Nestled in the heart of Myers Park is the beautiful Duke Mansion and gardens. The Duke Mansion, a nonprofit bed-and-breakfast inn and meeting place, is turning 100 in 2015. In celebration of this anniversary, staff are kicking off a campaign to restore and enhance the 4.5 acres of gardens.

While Buck Duke lived in the house, he built gardens, fountains and focal points for all to enjoy. Now, the gardens are open to the public.

On May 9, the establishment received the Proven Winners Signature Garden award. The Duke Mansion is the fourth designee in the country for this honor and is the only garden with this designation on the East Coast.

The Signature Garden designation was officially announced at one of the Colonnade Society’s annual events. The Colonnade Society is a group of leaders who provide foundational annual support for The Duke Mansion and The Lee Institute.

More than 140 enthusiastic supporters and prospective supporters of The Duke Mansion and The Lee Institute enjoyed a wonderful garden party including a delicious three-course dinner prepared by Executive Chef Harrison Booth. Luckily, while the weather had been threatening, the group was able to enjoy the newly refurbished Barnhardt Terrace and Nisbet Garden before getting under cover for the official announcement.

“We are so fortunate to receive this recognition,” said Cyndee Patterson, President of The Duke Mansion and The Lee Institute. “We are happy to join the other special places that have already been recognized as Signature Gardens and continue to celebrate this opportunity with our partners who have been so generous. We are building and preserving the historic legacy of The Duke Mansion and the gardens are a special part of our service to our community and our visitors and guests.”

As part of that preservation, Tom Smith of Four Star Greenhouse and Jim Lawrence with Providence Landscape Group partnered to design a conceptual plan and restore two of the gardens on the property. The first is The Barnhardt Terracewith an oval lawn panel, hydrangeas, allées of Gingko trees and pergolas on both ends for gathering. It is home to Richard Hallier’s sculpture, “Celebration of Life,” that was donated by the Silverman Family.

The second garden that has been restored is The Nisbet Garden, a gorgeous, formal rose garden with raised brick planters and a germander hedge. This is a perfect place to enjoy the serenity of the lion’s head fountain with low, brick walls and seating areas all around. In both gardens the sound of the water provides a relaxing feel despite the bustling city around it.

Laurie Durden has been hired to create a master plan tying together the new and old gardens. This will include a loop walking path that will encourage visitors to enjoy the entire garden and allow easy pedestrian access from Hermitage Road and Ardsley Road. There will be walk-in gates on both streets to provide a more public face to the garden. This will make it much easier for Charlotteans to see several of Mecklenburg Country’s Treasure Trees, some of which are reaching 100 years in age. The garden will also connect two other local parks, a privately protected park on Ardsley and Hermitage, and Edgehill Park. This connection will let visitors stroll through 15 acres of urban green space.

The Duke Mansion is launching a special fundraising campaign over the next two years to create this spectacular public garden in the heart of Charlotte by 2015. It will be a celebration for all and there will be plenty of ways for community members to give and to become involved in helping to finish this spectacular garden.

For more than 16 years, Blair Farris, a Charlotte-based landscape designer, has used her education and talents to create beautiful and interesting spaces for commercial and residential properties. Visit her website at

The Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont is one of North Carolina’s rare gems. In 1991, textile executive Daniel Jonathan Stowe bestowed a gift destined to provide beauty and joy to future generations. With the vision of a botanical garden to rival the world’s best, Stowe set aside nearly 400 acres of prime rolling meadows, woodland and lakefront property. In 1999, the Visitor Pavilion, Formal Display Gardens and Perennial Gardens opened.

Through the years, the garden master plan has been developed and meticulously maintained. Harding Stowe, the chairman of the board, described his uncle as “a person that loved nature. He had extensive flower and vegetable gardens. He loved fowl and maintained many different kinds on the property. He was ahead of his time in that everything he was associated with in growing food or raising livestock was completely organic. We have tried to maintain that at the garden.”

The gardens are extensive so plan to spend a few hours exploring. There are thousands upon thousands of bulbs, perennials, interesting shrubs and specimen trees carefully planted with allee’s, walkways and fountains. Peter Grimaldi, the Horticulture Manager said: “The Simply Summer 2013 will feature more than 100 container arrangements of colorful summer annuals emerging from massive groundcover plantings of chartreuse Sweet Potato Vine. The design is intended to create a simple contrast between a monochromatic field and bright, isolated splashes of color.”

Start your visit in the exquisite White Garden. Formal in its design, the garden is overflowing with white flowers and gray foliage. Climbing roses, iris, lambs ear and veronica delight the eye. It is a perfect place to sit and relax while taking in the beauty. Head on through the Four Seasons Garden and don’t miss the Beard Tongue or Penstemon digitalis ‘Husker Red.’ With its tall panicles of white blooms, it is a hummingbird favorite. The Canal Garden is rightly named after the water canal that flows from one fountain at the start to the larger one at the end. The Canal Garden is ever changing with fabulous perennials, annuals and native grasses. This year it will focus on pink flowers – one of my favorites. Look for the dark pink Triumph Tulip. It will be stunning.

