Past Meets Present at Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden

A rustic frame structure. Natural gardens of herbs, dwarf trees, and flowers. A quirky hen house, where chickens of various sizes and colors cluck and peck under the watchful gaze of visitors. Just beyond the fencerow, a wooden beehive. Such was the scene last Saturday morning as I passed through the gates of the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden at Duke Gardens in Durham, North Carolina.

Named after a visionary organic gardener from the Kinston area of North Carolina, the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden was established in 2012 as a place for children, particularly those living in urban settings, to learn and experience the joys of gardening. Through guided tours, hands-on classes, and self-guided exploration, the garden provides a glimpse into North Carolina’s agricultural past while also teaching and modeling good practices for today and tomorrow, such as composting and water conservation.

Here’s a glimpse inside the garden’s gates, along with a few facts I either read on plaques or learned from the volunteer guides along the way.

Tobacco was a major crop for early colonists, who migrated from Virginia to North Carolina in search of more tobacco fields. So important was tobacco, in fact, that it was often used as money. Tobacco barns, where tobacco leaves were air-cured prior to sale, are icons of agriculture’s past. These ventilated structures reached their peak usage in the 1950s, at which time there were about 500,000 in North Carolina. Today, only a few thousand tobacco barns remain.


The tobacco barn at the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden was moved from Elm City, NC, and restored. It now serves as the Burpee Learning Center, where tobacco history is explored and organic, sustainable methods are taught. It was here that I discovered how to remedy my rabbit problem: fertilize with blood meal, (because the scent scares them), and spray plants with garlic.


A native hibernation insect hotel affixed to the Burpee Learning Center is not only naturally decorative but also provides nesting and shelter for many kinds of insects.

The garden’s chicken coop, constructed of “recycled” lumber from a 125-year-old Oxford textile mill, is home to several different kinds of hens.  If my visit Saturday was any indication, the coop (or rather its contents) is a main attraction for young and old.


Plants and flowers grow atop the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden’s quirky but functional chicken coop. Inside, key features include a five star “dining room” and nesting boxes for the egg-laying ladies.


Each chicken has a name. “Baroness Von Brody.” “Gingerbread.” “Big Mama.” The large blond in this photo is “Marilyn,” a buff orpington hen that lays about three eggs a week. Behind her is “Raptor,” an ameraucana hen that lays blue, green, and pinkish-brown eggs. All the chicken eggs are donated to local food pantries.


My favorite hen was the petite “Porcelina.” She is a d’Uccle bantam hen, which is a show quality breed that hails from Belgium.


Notice that Porcelina’s legs are “booted” with feathers.


Having grown up with an orchard in the background, I was intrigued by this urban apple tree. It is shaped like a bottle brush, making it perfect for small spaces.


The Story Circle at the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden is a rustic, quaint outdoor learning and story time space.


The harvesting spirit was in the air, and I look forward to visiting again during other times of the year to see all that grows and blooms–and to learn tips and tricks for my own adventures in gardening.


This was my final view of the garden as I exited through the beautiful gate designed by Duke alum Andrew Preiss of ARP Design Studio in Durham.

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