Occasionally, our club is required to meet offsite when the Convention Center hosts a large meeting or exhibition. In the case of Monday, April 4, preparations at the center were being made for Durham’s own Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. (Note: Monday, April 11 meeting will be offsite at TROSA.) Rotarians were treated to the delightful Doris Duke Center at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, surrounded by thousands of blooms in all of their springtime glory.
Rotarian Bill LeFevre, executive director of the gardens, provided an interesting and sometimes humorous overview of the gardens’ history, followed by a walking tour. LeFevre holds a bachelor’s degree in Landscape Design and a master’s degree in Public Horticulture Administration, and was appointed Duke Gardens’ first full-time director in 2007. Since then, more than $10 million in capital projects have been created, including the Toyama Sister Cities Pavilion, the Pine Clouds Mountain Stream Japanese Garden, and the relocation of the century-old Roney Fountain from East Campus to the Rose Garden.
The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, a pilot project of the national Sustainable Sites initiative, was also completed. This area displays, demonstrates, and teaches about plants that provide people, animals, birds, and insects with food and shelter, and features the Burpee Learning Center, which Durham architect and fellow Rotarian Ellen Cassilly repurposed from two historic North Carolina tobacco barns. Several aging wooden bridges have been replaced with artisan metal ones.
LeFevre explained that Duke Gardens has an annual operating budget of about $4 million; about one-third in cash and in-kind support comes from Duke University. The remainder is raised through numerous channels, including wedding rentals, musical performances, educational programs, membership fees for Friends of Duke Gardens, individual and corporate donations and sponsorships, and Terrace Shop purchases. There are is no admission fee to garden visitors, but parking rates are $2 per half hour.
Like the community and the university which surround them, Duke Gardens has accumulated numerous accolades for its world-class horticulture and excellent programs. In 2016, Condé Nast Traveler bestowed its “20 Most Beautiful College Campuses in America.” Best Colleges Online named it one of “50 Most Amazing University Botanic Gardens in the U.S.” and Best of Hip Green Scene called it “Best Public Garden to Stroll” in 2015. In 2014, the gardens placed fourth on an international list of “50 Most Stunning University Gardens and Arboretums” and The Huffington Post honored them among the nation’s “insanely beautiful public gardens.”
The gardens are truly a living museum, with bulbs, plants, and trees propagated on-site as well as purchased from exclusive nurseries throughout the southeast. LeFevre conservatively estimates the number of visitors each year to be around 300,000, and admits his biggest challenge is how to accommodate the growing number of people not only on the property, but with adequate restrooms, parking, accessibility, and other services. In the meantime, it’s one of our Durham’s crown jewels, delivering beauty year-round above and beyond its vision statement, which reads, in part, “(Duke Gardens is) an indispensable and lasting feature of life at Duke University, accessible to all, providing outreach and respite to a diverse and vibrant local community and visitors from around the world.”
Submitted by Carver Weaver