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How do Duke Gardens grow? After a decade of improvements, dreams of an entryway with a sense of moment


uke Gardens executive director Bill LeFevre seems at home in a golf cart. He zips along the gardens’ crushed gravel pathways, up and down hills, through gates and over bridges, many of which were built during his tenure. Horticulturists, curators, and volunteers seem to have an ear for the cart’s humming and step aside, smiling as LeFevre rolls by. He coasts to a stop at the Frances P. Rollins Overlook, a stone-paved plaza bounded by a low wall with a view of the gardens’ iconic eight-level terrace. The perfect spot for gazing, the overlook opened only in 2012. Before that people had no place to rest, though they had always stopped to look. “The original entrance” to the gardens, LeFevre explains, pointing up the path, “was the little stone gate behind the Allen Building.” Now the main entrance is across the gardens, off Anderson Street, designed in 1959 for its stunning view of the chapel down the Main Entry Allée. But even the Doris Duke Center there, added in 2001, rarely welcomes visitors. “They park, and they go off in different directions,” LeFevre says. “And we do not interact with them. “We are the number-one tourist attraction in Durham, North Carolina, and we don’t have a front door.” The gardens staff hopes, in several years, to resolve that with the Garden Gateway Project, a $30 million renovation of the Doris Duke Center and its surroundings that will provide an entrance with a sense of moment, featuring a striking shed roof straddling a new entry plaza. The expanded center will offer food service, restrooms, and even a rooftop terrace to enjoy that chapel view. Above all, the gardens will have their front door. The gateway will tie the gardens together in a way their unusual history has not before encouraged. “This garden was not designed, per se,” LeFevre says. “It’s grown organically for eighty years,” though perhaps never so rapidly as during LeFevre’s tenure. Originally planned as a lake but sidetracked by the Depression, the gardens developed because in 1930 Duke neurologist Frederic Hanes disliked his daily walk to work through the debrisfilled lakebed. He proposed an iris garden and convinced Sarah P. Duke to donate funds. The resulting terraces were

“We are the number-one tourist attraction in Durham, North Carolina, and we don’t have a front door.”


COME ON IN: An architectural rendering shows the gardens with a proper front door.

joined by the H.L. Blomquist Garden of Native Plants in 1968, the W.L. Culberson Asiatic Arboretum in 1984, and the Doris Duke Center in 2001. LeFevre arrived in 2007 as the gardens’ first full-time director (all previous directors had been Duke botanists, with more on their mind than the gardens). He says even then he saw the need to better join what sometimes felt like four separate gardens. Yet he wished to do so without upsetting the rhythms of an enormously successful and beloved place. “The goal when my time here comes to its end is that these gardens do not feel any different,” he says, “but they work a lot better for the visitor.” And in ten years LeFevre has overseen a parade of improvements. Though some of

Fall 2017 Issue v. 3  
Fall 2017 Issue v. 3  

Includes Duke Forward campaign insert