Duke Gardens Reopens to the Public


A blooming yellow and maroon iris
Photo by Bill Gracey/Creative Commons

Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham reopened to the public on June 1, 2021. Duke Gardens began its phased reopening after having been closed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During Phase 1, which began on April 1, Duke faculty, staff and students were able to schedule a visit during certain limited hours.


Masks are not required in the outdoor areas where social distancing can be maintained; however, visitors are required to wear masks in indoor areas, such as the bathrooms. Tours are not yet available, and the dining areas of Duke Gardens will remain closed.


Duke Gardens has been a historical landmark in Durham for almost a century. In the 1930s, Dr. Frederic M. Hanes, one of the original faculty members of Duke Medical School and an avid gardener himself, was inspired to transform a swampy sector of land on Duke University’s campus into a garden filled with irises, his favorite type of flower. He needed funding for the garden, so he proposed his idea to Sarah P. Duke, a friend of his and the widow of one of the founders of Duke University. She agreed to finance the garden for $20,000. The garden was then named after her, and in 1935, it was adorned with over 100 flower beds, including 40,000 irises and 25,000 daffodils.


The following summer, however, the garden flooded and many of the plants began to rot. Unfortunately, Sarah P. Duke passed away in 1936, but not all hope was lost. Dr. Hanes was determined to reconstruct the garden. He asked Mary Duke Biddle, Sarah P. Duke’s daughter, to fund the garden’s restoration on higher grounds that would not flood as easily. She agreed to do so and recruited Ellen Biddle Shipman to design the construction and garden.


Today, Duke Gardens is committed to education, sustainability and community engagement through the beauty of horticulture. Various educational programs and classes are currently being offered online. Updates and information related to the gardens’ phased reopening can be found on their website.


By Mia Shelton, Staff Writer

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