Piedmont Prairies

Annabel Renwick and Maegan Luckett, Sarah P. Duke Gardens and Greg Paige, JC Raulston Arboretum

  • Friday, February 17, 2023 – 1:30 pm4:30 pm

Travel back in time to before Raleigh was on the map. The Piedmont was covered in grasslands with a few trees speckled in among the the short grasses and wildflowers growing in the sunny open landscape. Nature maintained the prairies through wildlife grazing and frequent fires. Fast forward to our current landscape with road and home construction around every corner illustrating we are living in a fast growing urban area.

How can we reconnect with what this area once looked like? Are there areas that would be feasible to re-create these piedmont prairies? What benefits come with creating prairies again? Those are some of the questions and information that will drive the presentations and spark discussion during this symposium.

flowering meadow

Join us for an afternoon of learning about our area's past flora and fauna as well as how we can incorporate this type of ecosystem into our landscapes.


Friday, February 17

1:00 pm
1:30 pm
Mark Weathington, JC Raulston Arboretum
1:45 pm
"From Prairies to Parking Lots"
Annabel Renwick and Maegan Luckett, Sarah P. Duke Gardens
2:35 pm
"Don’t Mow It, Grow It"
Greg Paige, JC Raulston Arboretum
3:20 pm
3:30 pm
Questions & Answers with Presenters
4:30 pm


Sorghastrum nutans 'Indian Steel'

"From Prairies to Parking Lots"
Annabel Renwick, Curator of Blomquist Garden of Native Plants and Maegan Luckett, Horticulturalist Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, Sarah P. Duke Gardens

During recent years there have been numerous articles reporting on the vast reduction of insect populations throughout the world. As the number of insects decline so too will the birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians that rely on these creatures as a food source, not forgetting the many plants that need insects for pollination. At Sarah P Duke Gardens, we are exploring ways to increase insect habitat by rethinking traditional garden landscapes and our approach to horticultural practice.

In 2015 we created a one-acre representation of a ‘piedmont prairie’ using plants propagated from locally collected seed. This landscape, planted with a diverse range of wild flowers and grasses, has been managed to encourage and sustain insects and other wildlife. This project gained the attention of many external groups such as HOAs, corporate organizations, landscape architects, property developers, schools, homeowners, botanical gardens and even a water treatment facility who wanted to utilize similar concepts in their landscapes. This interest encouraged us to consider whether some of the ‘prairie’ plants we were growing could be used in environmentally- challenged, urbanized landscapes such as grassed medians often found in parking lots. These medians often have poor soil with low nutrients, receive no additional irrigation other than rainfall, and are subjected to very high temperatures (often above 90F) for extended periods during a North Carolina summer. Introducing these plants into what may be many acres of ‘waste’ ground in our towns and cities could create habitats for insects and other wildlife as well as act as corridors connecting wildlife to more environmentally resourceful urban areas such as parks and gardens.

In 2019 we began our ‘pocket’ prairie experiments and in the past three years we have planted around 3000 square feet of medians in parking lots. We have been astounded at how well these plants have performed under extremely harsh conditions and amazed at the quantity of insects we have observed feeding from or laying eggs on these plants. This project has also attracted substantial attention and at this meeting we will share with you the progress of this work.

Veronia novaboracensis flowers

"Don’t Mow It, Grow It"
Greg Paige, Manager of Horticultural Operations

During his time as curator of the Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory in Charlotte, NC, Greg managed his share of "trouble spots" and developed a Piedmont Prairie. During his presentation, hear about Greg's remedy for these spots and why he chose to include a Piedmont Prairie in his management plan.

Continuing Education Credit

We are applying for continuing education credits through the North Carolina Board of Landscape Architects and the North Carolina Landscape Contractors' Licensing Board. When approved, we will update this page with more information.


Annabel Renwick

Annabel Renwick
Curator of Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Annabel Renwick became the curator of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants in 2018 prior to that she was the horticulturalist in the garden. Annabel is from Durham, England, and received her PhD from the University of Wales, Aberystwyth researching grassland communities. She went on to work as a plant research scientist at several universities as well as industry in Britain, France and Germany.

Prior to coming to North Carolina Annabel turned to her passion for gardening and trained as a garden designer at ‘The English Garden School’ Chelsea, London. The intersection of grassland communities, design of landscapes and ecological research culminated in the design, development and management of Sarah P Duke Garden’s rendition of the Blomquist Garden’s Piedmont Prairie.

Maegan Luckett

Maegan Luckett
Horticulturalist Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, Sarah P. Duke Gardens

A native of Colorado, Maegan has lived in North Carolina for about 15 years. While she misses the Rocky Mountains and the starry expanse of Western skies, she has found a home in the sweet, sunny South (hooray for warmth and green growing things!).

After spending nearly a decade being restless in the biotech industry, she is thrilled to be at Duke Gardens! In the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, Maegan is able to marry her twin passions of ecology/botany and horticulture. While she loves all of the native plants in North Carolina, she is particularly fond of the flora of the Sandhills.

Greg Paige

Greg Paige
Manager of Horticultural Operations, JC Raulston Arboretum

Greg Paige discovered his career goal early—creating and working in beautiful public gardens and sharing and teaching this passion with others. Prior to joining the JC Raulston Arboretum, Greg was the arboretum curator for Bartlett Tree Research Laboratory in Charlotte, NC. His 25-year career in public horticulture has involved work at some of the finest gardens in the country—Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont, North Carolina; the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College; the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina; the Holden Arboretum outside Cleveland, Ohio; and the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden.


Early Registration (ends Friday, January 20, 2023): $50.00 for members, $65.00 for nonmembers.

Regular Registration (Saturday, January 21 through Sunday, February 12, 2023): $65.00 for members, $80.00 for nonmembers.

Late Registration (Monday, February 13 through Thursday, February 16, 2023): $75.00 for members, $90.00 for nonmembers.


Advance registration is required. Please register online using our registration e-store (in-person program and online program).

Registration is limited and is considered complete when payment is received. Registration will close at noon on Thursday, February 16, 2023.

Program cancellations can be made up to two weeks before the program's start date. A 15% cancellation fee applies.
Ruby C. McSwain Education Center, JC Raulston Arboretum at NC State University, 4415 Beryl Road, Raleigh, North Carolina and online.
Need directions? Click here.
Free parking is available at the JC Raulston Arboretum and along Beryl Road.
Please write jcraprograms@ncsu.edu for more information about this program.