Gardens & Arboretums
A Stroll Through Coker Arboretum
Coker Arboretum provides garden interest in all seasons.
In spring, there is a delightful daffodil display, as well as flowering trees and shrubs such as dogwoods, cherry trees and native azaleas. For a cool retreat in summer, stroll among the hydrangeas and flowering perennials that light up the shaded pathways. Camellias and native wildflowers, such as helianthus and asters, are colorful accents below the autumn leaf display. Year-round, the conifer collection provides structure and greenery, taking center stage in the winter along with mass displays of blooming hellebores.
Coker Arboretum in Chapel Hill is on the campus of the University of North Carolina. The 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.
A favorite tree in the Arboretum is the Koelreuteria bipinnata or 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 seedpods 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.
Camellias are very popular with varieties that bloom in different seasons. A wonderful North Carolina source for camellias, that also sells online, is Camellia Forest Nursery. For a fall blooming camellia, select Camellia sasanqua. The spring-blooming variety is Camilla japonica, while white, green or oolong tea can be harvested from varieties of Camellia sinensis.
All along the paths you'll find flowers, ferns, hellebores, irises as well as many trees and shrubs to enjoy in spring, summer, fall and winter. 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 is a quiet place for visits – a verdant oasis in the middle of a bustling university.
By Freda Cameron
By Freda Cameron
added: January 26, 2009
updated: March 16, 2009