(View to the President's Bridge, over the South Lawn, 1941. Courtesy of Duke Archives)
Much of Duke Gardens is located in a valley that
the planners of Duke University in the early 1920s had hoped to turn
into a lake with elegant fountains. But funds were short and that
project was abandoned.
Instead, the idea of a garden arose in
the early 1930s, due to the vision and enthusiasm of Dr. Frederic
M. Hanes, an early member of the original faculty of Duke
Dr. Hanes possessed a special love for gardening and was determined
to convert the debris-filled ravine, by which he walked daily,
into a garden of his favorite flower, the iris.
He persuaded his
friend, Sarah P. Duke, widow of one of the university's founders,
Benjamin N. Duke, to give $20,000 to finance a garden that would
bear her name.
In 1935, more than 100 flower beds were in glorious bloom in the area that would become
today's South Lawn. They included 40,000 irises,
25,000 daffodils, 10,000 small bulbs, and assorted annuals. Alas, all were washed away in heavy summer rains and the flooding
By the time Sarah P. Duke died in 1936, the original
gardens were destroyed. Dr. Hanes convinced her daughter, Mary
Duke Biddle, to construct a new garden on higher ground, as a
fitting memorial to her mother. Ellen Shipman (1869-1950), a pioneer
in American landscape design, was selected to do the plans for
both the construction and the plantings for the new gardens.
Duke Gardens is considered Shipman's greatest work and a national
architectural treasure. Most of the approximately 650 other gardens she
designed have long since disappeared.
The Sarah P. Duke Gardens today consists of four major parts:
the original Terraces and their immediate surroundings, the H.L.
Blomquist Garden of Native Plants (a representation of the flora
of the southeastern United States), the William L. Culberson Asiatic
Arboretum (devoted to plants of eastern Asia), and the Doris Duke
Center Gardens. There are five miles of allées, walks,
and pathways throughout the gardens. We hope you enjoy seeing the artistry that has blossomed here through the decades.
NEW FEATURE: THE RONEY FOUNTAIN. Read about it here.