Lab Operations Manager for Zeis Textiles Extension at NCSU