Thursday, August 24, 2017

Member Profile: Ruth Yarbrough's 'Service of Joy'

Ruth Evelyn Shipp Yarbrough
By J.S. Corser, Publisher
Durham Co. Master Gardener
Indian poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore contemplated the idea of “service of joy” in his famous quote,
   “I slept and dreamed that life was joy, 
   I woke and saw that life was duty,
   I acted and behold: duty was joy.”

Garden Club business leader Ruth Evelyn Shipp Yarbrough learned about Tagore in her college days at Ole Miss and formed her life’s mission around those words. Ruth is well-known for her 5 decades of exacting business leadership for The Garden Club of North Carolina, Inc. (GCNC) as President (1983-1985) and in numerous offices and committee chair roles for GCNC, its District 9, the South Atlantic Region (SAR) of National Garden Clubs and its Board, and also several roles for the Durham Council of Garden Clubs including Parliamentarian since 2000. What people may not know about Ruth is that she has been a formidable change agent for various improvements for Durham and North Carolina, including campaigning state and federal government for initiatives in clean air and women’s privacy laws in publishing, and is an award-winning author herself.

Ruth grew up in Red Banks, Mississippi, and earned a Baccalaureate in Science and Commerce, majoring in Auditing and Accounting, in 1946 from Ole Miss University where she met her husband Madison Yarbrough, Jr. They met in September 1945 and married November 24, 1946. The two began their careers in the 1950s in Memphis and Durham, the latter where they settled to help manage the Yarbrough family’s furniture business. Ruth had been employed as the first female, full-time accountant in Durham during that time before she began raising their young family. 

"Every organization I’ve ever been in I’ve been Treasurer. Church, everything else!” she said, adding today she does some accounting work for the Yarbrough’s furniture business.

Ruth enjoyed several media mentions in Durham
during her 50+ years tenure with garden clubs.
This image appeared in the Durham Herald in the 1960s.
In 1961, she joined the Woodlawn Garden Club of Durham that gave her a leadership outlet, with five years as President and decades of service through 2008. (Back in the 1960s she said she was stunned the group welcomed her children to accompany her to meetings and gave them their own play space!) 
Beautifying Durham became a mission for Ruth with so much available downtown and urban space for tree planting and other garden initiatives. Trees, Ruth said, are her favorite element of the garden as they have the largest presence and ability to filter air pollution and provide bird sanctuary.

“I use to lie in the swing on my Grandfather’s front porch and I was mesmerized by the beauty of trees. They had a calming effect on me and I have had a love-affair with trees to this day,” she said.

Through membership in the Durham Council of Garden Clubs, Ruth was able to be a frequent gardening advice guest on “The Peggy Mann Show” which aired midday on Durham’s ABC affiliate WTVD from 1954-1980. Individual Durham garden clubs took turns as guests on the show. Ruth said she enjoyed giving presentations for attracting birds to the garden and even once spoke on tax preparation using her accounting background. 
Receiving the 1969 "Keep America Beautiful" award for Durham.
Pictured L-R: Helen Floyd, Emma Randolph, President William May of
Keep America Beautiful, Durham Mayor Wense Garbarek and Ruth.
Her most high profile project on the Council happened in 1969, when Ruth co-chaired with Helen Floyd the application for the national “Keep America Beautiful” award for Durham. She drove the project to incorporate cleaning up urban spaces in all of Durham. Ruth noted that she enjoyed tremendous Durham media and city support for the project, even getting its own phone line for residents to call in what area they were going to clean. In addition, Ruth and Helen coordinated with Durham’s black women’s garden clubs which had not been a common practice in the 1960s. Durham subsequently won the 1969 national award. Fourteen people from Durham attended the ceremony in New York, including: Helen Floyd, Emma Randolph, President William May of Keep America Beautiful, Durham Mayor Wense Garbarek and Ruth.
Ruth recalls giving more than two decades of joyful service to The Garden Club of NC, Inc. during the 1970s-1980s. 

