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Sarah P. Duke Gardens

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Sarah P. Duke Gardens provides a place where people of all backgrounds and ages come for beauty, education, horticulture, solitude, discovery, study, renewal and inspiration.

Often spoken of as "the crown jewel of Duke University," Duke Gardens occupies 55 acres in the heart of west campus, adjacent to Duke University Medical Center.

It is recognized as one of the premier public gardens in the United States, renowned both for landscape design and the quality of horticulture, each year attracting more than 300,000 visitors from all over the world.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 Medical School.

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 stream.

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.

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