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Sarah P. Duke Gardens the perfect place to spend a sunny spring day

By Carolyn Glasgow
Master Gardener Volunteer
I used to say that there was no prettier place in the spring than Chapel Hill and specifically the campus of The University of North Carolina.
That was before I discovered Duke Gardens several years ago. Now, I wouldn’t miss my annual trek to the gardens during the first two weeks of April when the tulips are in full bloom. My children even go on their own now when they get a chance.
Officially known as The Sarah P. Duke Gardens, this public garden covers 55 acres in the heart of Duke University’s west campus. It is meant to be a living museum, enjoyed by all ages.
On my recent visit I observed people taking full advantage of the park on a warm spring afternoon. Groups of students were playing a very unofficial game of soccer with huge, bouncing, lightweight soccer balls. Small children were climbing trees. A mom and her daughter were doing homework. College students were studying. Others were walking through the gardens or relaxing on benches or ground covers. On past visits I have seen several brides being photographed, and on one occasion saw a wedding in progress.
In the 1920s, Duke planners envisioned a lake in this area. Funds were short and the lake never materialized. In the 1930s, a faculty member of the Duke Medical School wanted to make a garden out of the debris-filled ravine that he passed every day on his way to work. He convinced his friend, Sarah P. Duke, to fund the initial garden that would bear her name. Ellen Shipman was selected to plan both the construction and plantings of the present garden.
Today, the gardens consists of four major parts:
– The original terraces and their immediate surroundings.
– The Blomquist Garden of Native Plants (flora of Southeastern U.S.).
– The Culberson Asiatic Arboretum (plants of eastern Asia).
– The gardens surrounding the Doris Duke Center.
You could spend a few hours or a day in this beautiful setting any time of year.
There is an azalea court, a dogwood medallion, a goldfish pond, a sundial and butterfly garden, a grape arbor, a bird watching shelter and a pitcher plant bog, just to name a few places of interest. There are also classes, lectures and programs given throughout the year.
Duke Gardens Spring Plant and Crafts Festival is Saturday, April 26 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Your day trip is not complete without a visit to the Duke University Chapel, a short walk from the gardens. Not only is the architecture of this building beautiful, the stained glassed windows and massive organ are masterpieces you do not want to miss.

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