Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Carolina (Still) on My Mind -- A Stroll through the Sarah P. Duke Gardens

It seems like ages ago that I wandered through the Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina, on a nearly 60-degree day in January. ( 8 inches of snow fell here in northern Virginia on Monday and warm weather is like a dream.)  This was the day before visiting the JC Raulston Arboretum, (check out their new website!) described in my last post.

Also part of a university campus, the Duke Gardens, you might say, is the posher, private-school neighbor to the north of JCRA.  Both are fabulous places to visit, but SPDG's history is quite a bit different. (You can easily visit both in the same day, unless you are a major plant geek, in which case you should probably take a day for each to sufficiently absorb the plant labels.)

Founded in 1934, the Duke Gardens began with a bequest from the widow of one of Duke University's founders, Sarah P.  At 55 acres it's  many times bigger and grander than JCRA, with a formal terrace garden designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman, said to be one of the finest examples of her work, according the Duke Gardens' website.  Not surprisingly, the Duke family money came mostly from tobacco and the textile industry.
A cherub rises out of a fountain in the Terrace Garden
Looking down the hill toward the bottom of the Terrace Garden
The last time I was at the Duke Gardens there was an evening wedding going on in this area.  But visitors could still stroll  through the rest of the gardens and even get close enough to catch glimpses of the celebration.

I love the character of the small buildings that flank the terrace garden and wonder how they are used.* See the bottom of this post for more info.

Another small building on the opposite side of the garden.  The cactus adds some whimsy to this formal space.
There's a large collection of plants from Southeast Asia in the William Louis Culberson Arboretum, which is adjacent to the Terrace Garden.  A member of the botany department and former director of SPDG, Culberson was a lichenologist noted for establishing a significant lichen herbarium at Duke.

Major design features of the Asiatic Arboretum include a linear lake and a brilliant orange Japanese-style bridge.  An Asian couple, decked out in formal wear, were having their pictures taken on the bridge just before I snapped these photos.

A  Taxodium distichum  (Bald Cypress) trunk on the path between the
Asiatic Arboretum and the lower Terrace Garden

An unusual paring of potted Agaves and Edgeworthia

In case you are wondering, Doris Duke is the niece of Sarah P., who was married to Benjamin Duke, the younger brother of  Doris's father James Buchanan (Buck) Duke.  The Doris Duke Center Gardens within SPDG comprise several display gardens around the visitor center, also named for Doris, and an amphitheatre.

Among other things, Doris inherited the Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey, from her father. Perhaps Doris was inspired by the Duke Gardens, which were under construction in Durham when she was in her early 20's, as she was instrumental, later in her life, in turning Duke Farms into a horticultural destination.

Entering the Native Plant Garden

*The Cultural Landscape Foundation describes the small buildings on opposing sides of the the Terrace Garden as "dovecotes-style."  A quick search online reveals that dovecotes were for raising pigeons. Young pigeons were prized for their tender meat and killed before they started to fly and could toughen-up.  Pigeon-raising was apparently a common practice among wealthy British families during the 19th century.  The dovecotes were often placed close to the house for easy access. Shipman's charming buildings seem to be a stylized version, or architectural throwback, of dovecotes of that era.

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