I recently had the pleasure of attending a wedding at Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina. Duke Gardens is part of Duke University’s campus. For those of you not familiar with Duke University, it’s a private university founded by Methodists and Quakers in the present-day town of Trinity in 1838, and the school moved 70 miles to Durham in 1892. Duke University is filled with old stone buildings and is beautiful to walk around especially when all of the flowers and trees are in bloom during the spring.
For someone like me, Duke Gardens is a place where I can easily spend hours walking around, but then I love botanical gardens. I’ve traveled to far-away places like the Canary Islands and have seen some stunning gardens around the world but Duke Gardens has to be on my top 10 list of best gardens I’ve been to. These are gardens that are beautiful regardless of the season because some areas might not be in bloom but others will be and there are enough evergreens and water areas that even in the dead of winter it would still be a wonderful place to visit.
Technically named the “Sarah P. Duke Gardens,” they consist of five miles of of allées, walks, and pathways throughout the gardens on 55 acres of landscaped and wooded areas within Duke University’s campus. Building of the gardens officially began in 1934 when a faculty member Dr. Frederick Moir Hanes convinced Sarah P. Duke to contribute $20,000 towards flowers in a ravine there. Unfortunately tens of thousands of flowers that were planted were washed away and destroyed by heavy rains and the gardens were destroyed at the time of Sarah P. Duke’s death in 1936. Dr. Hanes persuaded Mrs. Duke’s daughter to pay for a new garden on higher ground as a memorial to her mother. This time, the gardens were a success and today bring visitors from around the world to enjoy them.
Duke Gardens is divided into a few different sections: Historic Gardens, Doris Duke Center and Gardens, H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants, and W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. Within each of these areas you’ll find everything from bridges to bogs to butterfly gardens and other specific gardens. There’s also the Terrace Shop where you can find Duke Gardens wall calendars, note cards, postcards and mugs along with plants and other garden supplies like plant stakes and decorative containers. You can also buy sandwiches and other snacks at the Terrace Cafe.
The gardens are enormous so you can easily spend a few hours here just walking around. My favorite areas are the Historic Gardens with all of the bulbs flowering, the row of cherry trees at the entrance, and the W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. The Asian-themed bridges are beautiful and I loved all of the details like handrails made out of bamboo.
Finally, you can arrange walking tours or trolley tours on certain days and times (check the website here) for $10 per person and they typically last 1 to 1.5 hours. The grounds are open 365 days a year from 8 am to dusk and admission is free for a self-guided tour. If you park at the closest lot, you have to pay either $1 or $2 per hour depending on the time of year, but there is a free parking lot on the corner of Yearby Avenue and Anderson Street at the Duke University H Lot, about a 5 minute walk from the gardens.
Oh, and I can’t forget to mention Duke University Chapel, which you can also walk to from Duke Gardens. The chapel was built from 1930 to 1932 in the Collegiate Gothic style and stands 210 feet tall. There are often concerts and events going on, which you have to purchase a ticket for, or you won’t be allowed to enter the chapel, so check the website here. You can also take free docent-led tours of the chapel that take approximately 45 minutes. Tours do not include access to the Chapel tower, which is unavailable to the public.
Do you love botanical gardens like I do? Do you have favorite ones you’ve been to?