With the Tunnel Fountain jets shooting over the walkway, the Allee Garden is a favorite of children younger and older racing back and forth with glee. False indigo, or Baptisia alba, is planted in the garden with spikes of white pea-like flowers rising above glaucus foliage. It is joined by Moss Pink or Phlox subulata, a fine textured, spreading groundcover with dainty pink to purple flowers.

One of my favorite areas is the Ribbon Garden. Water winding around a crisp lawn complements the overflowing red perennials. Don’t miss the Red Buckeye with towers of vibrant red, tubular flowers — another hummingbird favorite. The giant Aviary is incredibly interesting. It almost feels as if it could be a prop in “The Cat in the Hat.”

The different rooms of the gardens are too many to name them all, but don’t miss the Orchid pavilion. It feels as if you have entered a tropical forest when you enter. There are more than 5,000 orchids and ferns in gorgeous displays of colors and textures.

Mother’s Day weekend is a perfect time to visit the garden. Mothers get in free and there will be special treats such as yoga and Italian ice. You can reserve a picnic to enjoy in the garden with your family.

For more than 16 years, Blair Farris, a Charlotte-based landscape designer, has used her education and talents to create beautiful and interesting spaces for commercial and residential properties. Visit her website at

It’s cold and dreary outside but that doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful inside! Bulbs are easy to force in the winter. They bring the magical bloom of the outdoors inside in the dead of winter.

My favorite bulb to force is the Amaryllis. The gorgeous blooms can be up to seven inches wide and are simple to force. I bought mine from The Home Depot right after Thanksgiving. They were only $2.50 a bulb. Originally in hideous plastic pots, use your imagination and think past the plastic. When you are buying bulbs open the boxes in the store and pick the bulbs that have two buds peaking out. It doesn’t matter if they are curved or bent over. Once out of the box and in the sunlight, the stems will straighten up quickly.

I like a mass of one color. As you can see in the pictures, I grouped five Amaryllis Red Lion bulbs together. Though gorgeous at Christmas, they can be used as festive centerpieces to brighten up February. White Amaryllis such as Intokazi are stunning and elegant with giant white flowers. Or if you can’t decide, mix different varieties together for added interest. Apple Blossom or Blossom Peacock are light pink and white. They look fantastic mixed in with reds and whites.

Once you have your bulbs, choose a container that can hold three to five bulbs. A round or rectangular glass bowl or vase will work. Choose one with taller sides to give the stems support later. Ceramic or terra cotta bowls also work but make sure to put them in a waterproof liner so the water doesn’t ruin your table.

I like to plant my bulbs in water and rocks only. They can be planted in soil, but it is messier and can sometimes cause the bulb to rot if the soil is too damp. Rocks are a very easy, clean way to plant bulbs. You can use black or white river rock that are 1/2-2 inches wide. Put these in the bottom of the container. Next you will want to clean the Amaryllis bulbs. Pull off any dead roots and the dark brown paper around the outside. These are not critical to the bulb and will rot and create bacteria in the water.

Nestle the bulbs down in the rocks to give them support. You will want to put only about a half-inch to an inch of water in the container. Only the bottom of the bulb needs to be touching the water.
You do need a spot with direct sun or bright light. When you water the bulbs every few days, rotate the container so the stems will grow straight. They tend to grow in the direction of the light. Depending on how mature your bulbs were when you bought them, it usually takes about four to eight weeks for the first bloom to open. Because mother nature is wonderful and no bulb is the same, you will have blooms for weeks after. When the blooms on a stalk wither, just cut the entire stalk off by the bulb.

When they are in full bloom, the tops will be very heavy. If they start to fall over you can weave twine between the stems or use curly willow to give them support. Amaryllis bulbs can be planted in the garden in a protected area. They really are best in warmer climates but I have had success with a few in the garden. So now is the time to head out to the store and get your Amaryllis bulbs started so your February will be gorgeous indoors!

For more than 16 years, Blair Farris, a Charlotte-based landscape designer, has used her education and talents to create beautiful and interesting spaces for commercial and residential properties. Visit her website at

For more tips onplanting Amaryllis and varieties:
Tip: When choosing Amaryllis bulbs, find the largest ones with the most buds peaking out. They will bloom the quickest. Don’t be hesitant to open the boxes at the store and look inside.

Now is the time to sit by the fire with a cup of tea or glass of wine and peruse the garden catalogs looking for new perennials and dreaming of garden projects to take on in the spring. Winter is the perfect time to plan but it’s also a time to enjoy nature’s delights in a winter garden.

