What it is: The Duke Gardens are something that set a visit to Duke University apart from a visit to another university. There are countless paths, and it would take days to explore everyone one. There are sections with roses, terraces upon terraces of seasonal flowers, a cafe where you can buy goodies to eat, a native plant garden, an Asian themed section, large open grassy fields, and a pond complete with ducks and geese, a new discovery garden for the kids filled with edible plants, chickens, and more, and a picaresque bridge. It is right on the edge of Duke's west campus and the medical center.
Some of our favorite activities at the gardens include picnicking under the magnolia trees on the edge of the biggest field-followed by some running in the field to get out some energy, letting the kids pick the route though the native NC plant area wandering through trails, up hills, and over pond stepping stones, watching the fish swim through the pond at the bottom of the terrace section and stopping at the neighboring flower terraces for some cute kids photos in the flowers, meeting the chickens or attending a storytime at the new Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, visiting the ducks and other birds at the big pond and trying not to fall in, or wandering through the bamboo forests on our way out.
What we like: This is a great place to explore. Kids can just be set free and will find endless things to look at and explore. There's also lots of great places for them to just run around. One of my son's favorite parts is the duck pond. He loves to get up close to the water and watch the ducks and geese as well as run back and forth over the bridge. Food is available for duck feeding in the cafe and shop next to the terraces of flowers and gazebo. The gardens are also a great place for a nice weather picnic with your children, or just letting them explore and find their own favorite spots.
What we would change: It's definitely a hard choice when deciding whether or not to bring a stroller to the gardens for your toddler. While the gardens are very large and the stroller is necessary for getting from one part of the gardens to the other there are also parts of the gardens that are only accessible by stairs which makes a stroller unwieldy and difficult to handle. It's especially difficult to find a stroller accessible way to get over to the chapel area of campus from the gardens, but it is possible. I found myself bringing a stroller, but parking it and leaving it while I went off to wander certain places with my child.
Website and Other Important Information: The Duke Gardens are located off of Anderson St. on the edge of Duke's West Campus. You do have to pay for parking in their lot, but there are plenty of spaces on all but the busiest days.
Map of the gardens so you can find all the fun spots we just mentioned: https://gardens.duke.edu/visit/map-gardens
Address: 426 Anderson Street, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0341
Phone number: 919-684-3698
Photos: (Here are a few shots, but the pictures really don't do the gardens justice, especially when everything is in bloom.)
1. The entrance to the gardens when walking over from campus
2. A view of the pond and bridge
3. A lone heron poses next to the pond