As Treasurer she established a permanent set of books/finance records from the yellow legal pads she inherited from previous treasurers, a monumental task in of itself. As a member of the GCNC Scholarship Committee, Ruth worked to help raise and award dozens of scholarships to Durham students. She once spoke on behalf of the GCNC at the commencement celebration of the School of Design, Landscape Architecture Department of North Carolina State University.

Ruth served as the 30th President of GCNC from 1983-85. Building upon her work for the Keep America Beautiful award, Ruth and the garden clubs traveled to Washington, D.C. during her presidency and lobbied Congress for national clean air programs and provided tree workshops in 1983 and 1985. 

Ruth (L) greeting HRH Princess Anne (R) at the "400th Anniversary of America" reception held
at the Elizabethan Gardens, Manteo, NC, in 1984.
One of the many highlights she enjoyed during her tenure as President of GCNC, was in 1984 hosting the “400th Anniversary of America” celebration for the first landing by Sir Walter Raleigh’s expedition to Roanoke. The event was held at the Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo, NC and attended by North Carolina dignitaries like Governor Jim Hunt and British dignitaries including Her Royal Highness Princess Anne. Before Ruth could receive HRH, she said the secret service had to run their customary sweep of the property. (Frogmen were in the Roanoke Sound protecting as she passed over the bridge, Ruth recalled.) Given Ruth’s family background with the furniture industry, she said she was able to help open secret compartments on a desk that they were having much trouble inspecting. One of the foreign guests, Lord Mayor of Plymouth remarked the North Carolina Elizabethan Gardens property “had better gardens than Buckingham Palace.” Another lively attendee, Sir Jeffery Gilbert who was a 9th generation from a brother of Sir Walter Raleigh, casually invited her to visit his home some time—his dwelling, unbeknown to her, was Compton Castle, the “dramatic fortified manor” in Marldon, Devon. 

Preparation for a reception of British Royalty, however, was less work than the convention planning she did as a Co-Chair for the National Garden Club’s 1993 Annual Meeting, held at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC. Ruth sat on the NGC Board and worked a total of five years organizing this particular national meeting. The keynote speaker was CBS broadcast journalist Charles Kuralt who at the time was producing his travelogue show “On the Road with Charles Kuralt.” 

Other Passions 

Ever civic-minded and an advocate for women, Ruth also stepped outside of her regular gardening organization role to lead North Carolina legislation protecting women’s privacy in publishing. The 1978 Durham Herald news story that brought her to action was a crime article involving a serial rapist attacking women and girls in the Trinity Park neighborhood. The accused attacker and the names of his victims were both published for public consumption by the newspaper. Outraged, Ruth worked with the Durham Women’s Club (of which she was a member) to lobby the NC legislature in prohibiting this practice by North Carolina media. While she has not been aware of any state statute actually passed, the names of sexual assault victims have since been absent in Durham reporting. 

Ruth’s service of joy outside gardening organizations also extends to her family legacy in the form of genealogy. She won the 2007 North Carolina Genealogical Award for her book “Remember Who You Are” which chronicled 21 families of the Yarbrough and Shipp ancestry. Ruth wrote the book from 1999-2006, long before genealogy search websites, and researched using public records from County Courthouses, libraries, graveyards, and historical archives. The index cites 3,000 references. Genealogy is a passion inherited from her mother who liked to keep as much memorabilia of family history as possible. “Remember Who You Are” is in the historical archives of in many national university libraries. Librarians and others have purchased the book from Alaska down the West Coast, through the southern Midwest, the South, up the East Coast, and at least one copy for English libraries, she said. 

Ruth also taught Sunday School in Durham consecutively for 41 years. 

Flipping through the pages of a scrapbook
made by her granddaughter.

