If you had written the following books: “The Ferns of North Carolina”, “The Grasses of North Carolina”, “Flowers of the South: Native and Exotic” and “A Guide to the Spring Flora of the Lower Piedmont of North Carolina” then you would know a thing or two about the vegetation of the southeastern USA. Hugo Leander Blomquist had a passion for wild plants and wrote all of the above. One part of the beautiful Duke Gardens is a wildlife garden that back in 1968 was named the Blomquist garden; a living memorial to one of the great American field botanists of the 20th century.
Within the Blomquist garden there is an ongoing project to restore a small patch of Piedmont prairie. The once widespread habitat was managed by native Americans using fire to create hunting habitats suitable for large herbivores, especially bison, as well as for livestock. North Carolina was described by early European travellers as ‘savanna’; very different from the landscape of forests and agriculture today.
We are given a tour of the garden by Annabel Renwick, the Curator, who talks about the once widespread meadow plants of the prairie and her hunt to find species in the vestiges of grassland found in wayleaves and along road verges, growing them on with some expert help and then planting them out and monitoring the results. An extraordinary and imaginative project, providing an important story to tell to the visitors and school groups.
Our visit in late May is timed to coincide with a family wedding and not the flowering time of temperate plants; the spring flora is almost over and the summer flowers, especially the Solidagos a mass of tall green leaf yet to burst into yellows and golds and thronged with insects.
The return of species-rich grasslands where today there are even-aged stands of forest would be an interesting and valuable project to run on a larger scale having proved the techniques at the Blomquist; something not dissimilar to the restoration of European dry and wet heaths on commercial pine monocultures in north west Europe.
There are also collections of native plants such as Trilliums (think of a colourful Herb Paris), exotic gingers and carnivorous plants of the wetlands. The diversity is intoxicating.
The visit is a visual treat; a slow walk past myriad trees, shrubs and plants, some related to familiar European species, with neat name tags and professional commentary. The tour is the most wonderful information overload, like a quiz game conveyor belt of endless beautiful prizes. Thank you Annabel.