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.

An afternoon at Dumbarton Oaks

Visits to DC are a fairly common occurrence for me. I generally go to visit my sister and brother-in-law and eat great food – hard to come by reservations are on the menu if I’m lucky. But I also do my best to visit a new neighbourhood or museum.

This time I went to Dumbarton Oaks, a hidden treasure in Georgetown. Now, Georgetown is beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not my favourite place. Oftentimes crowded with obnoxious people, it’s not exactly what I’m looking for when escaping NYC. But the gardens at Dumbarton Oaks are a welcome respite from the noise.

It was the home of Mildred and Robert Woods Bliss, an American diplomat and his wife. They spent a significant amount of time improving the house and grounds before conveying the property to Harvard University with the intent that it exist as an institute for scholarship and the arts.

Today the building of the main house is a museum, library, and archive.

Pass through the old orangery to get to the back of the house and the grounds.

The property is divided in to a series of terraces and enclosed gardens. The place isn’t overwhelming in size, but there are quite a few steps and slopes along the way.

This is the pebble garden, one of the prettiest parts of Dumbarton Oaks in my opinion. Made up of thousands of pebbles in varying colours and sizes laid in a mosaic resembling a sheaf of wheat.

Winding pathways lead to wonderful flower gardens, pools and shady nooks. There are lots of benches along the way, perfect spots to while away an afternoon reading a book.

This small patch of lawn just outside the orangery, overlooking the pool and the pebble garden was my favourite spot. Just warm enough, a little dappled sunlight coming through the trees. I think I spent a couple of hours here reading peacefully and admiring the beautiful house.

Like a lot of places in DC, Dumbarton Oaks has an interesting story and rich history. They do charge admission for access to the gardens (not for the museum or library) and though there are many wonderful free places to visit in DC I highly recommend going to Dumbarton Oaks if you can.