Garden Club Organization Professional Service Highlights*

Garden Clubs
  • Ruth was a member of the Durham Woodland Garden Club beginning in 1961, serving as President five years)
  • 1960s - Concurrently member of Margaret Brawley Garden Club after the Woodlawn Garden Club dropped state affiliation to GCNC
  • Present member of the Daylily Garden Club since 2008.
Durham Council of Garden Clubs
  • Ruth served as President (1990-1992), also served terms as Treasurer, Chair of Publicity; Chair of Hands Committee; Chair of Beautification Committee, and Parliamentarian from 2000-2017. 
  • Projects: Durham Rescue Mission Garden (1987-88).
District 9 of GCNC
  • Ruth Served as District Director; Chairman of Nominating Committee; and Civic Development Committee.
The Garden Club of North Carolina, Inc.
  • 30th President (1983-85); Executive Committee Chair; Treasurer; Finance Chair, Board of Governors; Chairman of Trustees eight years; Chairman of Advisory Committee; Chair of Investment Committee; Scholarship Committee member, Chair of Legislation, and Parliamentarian for six years. She is also a Life Member of the organization.
  • Winner of the Maslin Award for service in 1987.
South Atlantic Region (SAR) of National Garden Club
  • Ruth served as Treasurer, Secretary, and is a Life Member.
National Garden Club
  • Ruth was Executive Board Member, 1993 Annual Meeting Co-Chair and is a Life Member.
* The specific dates of some offices held are not available and many were concurrent.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Native Perennials with Pharmaceutical Pasts

Image result for cone flowers and bee balm
Many common perennials grown today for their ornamental value, such as
magenta-flowered  beebalm and purple coneflower (foreground), have rich medicinal histories.
By Rita Pelczar
The American Gardener, AHS
July/August 2017

For centuries, Native Americans used a wide variety of indigenous plants to treat whatever ailed them. Early European settlers followed suit, learning medicinal uses for the unfamiliar flora they encountered either by trial and error—a risky business—or from the locals. This herbal lore passed from generation to generation until the advent of modern medicine about a century ago. 

Before then, many native plants were grown in home gardens more for their medicinal usefulness than their ornamental qualities. Several of these species still grace gardens across the country today, though many people don’t realize the significant role they played in health and healing before alternative pharmaceutical options existed.

Certain ornamental North American trees and shrubs have medicinal uses, but this article will focus on herbaceous perennials. The following are some of the most garden-worthy, widely available, and historically interesting among them (see the chart on page 31 for additional selections). Please note that how to use them as herbal remedies and their medicinal efficacy are not the focus of this article; it is intended to be informational rather than instructional. 

Commercially Marketed Herbal Natives
Among the most well known and well researched medicinal native perennials are coneflowers (Echinacea spp.). Ethnobotanical studies have revealed that numerous Native American tribes used coneflowers in a variety of herbal remedies for hundreds of years. Today, millions of people around the world use echinacea-based products to bolster their immune system or to diminish the duration and severity of a cold.
The species most commonly used for these purposes are purple coneflower (E. purpurea, USDA Hardiness Zones 3–9, AHS Heat Zones 9–1), pale purple coneflower (E. pallida, Zones 3–10, 10–1), and narrow-leaf coneflower (E. angustifolia, Zones 4–9, 9–1). Health products labeled with “echinacea” often contain extracts from at least two of these species. Studies have found that each of these plants produces various chemicals with antioxidant, antimicrobial, and immune-boosting properties.
Native across eastern and central North America, these coneflowers are easy to grow, drought-tolerant, and make lovely additions to sunny spaces. Their showy flower heads, composed of pink-purple rays surrounding distinctly raised cones, attract butterflies, bees, and seed-eating birds.
They reach between two and four feet tall, and bloom all summer long.
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis, Zones 4–9, 8–4) is another widely used and well known medicinal native perennial. Historically it has been used for ailments involving mucus membranes. For example, Iroquois healers used a decoction of the root to treat whooping cough, diarrhea, stomach ailments, earache, and eye irritation. Its thick yellow rhizomes also have been used to make a dye. After early explorers exported the plant to Europe, it became popular there for medicinal purposes, too.
Because of overharvesting and habitat loss, the plant is now an endangered species across its native range from New Hampshire and Minnesota, south to Alabama and Georgia. Fortunately, many reputable nurseries now propagate and sell goldenseal for both home gardens and commercial production. It’s one of my favorite plants for a woodland garden, forming a groundcover of large, palmately lobed leaves on short stems that reach six to 12 inches tall. Small, white, tufted flowers appear in spring, followed by a showy raspberrylike fruit that appears to sit atop the leaf. Best growth occurs in a moist, moderately shady spot with slightly acidic soil.

