A place to explore: the Sarah P. Duke Botanical Gardens

Photo taken at Sarah P. Duke Botanical Gardens in front of the Roney Fountain. This Botanical Garden is located in downtown Durham next to the Duke Campus.

To a teenager in the Triangle area, it may seem as if there aren’t many places to go to have a good time. Fortunately, North Carolina is rich in culture and history, and that alone could keep one busy all day. Not only are there various museums that differ in focus, but there are also many colleges in this state that have more to offer than just a campus.

Duke, for example, is known for its sports teams and high ranked academics. However, Duke also offers Hospitals, Libraries and even a Botanical garden.

The idea of a public garden arose in the early 1930s, due to the creative mind of Dr. Frederic M. Hanes, an original member of the Duke Medical School faculty. As he walked the campus of Duke on a daily basis, he noticed the potential the grounds had to be something beautiful, something to fill the empty space.

Being good friends with Sarah P. Duke, the widow of the founding father of Duke University, James Buchanan Duke convinced her to donate $20,000, that he would use to turn the grounds into a public garden.

Following the death of Sarah P. Duke in 1936, the original public gardens were not in conditions that would last. Daughter Mary Duke Biddle, agreed to expanding the previous land, elevating some of the gardens, and adding new natural attractions. The plan was to renovate the gardens in honor her late mother as a memorial garden which reopened in 1939.

This garden has approximately 5 miles worth of trails throughout the 4 distinct areas. These area’s are separated by what type of plants and flowers are grown in that particular section of the garden.

The original Terraces and the life surrounding are known as the “Historic Gardens,” including the Mary Duke Biddle Rose Garden and historic Roney Fountain.

The H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants demonstrates the type of flowers found in southeastern United States.

The W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum is dedicated to plants of eastern Asia, as is the Doris Duke Center Gardens. A new garden was recently added to the collection that showcases the flora of Eastern Asia also– the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden.

Here at the Sarah P. Duke Botanical Gardens, you can see performances in the visitor hall, volunteer to help within the gardens and for guest services, take classes, go to camps, take photos, or even just to go on a day trip for lunch with friends or family.

I recommend this garden for occasional outings with the family. Although there is plenty to see, there isn’t much to do. For Mother’s Day, I took my mother to the gardens for lunch. It was extremely crowded with families from all over Raleigh. The parking lots were crowded and overpriced but nothing out of the ordinary. The people who worked in the visitors area were nice, but for the most part, visits are fairly independent.

Expect to spend at the very least an hour and a half in the gardens before even reaching the area in which you first entered the gardens. Make sure you are hydrated and have sunscreen on! There are many trees in these gardens, but, on a hot day, you are still under direct sunlight for a good amount of time.

The botanical gardens offer scenery that you don’t see everyday, and a day full of experiencing different plants and flowers grown all over the world. If history and nature appeal at all to you, this is exactly where you should find yourself on a nice spring or summer afternoon.


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