On our first full day of Garden Writers Association goodness, we had talks on the greening of the planet and working on the web, designer veggie gardens and editor panels. Then we were off to have lunch while perusing the garden products exhibition. I like to call it the “trade show,” but I think, perhaps, I’m the only one who describes it as such. Lots of new plants to think about for next year, and I’m mailing myself a sample or two (or ten). Proven Winners, Dramm Tools Timberpress Books and so many others were there to tell us about the latest and greatest in garden products and plants. It’s always fun, but a bit overwhelming too.
Back at the room, it was time to rest a bit before heading out to stroll the fifty-five acre Sarah P. Duke Gardens on the university grounds. The center of the garden was a circle surrounded by roses. Elizabeth Licata and I agreed that the best rose by far was ‘Strike it Rich’, a fabulous golden yellow. I don’t know if they spray, but it had very little blackspot in an extremely humid climate (at least for today).
The Duke Gardens are nationally renowned and contain many subgardens within their whole, including the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. I was especially interested in it because of the prairie plants which grow so well in my native state.
It contains a large variety of plants native to the southeastern U.S., some of which are growing beneath loblolly pines that are at least thirty feet tall.
As I wandered through terraced gardens filled to overflowing with blooming perennials and annuals, I began to wonder about Sarah P. Duke. Who was she, and how did she and her family turn a “debris filled ravine” into a showplace? According to the brochure, in 1934, Mrs. Duke, the widow of Benjamin N. Duke, was persuaded to give $20,000 toward turning the area into a park. The original plants were washed away in heavy rains. After Mrs. Duke died, a faculty member and avid gardener, Dr. Frederic M. Hanes, convinced her daughter, Mary Duke Biddle, to fund a more formal garden in her mother’s memory.
Interestingly, the heavily planted terrace gardens were designed by a woman landscape architect, Ellen Shipman. The original gardens opened in 1939.
The portraits of Mrs. Duke, her daughter and her granddaughter hang in the reception center. In their hats and pearls, they gazed down upon us with proud yet benevolent smiles. I like to think that their contented faces weren’t due to how much money they had, but instead, the pleasure known from growing things and creating beauty on a grand scale.
They left quite a legacy for us to enjoy.