Saturday, October 20, 2018

Family Weekend: Exploring Duke Gardens

By Annie Yang
Class of 2020

Every year, parents, siblings and other family members descend on Duke for Family Weekend, hurrying about with many things to do and places to be. This weekend can feel like a hectic time for both students and their families, which is why a visit to Duke Gardens is a welcome change of pace.

Although West Union might be packed, with no place to even sit down, it never feels too busy when you have 55 acres in the Gardens to explore. The serene atmosphere in the Gardens is like a breath of fresh air, and walking through its miles of paths is a great way to relax with your family while showing them one of Duke University’s gems.         

The view from the Frances P. Rollins Overlook
Photo by Annie Yang
If you’re coming from West Campus, it’s most convenient to cut right behind the Allen Building to enter the Gardens through the Memorial Gate. Parking at the Gardens often fills up on beautiful spring and fall weekends (though there is a free overflow lot nearby). 

If your family has never been to Duke Gardens before, it is almost a rite of passage to take them to marvel at the beautiful plants and landscaping in the Terrace Gardens. If you have any younger siblings, they will also be delighted by the colorful koi swimming in the fish pool. Most visitors enter the terraces through the pergola at the top or adjacent to the Fish Pool, but you can bring your family to the overlook up the hill behind the pond for a different perspective and a breathtaking view of the terraces.

Another must-see site in the Gardens is the large pond in the Asiatic Arboretum, home to a large variety of ducks, as well as geese and turtles. The turtles often soak up the sun on the rocks at the edge of the pond, and the ducks are happy to be fed food that can be purchased inexpensively at the Terrace Gift Shop. If you look closely at the ripples in the pond, you may also see tiny fish fluttering through the shallow water. You might also spot the resident great blue heron as you walk around the pond!        

Waterfall at Pine Clouds Mountain Stream
Photo by Annie Yang
The iconic red bridge over the pond is currently being renovated. However, there are plenty of other wonderful locations nearby that people visiting the bridge may overlook. For example, you can take your parents to Pine Clouds Mountain Stream, a stunning feature added to the arboretum just a few years ago. The sound of birds chirping and the rushing water in the recirculating stream makes it a perfect place to sit down with your family, take a breather, and absorb all the sights, sounds, and smells of nature. Additionally, a new outdoor restroom with a Japanese-style interior recently opened adjacent to Pine Clouds, which will be a relief for visitors who previously had to trek back to the other bathrooms in the Terrace Gardens or the Doris Duke Center. As you walk through the arboretum, you’ll also see gorgeous blooms of Japanese aster and ginger lily.         

Osmanthus fragrans
Photo by Annie Yang
If you have a little bit more time to spend in the Gardens and would like to show your family around some less frequented but no less beautiful sites, the mini bamboo forest nearby the Garden for Peace is a unique spot. Imagine that -- towering stalks of bamboo in the middle of Duke University! You may also catch a whiff of the Osmanthus fragans growing nearby, which are known for their powerful fragrance. If your parents go, “What’s that smell?” you can impress them by telling them sweet osmanthus’ scientific name. 

Exploring the winding paths through the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants is also delightful, and a great way to learn about our ecosystem, plant conservation and supporting wildlife.

Younger siblings or relatives will also enjoy the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, which is a sustainable, organic food garden near the Doris Duke Center. This garden is designed to help visitors learn about nature's symbiotic relationships. The garden is also home to a coop full of chickens, and many bee hives.

If have questions, be sure to seek out one of Duke Gardens' volunteer garden ambassadors, who can help you make the most of your visit.

There’s something for everyone to appreciate at Duke Gardens. Hopefully, when you return back to the hustle and bustle on campus, you and your family will feel refreshed and energized after your stroll through this nationally acclaimed botanic garden in the heart of Duke's campus.

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