Mint-Family Medicinals
Many native plants with herbal properties belong to the mint family (Lamiaceae). They share traits such as square stems, opposite leaves that may be aromatic, and small two-lipped flowers arranged in whorls or clusters. Those that spread with rhizomes may need a firm hand to keep them within bounds. The genus Salvia boasts quite a few North American species that are both medicinally significant and highly ornamental. From the West Coast, hummingbird or pitcher sage (S. spathacea, Zones 8–11, 10-7) inhabits the coastal hills of central and southern California.

Indigenous peoples in that region used it to treat colds and sore throats, and scientific analysis has revealed that it contains antimicrobial compounds. This plant grows about two feet tall and spreads to about three feet across. Its spikes of fruity-scented, magenta blooms begin appearing in winter in warmer regions, and continue through summer. As the common name implies, they attract hummingbirds. It prefers dappled shade, but also will adapt to full sun. Though quite drought-tolerant, a bit of irrigation helps extend the flowering season and keep the plant evergreen where winters are mild.
For more medicinal species, see full article from The American Gardener:

Reminder: Fall Board Meeting of The Garden Club of NC, Sept. 10-11

See late registration and more information:

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Are Climbing Plants Really Bad for Your House?

At a Santa Barbara, California, residence by architect Marc Appleton,
family dog Sunny sits outside the ivy-covered den. Photo by Mary E. Nichols.

We've all heard the ugly rumors: Ivy and other climbing plants will ruin the façade of your home. But according to landscape architect Kim Hoyt and a 2010 report by English Heritage and the University of Oxford, that's not always the case. In reality, it depends on where your house is and what the exterior is made of. Hoyt often tells her clients that if the plant is growing on masonry where there's good sun exposure, there shouldn't be a problem. Climbing vines are more likely to cause issues on wood siding and in damp climates; plants like Boston ivy suction onto surfaces with adhesive pads, allowing them to go up and under the wood, trapping in moisture and eventually rotting the façade.

In short, it's absolutely okay to leave the magical greenery crawling up your walls alone as long as the conditions are right. And it won't just look beautiful—the English Heritage report states, "We now have strong evidence that ivy reduces the threats of freeze-thaw, heating and cooling and wetting and drying (and associated salt weathering) through its regulation of the wall surface microclimate."

Just came to the realization that your residence isn't the best spot for a climbing vine? Hoyt assures us there are other ways to achieve a similarly verdant, old-world look. Your best bet: Grow vines up a screen or metal armature placed in front of an exterior wall to fool the eye from afar.

With the case of the climbing plants closed, here are a few of our favorite exteriors brought alive with lush foliage.
View examples of climbing plants used for architectural enhancement at:

Friday, August 4, 2017

Free Late Season Classes by Durham Co. Extension Master Gardeners

Outsmarting Critters will be offered Aug. 27 at the Durham South Regional Library.

Here is a listing of late 2017  Extension Gardener Seminars. Presentations by Durham County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers ALL CLASSES FREE!  

