Monday, May 4, 2009

A visitor's perspective of Duke Gardens

Sarah P. Duke Gardens: Botanical History

By Michael Hatcher

Student, N.C. Agricultural and Technical University

Years from now, when I am remembering my first visit to Sarah P. Duke Gardens, there are a few images that will be a little more vivid than the others. Even before I visited, I knew the gardens had a history that paralleled in many ways our very nation’s history. However, I discovered a different historical perspective while I visited. The botanical history of the gardens took me back in time and sent me to another world.

What I will remember is my first sight of a Coastal Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens). The vision of this tree sent me 2,500 miles away to Northern California. As its image dwarfed me, it also humbled me at the thought of how easily its grandparents would dwarf it. I viewed the most massive Loblolly Pines (Pinus taeda). They were well over 75 feet tall, and there trunks were so straight, so tall, and so large. I was in awe of the history these trees have experienced. I also saw some White Oaks (Quercus alba). These trees, named for the white bark plates that develop on them with age, have a majestic form and a distinctive personality. However, the White Oaks at the gardens also have a creamy yellow bark coloration that is extremely distinctive. In addition, we viewed Gingko biloba, Junipers, other magnificent trees, and landscaping and water features that were amazing.

There is a lake that was created when they built a dam to keep the valley from flooding. This lake and the Asia garden they created around it have such peacefulness about them. A walk through this area sends you to another world of Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum), Chinese Sweetgums (Liquidambar formosana), and Japanese Black Pines (Pinus thumbergiana). Also, a walk through the Azalea garden is a walk into a world that comes alive every April. The colors and contrasts of the many species of Azaleas (Rhododendron ...) are truly stunning.

The beauty throughout the gardens is truly a sight to see. The only negative of my recent visit is the short time we were able to visit the garden. Despite the dozens of plants we were able to see, there were hundreds more we did not have time to see. The patience and knowledge that our tour guide, Dr. Alice LeDuc, had in showing us as much of the garden as time would allow was very appreciated. However, with so much to see, it felt like we walked in and walked out. The only thing that could compare to the beautiful plant materials we saw during our visit is the fall colors I assume will be just as stunning when I make my next planned visit to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

(photo by Alice Le Duc)

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