Moore meets Matisse

Julieta Sherk and August de Hertogh in their garden outside the NC Museum of Art

Getting the alliums and daffodils to reach peak bloom in time for the festival was among the challenges Julieta Sherk and August de Hertogh overcame in building their Art in Bloom garden.

Blooming in April in the shadow of an abstract bronze sculpture at the North Carolina Museum of Art was an undulating five-pointed star of golden daffodils, twinkling with purple alliums.

The garden, designed by NC State University’s Julieta Trevino Sherk, came together Monday April 4 as students in her construction landscape design class worked alongside volunteers and professionals from Myatt Landscape Concepts. Together, they planted 2,000 daffodils, 400 alliums – or ornamental onions – along with sod and hostas in the bed that surrounds Henry Moore’s ‘Spindle Piece’ sculpture between the museum’s old and new buildings.

The garden – as striking as Henri Matisse’s cut-outs in its shape, color and contrast – was part of Art in Bloom, the museum’s annual festival of art and flowers, held April 7 to 10.

The museum asked for NC State’s help with the festival two years ago, and that’s when Sherk, a landscape architect and associate professor of horticultural science, decided to take on what she considered a substantial challenge – creating something spectacular that would be in peak bloom precisely for the week of a festival.

Striking purple alliums complement the Ice Follies daffodils, which fade from bright yellow to white over time.
Striking purple alliums complement the Ice Follies daffodils, which fade from bright yellow to white over time.

“As a landscape architect, I’m very good at the engineering – the technical aspects. I know and love plants. I’m strong at artful designs and grading and drainage,” Sherk said. “But I don’t often get to do landscape art; there was this little artist locked up inside me who wanted to do this.”

To make the garden possible, she turned to Dr. August de Hertogh, former head of NC State’s Department of Horticultural Science. The emeritus professor happens to be one of the world’s leading experts flower bulb physiology, and he had extensive experience using greenhouses and coolers to precisely control temperatures in ways that force bulbs to bloom at specific times.

While De Hertogh and Sherk had confidence that they could get the daffodils to bloom at the right time, they worried about the alliums, because there is no data of them ever being forced. Together with research specialist Ingram McCall and the help of friends and family, they carefully monitored and nurtured the allium bulbs from the time they arrived in October from the Netherlands until they were ready for planting last week. Similarly, they watched over the Ice Follies daffodils, which came from the International Bulb Co. in Montvale, N.J. in September.

Students, professionals and volunteers gathered on Monday, April 4, to construct the garden.
Students, professionals and volunteers gathered on Monday, April 4, to construct the garden.

More than just a popular picture-taking spot for the festival, the garden proved to be horticultural science achievement that gave students knowledge and experience ranging from flower bulb physiology to garden design and construction. Students from two of Sherk’s undergraduate classes – her fall planting design class, in addition to the spring construction class – were involved throughout the process.

And that student involvement is what makes the garden special, De Hertogh noted.

“Horticulture is hands on. You can’t get away from it,” he said. “And this project gave students real-world opportunities for hands-on learning.”

– D. Shore