Duke University Alumni Magazine

by Sam Hull

Shipman in her Beekman Place office, New York City, during the 1920s
Bradley studio, Nancy Angell Streeter collection

andscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman, who designed the Sarah B. Duke Gardens as well as 650 private and public gardens during her career, is being recognized twice this spring on campus. A weekend symposium, "Gardens Past and Present: the Legacy of Ellen Biddle Shipman," will be held March 27-29; it's sponsored by the Duke Gardens and the Duke Alumni Association. The event coincides with the opening of the traveling exhibit, "The Gardens of Ellen Biddle Shipman," at the Duke University Museum of Art on March 27 through May 24.

From 1914 to 1946, Shipman designed the private gardens for the homes of Fords, Astors, du Ponts, and others known in industry or as patrons of the arts. In 1936, she was commissioned by Mary Duke Biddle, a distant relation by marriage, to revamp a flooded iris garden at Duke that was originally conceived by Shipman's friend Frederick M. Hanes. On April 21, 1939, the terraces of Duke Gardens were dedicated by Biddle in memory of her mother, Sarah P. Duke, wife of Benjamin N. Duke, one of the university's founders.

Dovecote at Rynwood, the Samuel A. Salvage estate in Glen Head, New York, 1926
Harry G. Healy, 1935, RMC Cornell University library

Halfred Farms, the Windsor White estate in Chagrin Falls, Ohio
© Carol Betsch, 1995

Shipman's design for this public space reflected the look and feel of the private gardens for which she had long been praised as the "dean of American women landscape architects." Her seven curved terraces, replete with Japanese cherries, crabapples, and other lush shrubs, led to the wisteria-covered pergola that is the gardens' familiar focal point and a hallmark in Shipman design.

Grahampton, 1917, the Henry Croft estate in Greenwich, Connecticut;
Mattie Edwards Hewitt, circa 1922, rare manuscripts collection, Cornell University library

Above: a 1940s vista, in the cottage-garden style
Duke University Archives

Pergola vision: spring's splendid culmination
Photo:Les Todd

Pergola vision: an aerial view, above, of the site's steps, fountains, and strata of plantings
Photo:E. H. Albrecht

Pergola vision: from the drawing board
Photo: Jim Wallace of Original Shipmann prints
For symposium information, contact Deborah Weiss Fowlkes '78, director of Alumni Lifelong Education, at (800) 367-3853, (919) 684- 3046, or .

The Duke Gardens' website is www.hr.duke.edu/dukegardens.

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