Duke Gardens: Only Better With Time

It hardly seems possible, but Duke Gardens is getting even better. During a recent gathering of Duke Gardens Volunteers (of which I am one), the Director of Horticulture described the various beautification and construction projects underway or projected for the 55-acre public garden located on Duke University’s campus in Durham, North Carolina.  The underlying goal of each effort is a commitment to environmental sustainability.

Here’s a look at a few of the projects:

Pergola Restoration
The pergola is a focal point in the historic Terrace Gardens. In springtime past, profuse wisteria cascaded from its roof; but last summer, the 75-year-old frame structure was stripped of its floral splendor. The reason? The vine was a Chinese wisteria, which is invasive—over time it spreads, crowds out other vegetation, and even chokes out its own blooms.

Native wisteria will be planted in place of the Chinese wisteria. Although it will take about three years to flower, the results will be amazing color and fragrance.


In addition to native wisteria on the pergola, about a dozen Fortune’s osmanthus evergreens will be planted around the structure. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC

Woodland Bridge and Stream
The Blomquist Garden of Native Plants is getting a new look, thanks in part to 100-year-old reclaimed lumber.


The Woodland Bridge Project includes construction of a 250ft-long stream edged with Smokey Mountain boulders from western North Carolina. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC


A steel-beam bridge replaces the former wooden one. The wooden decking of the new bridge is “sinker Cypress”–reclaimed lumber cut over 100 years ago by loggers and found at the bottom of rivers near Wilmington and Charleston. The logs were specially milled for this project. — Duke Gardens; Durham, NC

The bridge and stream project is slated for completion sometime in Spring 2015.

Asiatic-Japanese Garden
In the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum, progress is being made to create a unique space overlooking the Red Bridge. The effort, led by master planner Sadafumi Uchiyama, Garden Curator at the Portland Japanese Garden, depicts a “Passage of Time” theme.

When completed, footpaths will lead to scenes reminiscent of the past, such as an old faux well. Mature Japanese trees, provided by a generous donor, as well as other plantings will add to the sanctuary. A re-circulating stream will flow down several levels of boulders, creating layered pools. A gazebo with a stone tile floor is central to the scene and is well underway—all that remains is for stucco to be applied and for surrounding plants to be put in the ground. The project is scheduled for completion in Spring 2015.

Virtue Peace Pond
Peace has been disturbed at the Virtue Peace Pond. The pond has been drained to replace the old rubber lining with a rebar-enforced base that will retain water. The finished pool will be about 30 inches deep, which is ideal for water plants to thrive. Work continues though February 2015.

The pond in Fall 2014:


The pond this past week:


Future projects include the creation of a Peidmont prairie in the Blomquist Garden, a Hanes Lawn Ampitheater, and a Spring Woodland Garden—the latter of which will include a recirculating mountain stream with a stone overlook and plantings.

Check back in the coming months for updates on these and other projects. Or better yet, visit the beautiful Gardens in person.

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