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New Teaching Garden Instructs On Food, Ecology

Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden dedicated this month

Part of the Eat What You Learn Series
The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, dedicated this month, will instruct visitors about healthy eating and ecological practices. Photo by Jared Lazarus / Duke Photography
The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, dedicated this month, will instruct visitors about healthy eating and ecological practices. Photo by Jared Lazarus / Duke Photography

Visitors will get a better taste of where our food comes from and ideal ecological practices in a new teaching garden at Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden, whose namesake was an early and avid organic gardener, was dedicated this month and will have an opening ceremony for the public in September.

The garden features organic vegetable beds, an orchard, fruiting shrubs and vines, a reconstructed tobacco barn, a rain garden, a chicken coop, cold frames for winter planting, outdoor classroom space and two cisterns that can hold more than 7,000 gallons of rainwater.

"Now every kid who comes to Duke, every kid from Durham, every kid from North Carolina and every kid whose family comes to Duke Gardens has a chance to come here for discovery -- discovery of the beauty of the natural world," Duke University President Richard H. Brodhead said at the dedication ceremony on May 19, which was attended by dozens of Brody's descendants.

Brody was a master gardener and columnist from Kinston, who spent the last 40 years of her life educating people in her community about the importance of organic foods and gardening for a healthier lifestyle. Her dream was to establish a safe place where all children could learn and experience the joys of gardening.

Brody's daughters, Marilyn Brody Lane, Marsha Brody Shiff and Hynda Brody Dalton, donated the funds to build the garden, along with Shiff's son, Daniel S. Shiff. The Burpee Foundation provided additional funds to help build the Burpee Learning Center, a tobacco barn rebuilt from two historic barns donated by Larry Daniel, former associate director of Duke Gardens.

The barn lumber is also incorporated into a large arbor near the barn, and a chicken coop, which also contains reused lumber from a 125-year-old Oxford textile mill.

Architect Ellen Cassilly and landscape architect Jesse Turner worked with Duke Gardens horticulture director Robert Mottern, Doris Duke Center Gardens curator Jason Holmes, Jan Little, director of education and public programs, and other Gardens staff members to create the new garden. It's located in a former field adjacent to Lewis Street.

Daniel Shiff likened his grandmother to the visionary women whose generosity and love of nature shaped Duke Gardens: Sarah P. Duke, daughter Mary Duke Biddle and granddaughter Mary Duke Biddle Trent Semans.

'Like these great Duke women, Charlotte Brody had a vision that was ahead of her time,' he said. And because of a generous gift by her daughters -- Marilyn,  Marsha and Hynda -- to Duke University, The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden has been created and forever will be her legacy, a special place where children and adults can learn, get their hands dirty, and enjoy organic gardening."

The Brody Garden is one of two pilot projects at Duke that are part of the new Sustainable Sites Initiative (SSI), an international program created to promote sustainable land development and management practices (the second SSI project is a partnership between Duke's Smart Home, N.C. State University and John Deere).

The garden will sponsor year-round hands-on workshops for adults, children and families. The grand opening weekend celebration on Sept. 8 and 9 will feature a lecture by Frances Mayes, best-selling author of "Under the Tuscan Sun" and "The Tuscan Sun Cookbook," and a host of other workshops, demonstrations and children's activities.

At the garden's dedication, Brody's youngest descendants climbed up to see the sedum-planted "green" roof of the chicken coop and wound their way merrily through vegetable bed paths. Brodhead noted their enthusiasm during his speech.

"Wouldn't you like to think that the kids who come here for the rest of time will discover the pleasure there could be in thinking of yourself as a steward of the Earth, as someone who takes care of the Earth so that there's more and more of it for the people who come afterward?" Brodhead asked. "That would be a lot of great discovery to come out of a garden."