This public garden originated in the early 1930s, when a modest flower garden was planted in a ravine at the edge of Duke University’s West Campus. In 1937 a donation from Mary Duke Biddle (in memory of her mother, benefactor Sarah P. Duke) helped transform the site into a 55-acre designed landscape containing a nearly twelve-acre Terrace Garden by landscape architect Ellen Shipman. At the top of seven stone-walled terraces, a circular wisteria-covered pergola frames views down plateaus with profusely blooming bulbs and perennials along a main axis, terminating in a small pond. Integral to the rhythm of the axial stairs are garden statuary and fountains; gradating the garden in the wooded hillside are two stone dovecote-like structures. While Shipman’s planting scheme proved an incomplete success on the terraces where most of the perennials failed to flourish, many of her Japanese cherries, crabapples, and shrub plantings have survived, adding color and texture to the garden.
Between 1959 and 1963, landscape architect William Leong implemented a master plan, including designs for the South Lawn, bridge, and small pool. In 1979 Linda Jewell produced a master plan that resulted in the design for the Asiatic Arboretum. Integral to the plan was a stormwater management pond. Sam Reynolds, her partner at Reynolds & Jewell, completed extensive renovations, including the Rose Circle, Rollins Overlook, and numerous garden structures. In the early 2000s, Warren Byrd planned and designed the landscape of the Doris Duke Center, which includes the Angle Amphitheater and Virtue Peace Pond. A new master plan for the Gardens was created by Marshall Tyler Rausch in 2004. The most significant project of the 2010s has been the Pine Clouds Mountain Stream in the Japanese Garden, designed by Sada Uchiyama.