While planning, think about the structure of your garden. There are many different levels, layers and planes. In the context of a garden, structure can refer to a particular structure like a pergola or to the trees that line a garden room. The trees are the upright layer of the garden.Shrubs are the next layer. These can be evergreen or they can be deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in winter. Evergreen shrubs’ qualities are obvious and invaluable: They give year-round interest to the garden. Tall evergreens such as Arborvitae, Cypress, Osmanthus and Hollies are wonderful screens for privacy. They lend a much needed verticality to the garden.

Fragrant Osmanthus is a treat. It can perfume the entire yard from October to January. Smaller shrubs such as Boxwoods, Otto Luyken Laurel, Rhododendron and Azaleas give the garden depth while still providing structure. They can also be used as hedges to outline a special area or signify an entry.

Many evergreens, like Azaleas and Hollies, have the added value of blooming or producing berries that can be used in arrangements. Every garden needs Camellias, which can bloom from August to May. There are hundreds of varieties: tall, short, double bloom, single bloom, those that are good for hedges or for foundation plantings.

Deciduous shrubs, which are usually the type that bloom or berry, are a must. Winterberry loses its leaves but has vibrant red berries that birds love. The red berries are fabulous against white snow, but more often than not the birds have already gobbled them up. The Beauty bush displays striking juicy purple berries for the birds to enjoy. Planted in mass, it is a wonderful addition to the garden.

Remember to incorporate early spring bloomers into your garden like Forsythia and Quince. Even if it is still cold outside, these blooms let us know that Spring is on the way.

Perennials can be the showstoppers of the garden but they need the structure of the evergreens to truly live up to their potential. One of my favorite winter perennials is the Lenten Rose, or Helleborus orientalis. This plant is a work horse. It’s an evergreen, low and erect, that flowers profusely in January when nothing else is blooming. It often remains until April. Lenten Rose is shade tolerant, does not need pruning and once established is quite easy to grow. It will bloom in the garden for years to come.

Ornamental grasses also provide interest. Pink Muhly grasses’ ephemeral pink plumes in the fall are so fine that they looked airbrushed. The birds feast on their seeds and they stay long through the winter.

Don’t forget how important the garden floor is: whether it is a flat lawn panel or a woodland walk covered in Ajuga. Think how we ponder over our hard wood or stone floors. The garden floor should be given the same amount of attention.Last but not least — an easy way to brighten a winter garden and brighten our spirits is Annuals. No winter garden is complete without Pansies and Ornamental Cabbage. Inexpensive and easy to grow, Annuals can be planted in pots for instant beauty. If you want to take it a step further, plant bulbs in the pot underneath the Annuals for a surprise in February or March.

In the picture above with the snow, you can see how all the elements of the garden lend to the structure of the garden. It is especially evident when it snows and everything is blanketed in white. I am hoping for a snow-filled day this winter so I can sit by the fire and daydream about my next garden project.

For more than 16 years, Blair Farris, a Charlotte-based landscape designer, has used her education and talents to create beautiful and interesting spaces for commercial and residential properties. Visit her website at

For the reader
“The Garden in Winter: Plant for Beauty and Interest in the Quiet Season.”
By Suzy Bales

Garden Catalogs
My bible for new plants and perennials is the Wayside Gardens catalog. Order one at 800.845.1124 or go online to

Flower arranging doesn’t need to be difficult or stressful. Shopping, parties and family create enough stress. I know. Flower “arranging” and “easy” aren’t usually in the same sentence, but here are a few steps to create beautiful arrangements for your table in less than 30 minutes. A few small but stunning vases set on a table can be gorgeous but are not nearly as difficult to arrange as a large centerpiece.
Step 1
Choose your vases. They can be identical or made of the same material, but different sizes. Think of a silver mint julep cup as the perfect size — not too big and not too little.
Step 2
Choose the flowers. In this situation less is more! Pick three kinds of flowers and stop. Sticking with a monochromatic palette is easier. For example, red roses, hot pink Gerber daisies and red tulips look beautiful together. They aren’t exactly the same color and the different petal shapes give the arrangement depth. I used one bunch of roses, two bunches of tulips, two bunches of Gerber daisies and one bunch of a filler called Hypericum. Stay within your budget. Less-expensive flowers can make a big impact in mass, but never use baby’s breath. The Blossom Shop always has freshly cut flowers marked 30-percent-off that you can arrange yourself.
Step 3
Prepare the flowers by stripping them of their leaves and possibly thorns. This will help to eliminate bacteria that can build up in the water. It will keep the flowers looking fresher for longer.
Step 4
Put two or three of the flowers in your left hand and then keep adding flowers with your right hand, trying to keep the flowers at the same level. Group them in bunches for more impact.
Step 5
As you hold the flowers, wrap some twine around the stems up close to the flowers to keep them secure. This step can be skipped, but it does help to keep the flowers in place when you put them in the vase. This is especially important when you have a container with a larger mouth.
Step 6
Cut the stems off at the same level with your right hand. Test the stems in the vase to see if they are OK. You might need to recut if they are too long.
Step 7
The arrangements don’t have to be perfect. Once you put them in the vases, you can fill in with extra flowers where there are holes. Voilà! You have a table arrangement. Because the vases are smaller and the stems short, make sure to keep the vases filled up with water.
If you are not interested in doing it yourself and you want something absolutely fabulous, call The Blossom Shop. Ted Todd and Debbie Sacra, my longtime friends and owners of the Blossom Shop, taught me the basics of flower arranging. Nineteen years ago, when I was a newlywed, I had just moved to Charlotte and knew no one so they took pity on me and gave me a job arranging flowers. I consider their flower-arranging skills an art form. With an eye for color and scale, they create stunning arrangements that can transform a dining room or ballroom.

