October 24, 2008

Around Chapel Hill: A Stroll through Coker Arboretum

By Freda Cameron  
During our autumn day outing to Chapel Hill this week, my husband and I took a stroll through Coker Arboretum on the campus of the University of North Carolina. Coker Arboretum is located on five acres behind the Morehead Planetarium with borders along Cameron Avenue and Raleigh Road.

The Arboretum was founded in 1903 by the University's first professor of botany, Dr. William Chambers Coker. Trees, shrubs and vines that are native to North Carolina make up much of the display, but Coker also added East Asian species from the 1920s through 1940s.

The lengthy arbor that parallels Cameron Avenue is covered with Wisteria frutescens 'Amethyst Falls' that is an American variety and more restrained than the sinensis variety. This American wisteria grows in zones 5-9 and flowers here in late spring. Please note that this one doesn't have the same sweet fragrance as the sinensis variety.

One of my favorite trees in the Arboretum is the Chinese Flame-tree. This deciduous tree is hardy in USDA zones 7-9 and grows to a height between 20-30 feet and a width of 15-20 feet. The 12-24" long seed pods form in the fall after the yellow blooms in August and September. The tree flowers at an early age and the seed pods can be dried for decoration. The tree appreciates sun, but does well in a variety of soils.

A number of different hydrangea varieties billow along the shady gravel paths. There is a hydrangea macrophylla 'Blue Wave' alongside a 'Variegata' lacecap. These hydrangeas like moist soil, shade and grow well in zones 6-9. I love hydrangeas, but am unable to grow them at my current home because of the deer and full sun.

Camellias are very popular in our area. There are so many colors available that bloom in different seasons. This pale pink variety was in bloom in Coker Arboretum. If you are interested in the many varieties available, a wonderful local source, that also sells online, is Camellia Forest Nursery. For a fall blooming camellia, look for Camellia sasanqua. I've grown this variety at a previous home and it peaked in November, but sometimes the blooms lasted until December. If you are interested in producing your own tea, look for varieties of camellia sinensis.

All along the paths you'll find flowers, ferns, hellebores, irises and so many trees and shrubs to enjoy in spring, summer or fall. Bloom times will depend upon the season that you visit. There are little nooks with benches as well as open spaces of grass for picnics or the inspired artist. The Coker Arboretum has always been a quiet place during our visits; a verdant oasis in the middle of a bustling university.

Photos by Freda Cameron

Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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