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Duke Gardens in Durham (10 Important Tips to Enjoy this Botanical Garden!)

Published by Christina Riley. Last Updated on March 5, 2024.

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Sarah P. Duke Gardens on the campus of Duke University in Durham is considered one of the best public gardens in the United States. Free to enjoy (with paid parking), there are 55 stunning acres to explore at this amazing spot in Central North Carolina.

It is one of our favorite places to visit in North Carolina (definitely worthy of our bucket list. After reading this guide, you’ll see why and be prepared to enjoy it, too! 

Whether you’re seeking parking information, the gardens’ history, or why you’ll love it, our guide has you covered:

  • Where is Sarah P Duke Gardens?
  • History
  • Visiting Today (Parking Info, Accessibility, and Photography Policy)
  • Important Tips (including Leave No Trace Information)

You can skip ahead to the tips for visiting today or continue reading about how to reach Duke Gardens and the history of this important place.

Read More: The Most Beautiful Botanical Gardens in North Carolina

Where is Sarah P Duke Gardens?

Address: 420 Anderson St, Durham, NC

Sarah P Duke Gardens is located on the West Campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. The gardens are near Duke University Hospital and the Nasher Museum of Art. You can visually plan your trip to Duke Gardens with any of the following maps:

The History of Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Sarah P. Duke Gardens Doris Duke Center

It’s easy to overlook the interesting history of Duke Gardens, but if not for a few important players, we’d never have them to enjoy.

Here are a few interesting historical tidbits about this wonderful place:

  • Duke Gardens was founded in the 1930s in honor of Sarah P. Duke, widow of Duke University founder Benjamin N. Duke.
  • Convinced by avid gardener Dr. Frederic Hanes, Sarah P. Duke made a $20,000 endowment to Duke University for a public garden.
  • The original garden that was built in 1934 is now named the Historic Gardens, with an iris garden and the South Lawn. 
  • Dr. Hanes remained a relentless advocate for the gardens. He tirelessly worked to maintain them and continued working with the Duke family after Sarah’s passing in 1936.
  • Her daughter Mary Duke Biddle funded the reconstruction and redesign of the gardens, which eventually opened for public viewing in 1939.
  • Today, Duke Gardens is separated into four sections, including:
    • Historic Gardens
    • Doris Duke Center & Gardens
    • H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants
    • W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum

Read More: 125+ Important Facts About North Carolina You Should Know (History, Geography, and More!)

Tips for Visiting Today

Sarah P. Duke Gardens

Before you visit Sarah P. Duke Gardens, you’ll need to know when to visit, where to park, and more.

  • Hours: The gardens are open daily from 8:00 am to dusk.
  • Admission: Free, though parking is not.
  • Parking Information: Parking is $2 per hour from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm seven days a week. There are 3 official parking lots, which include parking by the main entrance gate (includes accessible spots), 7-day overflow parking by the Lewis Gate, and Weekend Overflow Parking near the main parking lot. You can pay by using a Pay By Phone mobile app. There are also machines that accept cash or credit card. The machine will print a receipt to place on your vehicle’s dashboard. 
  • Public Transport: Duke Campus buses, GoDurham, and GoTriangle buses all have stops near the Duke Gardens entrances. 
  • Maps: Maps are available in the Doris Duke Center or here
  • Accessibility: The paths at Duke Gardens are accessible. Each of the garden’s walkways is naturally packed with sand/gravel. Over the years, we’ve tested the paths with multiple types of strollers and two babies!
  • Bathrooms: There are bathrooms located at the Doris Duke Center, Terrace Gardens, and Asiatic Arboretum at Duke Gardens.
  • Photography: Duke Gardens has a very strict commercial photography policy. If you plan a wedding, engagement, or professional portrait photography, your photographer must have a permit. However, you may take photos of the gardens for personal use

10 Important Tips To Enjoy Duke Gardens

After years of visiting, we have fallen in love with just about every corner of Duke Gardens. Here are seven specific things that we enjoy most of all.

Leave No Trace

While visiting the beautiful Duke Gardens, we ask you to PLEASE leave no trace.

