Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sarah P. Duke Gardens

SARAH P. DUKE GARDENS [ Durham, North Carolina ]

I took a weekday morning off back in April to visit the Sarah P. Duke Gardens on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. I parked the car in the lot and headed passed the visitor center, fountain, gift shop and cafe to the garden's entrance. A volunteer was sitting on a bench outside the front gate greeting visitors and handing out maps, there to answer any questions. She knew the 55 acres of gardens inside and out and was more than happy to offer advice on where to head based on the season and how much time you had to spend.

I meandered along five miles of trails. I passed stacked turtles basking in the glow of the mid-day sun, and faceless photographers with their macro lenses buried in new blooms. I traveled on dirt paths through the woods and up the steps of manicured flower beds. I avoided the group of photographers standing guard with tripods, all pointed towards a single bird feeder, clearly waiting for that rare photo or species to drop in. If I were to guess, they were going to be there a long time. I rounded the corner to find a sprawling open lawn where Duke students were catching a few z's and meeting up with friends before their next class.

On the lake nearby there were some ducks congregating, so I thought I'd stick around for a few minutes. I took a seat on a rock at the waters' edge waiting to see if anything would drop in worth shooting (with my pocket camera, that is). Sure enough a beautiful Blue Heron swooped in from the other side of the lake and landed there right in front of me, posing as it had probably done so many times before. I looked around as if to say "Really? What are the chances?" I wondered if they were having such luck back at the bird feeder.

There's no doubt why weddings are photographed here on a weekly basis ~ the gardens are considered among the top ten public gardens in the country. It's a good thing that the original plans for this space back in the early 1920's fell apart. It was intended to be a lake. Sarah P. Duke was later persuaded to fund the the gardens and by 1935 there were 100 flower beds planted. Unfortunately, that summer a flood wiped them out. Sarah died the next year. The gardens of today are dedicated to her memory.

There's no fee to enjoy this place and it's open 365 days a year, a true gift to the folks of North Carolina. Be sure to visit in late spring or summer.

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