Thursday, October 29, 2015

Behold Your Next Study Spot

The Culberson Asiatic Arboretum has many scenic benches.

By Ashley Wong (T'16)

For those exhausted from being in the confines of Perkins Library and desiring a change in workspace, look no further than Duke Gardens for a de-stressing and productive environment (yes, productive – science says so!).

There is no shortage of scientific literature extolling the merits of a sustained contact with nature, most notably benefits related to mental health – but also, as it turns out, cognition as well. A 2008 study on the cognitive benefits of interacting with the natural environment supported nature’s role in improving directed-attention abilities (like the ones crucial in memorizing details or solving calculus problems). When you pore over a term paper, you are depleting finite stores of voluntary, directed attention. The remedy is to activate your involuntary attention so that your directed-attention mechanisms are given a chance to replenish.

Nature does precisely this by providing softly fascinating stimuli. As Alex Hutchinson of the New Yorker puts it, "Our eye is captured by the shape of a branch, a ripple in the water; your mind follows." A major takeaway from the experiment is that one can benefit greatly from the restorative value of nature. After interacting with it, one is able to perform better on tasks that require direct attention.

There you have it: scientific evidence supporting your next visit to Duke Gardens. From here, the  natural segue would be to highlight some of my favorite places to tuck myself away and be productive among beautifully designed landscapes. For your ease in finding the particular spots listed below, I will note its corresponding location on this map.

Culberson Asiatic Arboretum entrance (pictured below; A1) - I love this spot for shade and seclusion, particularly during autumn's mild weather. Whether settling down on a bench or lying out on the grass, you can't help but bask in the zen atmosphere.

Virtue Peace Pond (right, D1): The Adirondack chairs overlooking the Virtue Peace Pond provide exactly what the name of this site implies: pure serenity. Tucked behind the Doris Duke Center, this pretty pond is where I go to sit and lean back, and to enjoy the seasonal water lily display.
Blomquist Garden (left; B1-10): On certain days, I prefer the quiet seclusion of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. Scattered around the Blomquist Pavilion are various benches suitable for studying; many paths lead to quiet nooks, and the Bird Viewing Shelter is also a peaceful refuge.
South Lawn (below; near H13 on map)- An already popular student attraction, the South Lawn tends to be bustling with students and Durham families alike, especially on warm days and weekends. It's perfect for simultaneous sun-soaking and problem-solving and it's an easy walk from West Campus!

Hanes Iris Garden (below; near H10 on map) - I always come to the Hanes Iris Garden ready to sprawl on the grassy hillside. More removed from the bustle of the South Lawn, Hanes is another favorite of mine when it comes to being productive on especially warm and sunny days. 

Asiatic Arboretum Pond (below; A2, A9, A10) -  Along the paths around this large pond are bountiful spots I believe are optimal for light reading while being surrounded by flora and fauna and the steady chatter of ducks. I say light reading because in such an aesthetically appealing workspace, it's difficult to not be overly distracted by the incomparable scenery, topped off with a view of the nearby Japanese-style arched bridge. 

There are so many more great places in the Gardens' 55 acres. What's your favorite spot for studying or relaxing? Share it in comments below and we will feature it in a future post. Happy studies!

Blogger Ashley Wong is a Duke senior majoring in environmental studies, with minors in biology and visual & media studies. She is also a Duke Gardens work-study marketing assistant.

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