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Duke farms (www.dukefarms.org) is a 2,700 acre estate last owned by Doris Duke, her father's only child. James Buchanan Duke was a tobacco and energy gazillionairre (established Duke University) and she inherited all his property in 1925 at the age of 12 when he died with a little assistance from his wife (not going to diverge into this story.) Doris (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doris_Duke) lived primarily at this estate (also owned estates in Hawaii & Neuport, R.I.), travelled the world and eventually converted one of her father's greenhouses (50,000 sf+) to an horticultural exhibit of her travels. The foundation which maintains her estates has been giving tours for many years since her death. It recently added a 2 hour twilight bicycle tour of the estate to its offerings and the Keepontrekkin family reserved 3 spaces. We live about 20 miles to the north so I loaded the family bikes onto the car, we all ate a snack (dinner for Miss K) and we arrived at the front gate. The road to the visitor center was peaceful and as we arrived, we saw the big greenhouse with the plants of her travels. I unloaded the bike rack, we checked in at the visitor center and prepared for our tour
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Duke Farms tour continued

Miss K brought along her new Webkins, a dragon she has named Tiamat (after a dragon in a book she read) and they are ready to go. Our guide, Bob, had a converted '50's Schwinn with a 7 sp Nexxus hub, hub brakes and spd pedals. Good thing it wasn't too hilly. Bob rounded us up and read us the rules (a little bit aggressively, but hey, let's go with the flow.)

The first stop on the tour was a statuary garden Doris established within the stone walls of a burned down barn. Although there were hawt chicas on the tour, this was the only picture I could acceptably shoot. The barns on the estate are still used and we stop to see a few cows.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Duke Farms tour part 3

The tour takes us by a second greenhouse and we wander the lanes of the estate. Miss K and Mrs. K follow as we cycle toward the location of what was to be James great house. The estate was full of water features and this was one of the great fountains near the great house. However it was never built and its foundation is now a cyclotourist destination at the top of the highest point in the estate. It is surrounded by fields and manmade lakes which provided the water for the fountains which are all over the estate. Mrs. and Miss K pose in front of one of these lakes. Here's a view of the 14 acre front yard, which was all mowed by hand for James.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Duke Farms tour part 4

One of the best water features was this waterfall which was fed by a resevoir which was filled by pumps from the lakes. Bob turned it on for us.

The sun was low in the sky as we headed to the carriage house.
 

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Great Photos

Any truth to the rumor that they are closing the greenhouses to present a more region specific biosphere?
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Duke Farms - finis

After a short ride back to the visitor center, I loaded the car and we headed for home. All RBR ride reports end with food and this one's no exception. It's spaghetti carbonara for us. Mrs. K takes over after putting Miss K to bed. It's on the table with an adult beverage and before you know it, it's gone. Delicious. Everyone loved it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Fact, not rumor

solorider said:
Any truth to the rumor that they are closing the greenhouses to present a more region specific biosphere?
In fact, it was this story in the NYT which prompted us to take the tour.

Much of the environmental restoration is already begun and it is only the greenhouse which will be closed during its renovation.

It was an interesting insight into the way a man with essentially unlimited resources wanted to live. In the great house (foundation picture), he wanted his deliveries to be inconspicuous so he had a tunnel built into the side of the hill to the lower level of the basement. The delivery truck would drive into the basement onto a turntable (like in a railroad switchyard), get turned around, make its deliveries and leave.

Read all about it...

LAST week I dropped by Duke Farms, the 2,740-acre country estate that James Buchanan Duke, the tobacco king and hydroelectric power magnate, carved out of fields and wetlands in the late 19th century.
I wanted to see the indoor gardens, designed by Doris Duke, the heiress who turned the greenhouses her father built in the early 1900s into the Gardens of Nations, her own idiosyncratic interpretation of 11 cultures inspired by years of globe-trotting.
Since these gardens opened in 1964, they have garnered a loyal following at Duke Farms, which attracts 50,000 visitors a year. But they will close on May 25, as the grand old estate shifts its focus to ecological restoration and education. Except for the orchids and a few specimen plants, the indoor gardens will be dismantled.
“We’re at the threshold of a transformation that will include all 2,740 acres as a model of environmental sustainability,” Tim Taylor, executive director of Duke Farms, said last week. Miss Duke’s indoor gardens, which cost $400,000 a year to heat, are not central to that mission.
“The future mission shouldn’t be to make Duke Farms the poor man’s Longwood Gardens, with smaller, less mature horticultural displays,” said Steven N. Handel, a restoration ecologist at Rutgers University who is helping to steer the new course. “Duke Farms is going to have an important, unique mission in land stewardship and research and education. Almost no one has seen a healthy meadow and woodlands because of invasive species, the plague of deer and poor urban and suburban planning.”
Duke Farms has the resources, he said, “to show people healthy habitats.”
Fine, say those who love the indoor gardens. Plant all the sustainable landscapes you want. But why sacrifice Doris Duke’s work of art?
“I applaud everything they’re doing, but why destroy 11 interconnected gardens from around the world?” said Petra Ross-Macdonald, a biologist in Pennington, N.J., whose Web site, savedukegardens.org, rallies support for the displays. “You can see Canova’s ‘The Three Graces,’ as it should be, in a garden,” she said, referring to a copy of Antonio Canova’s neo-Classical sculpture in the Italian garden. “The traceries in the Persian garden are exactly what they are in the Alhambra.”
Well, not exactly, I thought last week as I took the self-guided tour. The indoor gardens looked more like a Hollywood stage set. Or what a wealthy American, jetting about in the 1950s and 1960s, would glean from the gardens of the world: a rill from ancient Persia, a curved bridge and cloud-pruning from Japan. And now that even box stores sell what once were rare tropical specimens, Miss Duke’s Edwardian garden looks like a mishmash from Home Depot.
The plants seemed neglected, a sign that attention is being directed elsewhere. In the bonsai room, the ginkgo barely had any leaves. The hybrid tea roses in the Indo-Persian Garden had not been taken out of the plastic pots from the nursery, and the clipped cypresses interspersed with orange marigolds did not seem particularly authentic.
But then, Doris Duke was not a scholar. The gardens are a window into her flamboyant personality and the attitudes of her time and class. And as such, some say, they should be preserved.
Doris Duke’s will was clear about preserving her house in Honolulu for its Islamic art collection and her home in Newport, R.I., as a center for the Newport Restoration Foundation, but her directions for Duke Farms were more general.
“She didn’t indicate in her will that she wanted her main residence or the gardens used in that same context,” Mr. Taylor said. “So the board determined that it was really about an environmental mission.”
Duke Farms, of course, is not exactly a natural landscape. Beginning in 1895, guided by James L. Greenleaf, a civil engineer who worked with the Olmsted Brothers, Mr. Duke and his workers built nine man-made lakes and diverted part of the Raritan River to fill them. Italian masons built miles of stone walls and 24 fountains. Allées of oak, spruce and London plane trees were planted to shade the curving drives to the country house, which was expanded over the years to include 55 rooms and 3 barns, one with a five-story Norman clock tower, and the decaying Lord & Burnham orchid house.
The future of the house is uncertain, but the other buildings and the landscape will be preserved. And the sculptures of demure maidens will remain among the lilacs that bloom inside the walls of the hay barn, which burned down in 1915.
Trumpet vine now covers those walls. And invasive plants and deer have stripped the woods and meadows, like so many other landscapes on the East Coast, which is why it is now ripe for restoration.

A few years ago, working with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Duke Farms brought in sharpshooters to reduce the deer herd. Now wire fencing keeps them out of the landscape, and Mr. Handel and his research team are monitoring it closely.
“The invasive tsunami is continuing,” he said. “So we need to get those out, either by pulling or using chemicals, and then bring in small populations of natives, like asters and goldenrods, and see if they succeed.”
Endangered birds are now returning to fields no longer mowed before fledglings have left the nest, and wetlands, once drained for agriculture, will be restored.
Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but here’s the vision: an environmental center where 150,000 visitors a year could bike and hike through an area three times the size of Central Park. Orchid lovers would learn how to propagate orchids in a refurbished greenhouse with high environmental standards. The old horse barn would double as a visitor center and staff headquarters; meetings and classes would be held in the coach barn. Gardeners could learn how to grow native plants, and families could grow vegetables, herbs and fruits in one of 300 organic community gardens.
The cost is not clear — “several tens of millions,” financed by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, was Mr. Taylor’s estimate — and plans still must be submitted to county, state and municipal boards. But Duke Farms is working with Rutgers University; the New Jersey Audubon Society; Vitetta, an architecture and engineering firm in Philadelphia; Andropogon Associates, also of Philadelphia, which is known for its work with native landscapes; and the Northeast Organic Farming Association.
“For the last several decades, the only public access allowed on the property was to the indoor display gardens,” Mr. Taylor said. But in recent months visitors have been able to bike on weekends, with a guide.
When the new program begins, sometime in 2010, those trails will be open daily, without a guide, Mr. Taylor said, to anyone who makes a reservation.
The Gardens, One Last Time
IF you visit Duke Farms before the indoor gardens are closed to the public on May 25, enjoy the rhythm of the self-guided walk through this sequence of 11 gardens, each opening into the next, inside a series of connecting greenhouses built from 1909 to 1917.
Though they show neglect, it is interesting to see them through Doris Duke’s eyes: the Islamic patterns, the neo-Classical sculptures, the Japanese cloud-pruning. They offer more insight into the 1950s and 1960s and the personality of Doris Duke than they do into the essence of an Italian or a Japanese garden.
Then hop aboard a bus — or better yet, sign up for a weekend bike tour — to see part of the 2,740-acre estate built mostly between 1895 and 1925.
Take the Walk on the Wild Side, a self-guided tour through woods and meadows that offers time to enjoy the expansive allées and meadows; the site of the old hay barn, where Greek maidens stroll among the lilacs; and the continuing restoration projects in the woodlands, which are still full of multiflora roses and ranunculuses.
For information on the indoor gardens and tours of the grounds, which will remain open after the indoor gardens close: (908) 722-3700 or dukefarms.org.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Scooby Doo flashlight needs a new battery...

Thanks for the kind words. Miss and Mrs. K were playing Scooby Doo the night before.... We live in our house and are not the best examples of organization (I'll not point fingers) so even the dining table had some of the detritus of our lives that should have been put away! I set the table by pushing the games out of the way, no time for a table cloth, just the placemats on top of the table pad and it's a quiet 10:00 pm dinner.
 

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KeeponTrekkin said:
Thanks for the kind words. Miss and Mrs. K were playing Scooby Doo the night before.... We live in our house and are not the best examples of organization (I'll not point fingers) so even the dining table had some of the detritus of our lives that should have been put away! I set the table by pushing the games out of the way, no time for a table cloth, just the placemats on top of the table pad and it's a quiet 10:00 pm dinner.

My bet is you finished the whole bottle and played Twister with Mrs. K.

Nice report. I never even knew this place existed.
 
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