A Sight to Behold – Duke University Botanic Garden

A Sight to Behold – Duke University Botanic Garden

Article by Pushpitha Wijesinghe

Occupying 55 acres in the middle of Duke University’s west campus, the Duke University or Sarah P Duke Gardens, is a not for profit undertaking with a history of over 75 years. The beautifully landscaped garden amidst a wooded area often described in glowing terms by visitors, was begun in 1934 when a faculty member of the University’s medical school persuaded Sarah P. Duke to fund the upgrading of a rubble filled ravine by planting a garden. By 1935 it was in full bloom with about 80,000 annuals and perennials when heavy summer rains left it in ruins. The garden location was later moved and Ellen Shipman a pioneer in American garden design was invited to plan and plant the current garden that displays an extensive collection of plants native to South East USA and species from around the world. To keep the garden contemporary and relevant the displays are continually renewed and visitors are often presented with new plantings and elements of garden designs to be enjoyed any time of year. Set up with the goals of research, education, conservation, biodiversity, inspiration and just plain enjoyment which it admirably fulfills.

The garden is divided into four major parts, the oldest and most formal part of the garden with its Italianate terraces created by Ellen Shipman, the HL Blomquist garden, named after the University’s first professor of Botany, where the gently rolling landscape has been planted with over 900 varieties native to the south eastern United States, the William Culbertson Asiatic Arboretum established in 1984 boasting a collection of about 2,000 Asian varieties and a Japanese inspired garden and the Doris Duke Garden Centre that includes the Page Rollins White Gardens. The other prominent sections of the garden include the south lawn and themed gardens such as the rose garden, azalea court, the butterfly garden and the water garden.

The water garden is home to about 30 varieties of water lilies. The Gardens host the annual water lily competition and this year succeeded in winning it with water lilies grown by the Gardens. All summer the Garden’s ponds are full of goldfish, hardy water lilies, marginal aquatics and turtles and even the bog garden is worthy of note, filled as it is with pickerel plants, lotus, thaliana, pitcher plants and marginal aquatic.

A two acre memorial garden was added in 2006 comprising of winding paths through spaces planted with azalea, camellia, osmanthus and narcissus and other shade loving plants and has places to rest and for quiet contemplation amongst large shade trees.

The garden is connected with five miles of walkways and paths with areas for sitting, reading, picnicking and simply to get lost in and enjoy the visual display whatever time of year. Interesting features that add to the ambience are streams, several water features, stone bridges, pavilions, annuals and perennials in full bloom, wisteria covered pergolas, fish ponds, rock gardens and carefully planted areas designed to blend with naturally wooded areas. The Garden has undergone replanting and re design with new collections of plants being added through the years.

The Gardens also has a horticultural library and disseminates information on seasonal and other activities through newsletters.

The views of the garden change with the seasons with bright spring and summer colour displays changing to rich tones of autumn and white winter landscapes. With the interest in the garden increasing, large visitor numbers are being experienced each year.

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About the Author

Pushpitha Wijesinghe is an experienced independent freelance writer. He specializes in providing a wide variety of content and articles related to the travel hospitality industry.

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