For more than 16 years, Blair Farris, a Charlotte-based landscape designer, has used her education and talents to create beautiful and interesting spaces for commercial and residential properties. Visit her website at

Garden rooms, large or small, are a way to give outdoor spaces a unique personality. Garden designers have long known that designing more intimate spaces or garden rooms make the yard seem bigger and more full of wonder, mystery and discovery. And if you can’t see the entire space from your home, it can become even more magical, enticing the curious to venture out to explore the garden.

Garden rooms can be created in many ways, including defining it with walls, hedges, plant material and hardscapes. But first, think about how you will use the area. Is it dining, entertaining, contemplation, intimate relaxation or do you really need a place for your kids to kick the soccer ball?

You don’t want your garden room to be too big. So when you consider creating a dining or entertaining space, make sure that it suits your needs and that it can accommodate your outdoor furniture. Measure your furniture and add about 36 inches around the seating area so it is easy to access and move around. Arrange vignettes so that guests can sit near each other for more intimate conversations.It is wonderful to have a nice brick or blue stone terrace underfoot but there other less expensive materials that can be used in elegant ways. Try a beautiful, Alabama brown pea gravel or scored concrete. If there is a need for more seating, a low seat wall serves two-fold, offering extra seating and enclosure.

Also consider structure when you are creating a garden room — there are many ways to accomplish that. For example: a group of eight, tall, hornbeam trees could be used to enclose your seating area or a pergola placed at the back of the yard could draw your eye through the garden. Make sure that the structure is proportional to your house. You don’t want something that is too big and overpowering or too small and wimpy.

I recently gave a small garden space a complete overhaul and I applauded the owners for wanting an entry that is more private. They live very close to Carmel Road. We designed a formal, bluestone courtyard garden and used a fountain as the focal point. Boxwoods and climbing roses anchored an existing, massive brick wall and four Crepe Myrtles in the corners. The courtyard is hidden from the public by an arborvitae hedge. When guests arrive, they enter between the hedges, giving them a sense of crossing from public space into private. And they don’t see the fountain until they have completely arrived, giving them a gift of the unexpected.

One of my favorite projects is on a small lot in Dilworth. We divided the backyard into four distinct areas: children’s play area, lawn panel, dining space and lounging and grilling location. By separating the areas with boxwood hedges, you move from one area to another to create a sense of a larger space. The dining and sitting area with a firepit is enclosed by columnar trees to give it height and privacy, creating a “room” with tall walls. A large willow oak in the neighbor’s yard provides shade and an extremely high “ceiling.”

Wing Haven is a perfect example of an exquisite garden designed using different rooms. It is one of Charlotte’s jewels. Elizabeth Clarkson planted the first seeds in the garden in 1927 and it has become “a pocket of paradise open to all,” as written in the Wing Haven Guide. It is impossible to see everything at once. You must roam from garden room to garden room, each one enticing you into the next. With different plant material, hedges, shade, sun, fountains, reflecting pools and focal points, the Clarksons created a sense of place for birds, animals and people alike. I won’t go on too much because I will be writing an entire column on Wing Haven in the spring, but I will tell you that it is not a garden to be missed.

For more than 16 years, Blair Farris, a Charlotte-based landscape designer, has used her education and talents to create beautiful and interesting spaces for commercial and residential properties. Visit her website at

For the reader
A Small Garden Designer’s Handbook by Roy Strong. Don’t let the name fool you. You don’t have to have a small garden to love this book. It gives you great ideas about structure for a garden

Tip of the Month
Gather all of the falling leaves and start a compost pile. Turn it every few days and let the leaves break down. You can add manure or other organic matter to speed up the decomposition. In the spring, sprinkle this in garden beds. The plants will love the natural compost. And don’t forget to plant your bulbs!

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