  • Pack in, pack out, and please do not ever litter in our beloved outdoor spaces, especially this one.
  • Leaving no trace also includes NOT overcrowding the gardens. If you arrive and there are no parking spaces available, please return another day.

Walk The Trails

Sarah P Duke Gardens Durham NC Trails Pathways Allees

There are more than 2,500 plant species, a large terraced garden with a fish pond, art sculpture, and plenty of grassy areas to stretch out and enjoy a picnic.

5 miles of pathways and allées (formal garden alleys) will take you around it all, connecting each of the four main sections.

You are welcome to walk as little or as much of these paths, as long as you’re not doing it outside of open hours—8:00 am to dusk. We personally start by taking a right at the rose garden toward the pond and the Asiatic Arboretum before making our next move.

We’d love to know which way you go if you’re familiar with these paths. Let us know in the comments or by email!

Read More: 30+ Delicious Restaurants in Durham (Causal + Date Night ideas!)

Catch the Cherry Blossoms

Sarah P. Duke Gardens cherry blossoms

We consider spring the best time to visit Duke Gardens. The main entrance is one of our all-time favorite places to see cherry blossoms in the spring.

Usually, the cherry blossoms at Duke Gardens peak bloom in early March. The garden entrance is filled with blooming pink flowers that shower on a windy day. 

Read More: How to Visit the Awesome North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville

Stroll The Rose Garden 

Sarah P Duke Gardens Durham NC Rose Garden

The Rose Garden features heirloom roses, ornamental grasses, palms, and perennials. At the center of the Rose Garden is the Roney Fountain which dates back more than a hundred years! 

The fountain was a gift to Duke University in 1897 by Anne Roney, the sister-in-law of Washington Duke. 

Read More: Cape Fear Botanical Garden in Fayetteville (THE Greenspace for ALL Days Out!)

Terrace Garden

The Terrace Garden is probably my favorite part of Duke Gardens. Enter through a 75-year-old wisteria-covered pergola and take in the season’s beauty.

The garden beds change each season- and my favorite is the tulips in the Spring.

Read More: 11 of the Best Spring Break Destinations in North Carolina!

Find the Asiatic Arboretum

Sarah P Duke Gardens Durham NC Asiatic Arboretum Red Bridge

Duke Gardens has an impressive 18-acre collection of Southeast Asian plants.

Named for Duke Professor and former Duke Gardens Director William Louis Culberson, visitors to this section will find beautiful Japanese maples, the iconic red Meyer Bridge, and a waterfall. 

Read More: 25 of the Best Waterfalls in North Carolina

Peruse the Native Plants 

Sarah P. Duke Gardens accessible

Growing more than 900 species of regional native plants is the 6.5-acre H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants. Many of these plants were saved from an area undergoing development, so it is wonderful to see them thriving with green here. 

Read More: Biltmore Estate in Asheville (Everything You Need To Know To Visit!)

Discover the…Discovery Garden 

Sarah P. Duke Gardens discovery gardens

It took us a couple of visits to find the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden at Duke Gardens, but once we did, it was like uncovering a hidden gem!

The interactive garden teaches children (and adults with curiosity!) about organic and sustainable farming.

This is a great opportunity to walk through and talk to your kids about where our food comes from and how important sustainable farming is to our future. 

Read More: 15 Wonderful Things to Do with Kids in Durham

Explore Volunteer Opportunities

Sarah P. Duke Gardens terrace gardens

Volunteers are a huge part of the beauty at Duke Gardens! From helping to maintain the grounds to guiding tours and educational programs, it is a wonderful way for local Durhamites to contribute to the gardens.

Volunteer at Duke Gardens

Keep Coming Back

    Sarah P. Duke Gardens pond

As long as you respectfully enjoy the gardens, leave no trace, and stick to open hours, we think you’ll want to make at least a few return trips. That’s what we’ve been doing all these years of living in North Carolina.

Even though we’ve explored every corner and county, we love spending time in this wonderful place.

Have you visited Sarah P. Duke Gardens? We’d love to know which part is your favorite.

Let us know in the comments or by email. Don’t forget to share your adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!

More Things to Do in Durham (including Duke Gardens)

As mentioned, we’ve discovered quite a few things to do in Durham and created guides featuring the best. Here are a few of them.

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