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Garden Talk

Arched trellis covered with vines in the Discovery Garden

Horticultural Highlight: Summer in the Vegetable Garden

portrait of Lindsey Luks in the Discovery Garden

In this series, the staff of Duke Gardens highlights plants you’ll find within our 55-acre living collection. This week Doris Duke Center Gardens horticulturist Lindsey Luks shares what delights her about this season.

There is no place like the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden.  Each of the more than half a dozen pocket gardens within contains its own exciting seasonal display and splendor. While I love each of the seasons as they come and pass, I have a special affinity for this garden in the summer.

As soon as you enter through the garden gates, you’re surrounded by the sounds of crickets and cheerful insects that reside in the unmowed vegetation of the orchard floor. Once the heat of summer really sets in, the flowers sown in the orchard come to life, opening in a cosmic colorful display of every shade you can imagine. Fluttering butterflies, bees and other native pollinators rely on this part of the garden for forage and habitat.

A winding path passes the industrious bee hives on one side and the pollinator garden on the other.  During the later summer months, native goldenrod (Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’) blooms golden yellow along the back of the pollinator garden and crosses over into the herb garden. The herb garden is a patchwork of perennials, shrubs, and annual herbs of every use from medicinal to culinary.  Annual herbs featured in the herb garden this year are curly parsley, several basil varieties, and calendula in shades of orange, yellow and red. At the top of this path, is a magnificent old barn, one of the best places to be during a summer rain shower, with its melodious tin roof. The 100-year-old barn is the sentinel to the tenth of an acre vegetable garden that sits atop the gentle slope of the Brody Garden.

Okra flowers and pods

So much magic happens on this tenth of an acre. Right now in the vegetable garden, there are carpets of melons and squash, their bright yellow flowers presenting themselves to pollinators from underneath luscious green leaves and abundant fruits hiding within it all. Tall okra with golden yellow blossoms and long, pointed fruits tower above the spread of melons and squash, along with waist-high glossy eggplants in shades of purple, white, and purple and white striped. Sweet corn that was harvested earlier in the summer turns brown with the closing of the season, and sunflowers nod their seed-laden heads.

Feeling spicy? This year, we have created a pepper display comprising peppers from all over the world. They are arranged in raised beds from hottest to sweetest, with corresponding signs explaining the origin of peppers and the Scoville scale, the unit of measurement for heat in peppers.  Peppers love the heat of the summer, so they typically come into their full potential once the temperatures reach the upper 80s and will bear fruit nonstop until frost.

Two archways are covered in vines, including climbing tiny pumpkins (Curcurbita ‘Jill-Be-Little’), cucumbers, green beans and vibrant burgundy long beans (Vigna unguiculata ‘Thai Purple Podded’), along with cherry tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Super Sweet 100’), which we have woven each week through the wire trellis to enhance fruit production and show off the gorgeous jewel-like chains of red fruits. Along the pergola at the very back of the garden are tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Granadero’) climbing up into the grape vines, bearing dozens of clusters of roma-type tomatoes.

There is nothing like the magic of a summer vegetable garden. In this small space we have been able to harvest and donate over 2,700 pounds of produce so far this year, exemplifying what you can do with little space. We work closely with local hunger relief and nutrition education organizations to provide fresh food to our community several times a week. Every day there is something new ripening, something new to plant or harvest, and the smells of the seasons changing. Here in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, we strive to bring the experience and expertise from our own trial and error to those who come to visit us.

More Garden Talk highlights

Photos: Climbing vines on an arched trellis in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden (top); okra flowers and pods (Abelmoschus esculentus 'Grandma Edna's Cherokee Long Pod', middle right); harvested eggplants (Solanum melongena  'Annina'), and eggplant (S. melongena 'Barbarella') growing amidst melons and zinnias in the garden (below). All photos by Lindsey Luks.


Harvested eggplant Eggplant plants