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Dragon Brings Landscape to Life

Each semester in Will Hooker’s small-scale landscape design studio, students build a sculpture made primarily of bamboo. The increasingly ambitious projects give students hands-on experience with construction and help them learn how to turn design ideas into reality. The studio is a required course in the Department of Horticultural Science’s Landscape Design Option.

This spring, the JC Raulston Arboretum commissioned Hooker’s class, co-taught this semester with Anne Spafford, to build a sculpture to commemorate the opening of the new walk in its Asian Valley during this year’s Gala in the Garden.

Dragon's head rising from grass.
The dramatic sculpture is made primarily of bamboo.

As usual, everyone in the class, including Hooker and Spafford, submitted their ideas for the sculpture in the form of sketches. The class chose the idea submitted by Justin Durango, a Chinese dragon flowing in and out of the ground plane, and consisting of a 9-foot-tall head, three body loops, and an 8-foot-long tail with a rotating double spiral ending.

From Grove to Garden

The class harvested over 100 bamboo culms from a grove in Durham. After cleaning the culms, the class divided up into teams and proceeded to build the various component parts, with the construction taking place in front of Kilgore Hall.

In total, the Asian dragon project took 15 days to build and install, with the class and 26 other volunteers putting in close to 1,200 hours of labor to complete the task.

“All involved were totally exhausted but very pleased with the results,” Hooker says. “The Asian dragon is a must see.”

Meet the Students

  • Justin Durango
  • Alex Cooley
  • Herb Ritter
  • Caitlin Davis
  • Brandon Ramos
  • Patrick McLaurin
  • Junyan Zhou
  • Kurtis Durrant


  • Leena McDonald
  • Mercy Rognstad
  • Jaclyn Mills
  • Kate VanVorst
  • Katie McKnight
  • Kevin Kearney
  • Dorian Perez
  • Chris Tharp
  • Christian Britt
  • Ryan Galloway
  • Michael Edwards
  • Ben Jones
  • Katherine Hoke
  • Allen Clineff
  • Lauren Sammis
  • Tony Mayer
  • Carrie Hutchens
  • Allison Durham
  • Alana Stanley
  • Don Edwards
  • Vann Fussell
  • Phoebe Andrews
  • Amanda Wilkins
  • Jessica Adams
  • Tom Brown
  • Will Ericson

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  1. What a delight to stumble upon your dragon in our visit to the Arboreteum today! Many thanks to the students, faculty members, and volunteers for such a wonderful sculpture!

  2. my new project is about to create a small house or a living space.Dimensions given to me are 10′ by 10′.The living space or small place to live should be specially made of recycled material so i want help that can someone plz suggest me the material i should use in creating a small squatter…..

  3. This is an AWESOME sculpture and absolutely wonderful! Kudos to all involved. I MUST see it in person. : )

  4. Smart thinking by Will Hooker and JC Raulston Arboretum. This dragon sculpture will be certain to deter actual dragons, as they are known to be territorial creatures.

  5. Hi,
    We had friends from Boston visiting us a few weeks ago and came upon the Dragon in the Arboretum. There was a professional hula hooper teaching a pupil the technique of her craft and she willingly took a picture of the 4 of us in front of the Dragon’s head. When we saw the picture we laughed so hard, our friend had the tail as a background and it looked like he was a mousekateer. Thanks for the beautiful and creative artwork and a memorable moment!!