Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Share your Duke Gardens memories


It was a rainy July day at Duke Gardens—not the sort of day that brings many visitors. But Henrietta Riggs Jackson wasn’t just any visitor. And to her, no amount of rain could douse the pleasure she felt standing in the Frances P. Rollins Overlook, reliving some of the most precious memories of her life.

Laid out before her were the Terrace Gardens, where Henrietta spent countless hours as a Duke student strolling, studying, admiring the flowers and talking with fellow Duke student Lester P. Jackson Jr.

Just below her, by the fish pool at the foot of the Terrace Gardens—that’s where Lester proposed. They married in 1945, while still students.

Lester died eight years ago. But these Gardens memories were important to him, too. The night before her visit, Henrietta found Lester’s wallet, which contained no fewer than six photos of the two of them posing in the Gardens back in 1945. Lester had carried those memories around in his pocket all those decades, just as she carried them in her heart.

Henrietta, now 92, smiled through tears as she walked to various spots and recalled those enchanting days.

We love hearing stories like Henrietta’s, especially now, as Duke Gardens approaches the 75th anniversary of the dedication of the Terrace Gardens in April 1939.

Did you fall in love here? Did you develop a passion for gardening? Did you play here as a child, or learn here how seeds become trees or caterpillars become butterflies? Did you walk through the paths to shake off the stresses of school or work days in Durham? What spots became your favorites?

Duke Divinity School student Nikki Raye Rice is just now discovering the benefits of having a serene garden as part of her campus.

“When I feel disembodied by ideas and abstract concepts, Duke Gardens brings me back to myself by celebrating the beauty of nature,” Nikki wrote to us.

Duke alumnus Ryan Bird, an engineering student, gravitated toward the Gardens in the last two years of his time here, taking daily walks to get his thoughts together.

“It was in the Gardens … where I began to really think about the world and my place in it,” he wrote. “It was in the Gardens that I began to question the career path laid out in front of me, and where I began to dream of deeper ambitions.”

Volunteer Thomas Harding has come to the Gardens almost daily for 10 years.

“Through my commerce with the beauty of the Gardens, I feel a sanguine renewal of life (not only emotionally but physically; for the moment I reach the conifers that stand like kindly, salutary sentinels near the entry way on Anderson, the air has a purity that it does not have outside the Gardens),” he wrote.

We would love for you to think about your connection to Duke Gardens—memories and current pleasures—and share them with us. Brief thoughts or long essays—all are welcome. You may post to our Facebook page (, use the fill-in form on the “contact us” page at

We look forward to hearing your stories. And we hope to see you soon at Duke Gardens, as we celebrate the past 75 years with a series of special events beginning this fall, and as we look forward to a future of continued growth and beauty. 

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. Duke Gardens receives roughly half of its operating budget from Duke University. The rest comes from people like you, who value all that this public botanic garden has to offer. Duke Gardens is at 420 Anderson St.

For more information about Duke Gardens, or to become a member, please go to

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