Planting Now For a Fall Harvest 
Saturday, August 12, 10 a.m. to noon. 
Durham Garden Center
Presented by Faye McNaull and Lynne Nelson, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteers.  Now is the right time to plan your cool weather garden.  A remarkable variety of tasty vegetables (including root crops and greens) can be happy and healthy when the temperature drops and your tomatoes and squash are all but memories.
Durham Garden Center  4536 Hillsborough Rd, Durham, NC 27705.  Requires registration. RSVP by either signing up at the store, calling the store at 919-384-7526, or emailing an RSVP to:

Planning Now for a Fall Harvest
Saturday, August 26, 10 to 11:30 a.m. 
For Garden Sake Nursery
Presented by Doug Roach, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. Now is the right time to plan your cool weather garden.  A remarkable variety of tasty vegetables (including root crops and greens) can be happy and healthy when the temperature drops and your tomatoes and squash are only memories.  It's also the time to prepare for crops that will rejuvenate your soil overwinter and those that can be harvested early next summer. We will be offering tips on simple ways to extend your growing season in the Fall.
For Garden’s Sake Nursery  9197 NC Hwy 751, Durham NC, 27713. Requires registration. To register, email or call 919-484-9759. 

Outsmarting the Critters: Dealing with Deer, Rabbits, Squirrels, Moles & Voles
Sunday, August 27, 3-4 p.m.
South Regional Durham County Library
Presented by Georganne Sebastian and Darcey Martin, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteers. Come learn about the latest techniques and tips for out-smarting the critters who dine on our Durham gardens.  
Programs at the Durham County Public Library - South Regional Branch, 4505 S Alston Ave. - registration is required. Register online at the Durham County Library website Click on "Events" to find the full calendar of events.  Go to the date of the class and sign up. You can also call the Information Desk at South Regional Library to register:  919-560-7410. 

Lawn Care
Tuesday, September 12, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Presented by Charles Murphy, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer.  Maintaining a beautiful lawn in our area is a challenge for many of us.  Extension Master Gardener Charles Murphy will discuss the pros and cons of cool season and warm season grasses, optimal lawn care for our Piedmont climate and soil.  He will introduce you to the best maintenance methods and untangle the confusing range of lawn care products.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St. - Requires Registration. Call 919-668-1707 or email        
Buy Healthy Plants and Plant Them Well
Tuesday, September 26, 6:30 to 8 p.m.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens.
Presented by Chris Apple, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. 
Healthy plants stand a better chance of thriving in your garden. This presentation will review what you should look for when purchasing and planting plants. Chris will discuss plant sources, how to evaluate a plant, how to correctly plant a tree, shrub, groundcover or perennial and then what is necessary to establish a plant.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St. - Requires Registration. Call 919-668-1707 or email

Raised Beds – If You Build Them, the Veggies Will Come
Saturday, September 30, 10 to 11:30 a.m.
For Garden Sake Nursery
Presented by Doug Roach, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteer. This class will cover the advantages of raised bed gardening, including recommendations on locating, preparing, sizing and constructing the bed.  Doug will also offer helpful tips on using journals to record plant successes and failures, crop rotation, companion planting, improving your soil, protection from critters, and plant support. He will discuss such potential problems and pitfalls as contaminated beds or pest infestations.     
For Garden’s Sake Nursery  9197 NC Hwy 751, Durham NC, 27713. Requires registration. To register, email or call 919-484-9759. 

Straw Bale Gardening 
Tuesday, February 27, 2018, 6:30 to 8 p.m. 
Sarah P. Gardens
Presented by Georganne Sebastian and Darcey Martin, Durham County Extension Master Gardener volunteers. Growing a successful vegetable garden is challenging enough if you have terrific soil in which to plant, but with poor soils it can be virtually impossible.  Straw Bale Gardening allows anyone, even those with the worst soil conditions, to grow a terrific garden that is productive and much less labor intensive.  Let us teach you how! 
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, 420 Anderson St. - Requires Registration. Call 919-668-1707  or email

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

August Calendar of Triangle Gardening Programs

See a comprehensive listing of educational horticultural programs around the Triangle during the month of August on Triangle Gardener: