Duke Farms

New Jersey is known as the garden state, but it’s not always easy to see why. Duke Farms, which just opened to the public last year is one of the largest nature preserves in the state. At some 3000 acres it is three times the size of Central Park. It was the former estate of J.B. Duke, a famous industrialist and namesake of Duke University. The estate passed on to his daughter Doris at the time of his death, whose wish it was that it should be used to promote conservation.

The farms have a number of lakes, waterfalls, meadows, gardens and trails – something for everyone. There is a tram service that will take you around to the main sections, but after that you’re on your own. Though there are some signs around in case you get lost, it’s best to pick up a map at the visitor centre as a lot of places look exactly the same.

This is the otter lake, unfortunately we didn’t spot any while we were there.

The conservatory where Doris Duke grew her orchids. This was restored before the opening and is now full of a number of native species.

This is the old foundation. J.B. Duke had plans to build a large mansion on the property, but for still unknown reasons abandoned them within a couple of years. The foundations remain as they were when the work stopped. Doris Duke did move back on to the property after the death of her father, but it wasn’t clear when we visited where exactly she lived.

The steps leading down from the old foundation. The manicured lawns that were created for the family are currently in the process of being restored to their natural state as a wildflower meadow. They are doing everything they can to create a habitat for birds and other animals.

Though conservation is the main goal of the farms, it’s the amazing open space that I think brings people in. Great for bike rides, jogging and long walks and just perfect for a summer picnic.

White House Garden Tour

Our First Lady made a pledge to open up the White House to the public more frequently during her husband’s tenure. One of the ways they have done this is with tours of the gardens.

We were lucky to have gorgeous weather. Plenty of sunshine and barely a cloud in the sky.

As you can see in the picture above there were quite a few people there, but it never really felt crowded.

We approached from the east and first came upon the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden.

The White House is quite unusual in that it looks a lot larger from a distance, which is the opposite of what you would expect. I was surprised by how small it is up close. I first thought that this was one of the sides of the house, not the front.

There he is, the man of the hour, Bo Obama!! I turned around and there he was walking up behind me. My sister was quick enough to get this photo before he went inside.

The Washington Monument to the left and the Jefferson Memorial straight ahead in the distance.

The Rose Garden just outside the Oval Office.

The Oval Office.

The hive where the White House honey comes from. Now famous for being included in the White House honey ale and honey porter.

It was really an amazing experience, not everybody gets to do something like this and I’m so glad I was able to. Now I just have to wait for my brother-in-law to call about the next event…

Travel: DC Cherry Blossoms

Spring has come early to the East Coast this year and I couldn’t be happier about it. My mother’s birthday just passed recently and my sister had planned a weekend in DC to celebrate. Most of her plans went out the window when the cherry blossoms bloomed early. Mum loves flowers and there was no way she was going to skip a look at these gorgeous blooms.

This year is the centennial of the planting of the cherry blossom trees. The trees were a gift from the mayor of Tokyo to the city of Washington DC in 1912. Today some 3000 trees surround the Tidal Basin and envelop it in fluffy pink clouds each Spring.

The blooms hang over the path around the Tidal Basin, slightly obscuring your view. Cherry blossom-tinted glasses if you will. Above is the Jefferson Memorial seen through the trees, quite a contrast to the winter.

Saturday was the most beautiful day, almost 80° and perfectly clear skies. Lots of pedal boats out on the water, people bicycling around the city, and of course plenty of ice cream.