WRITTEN BY Bek Mitchell-Kidd
LANDSCAPE DESIGN BY Laurie Durden
The Duke Mansion has been home and host to many leaders of the 20th century. Its most famous owner was James Buchanan Duke. His most lasting legacies, including Duke University, Duke Energy and the Duke Endowment, all took shape at the home. Built in 1915 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Mansion is operated as a nonprofit with all proceeds being used to preserve and protect the community treasure.
Now a boutique bed and breakfast and event/meeting space, The Mansion signifies sophistication. It’s home to once-in-a-lifetime memories, board meetings, teas, weddings, parties and decision-making.
But it’s what happening outside the home that has the Queen City buzzing.
The Lynnwood Foundation was established to preserve and protect The Duke Mansion, and to support its programming arm, The Lee Institute. As part of the centennial celebration of The Mansion, The Lynnwood Foundation embarked on an unprecedented makeover of the 4.5-acre grounds.
Renowned Charlotte-based landscape designer Laurie Durden was tapped to lead the project. Cyndee Patterson, president of The Duke Mansion and The Lee Institute says, “We were lucky that Laurie chose us because when you look at her skills and background—you wouldn’t look any further. The fact that she grew up in Charlotte and understands the Southern garden aesthetic is probably one of the most important reasons why this has been so perfect. Laurie established an amazing creative balance of acknowledging the past in terms of what belongs in our garden but stretching it.”
The gardens closest to the house are formal, while the gardens that are farther away take on a looser structure. “We tried to create spaces that extended the house into the landscape and to create rooms that could accommodate a variety of event scales,” says Laurie.
The project started in the fall of 2013. Laurie explains, “We designed and installed in phases. The final stage—a tropical reading garden and a bird/butterfly garden—is being installed this summer.”The ambitious plan called for over 20 garden rooms. Each area is named for donors connected with The Mansion, a few of which lived in the home. In collaboration with The Lee Institute and The Duke Mansion, Laurie’s team came up with concepts and designs, then worked with donors to name and make each area special to them.
A true Southern delight, the gardens feature boxwood, camellias, azaleas, crape myrtles, viburnums, hydrangeas and roses.
Just as important as what is happening on the ground is what is going on above. One of Laurie’s priorities was to preserve and grow the tree canopy. Trees in poor health were removed and hundreds of trees were added, including large canopy trees such as tulip poplar, white oak, red maple and understory/ornamental trees like dogwood, redbud and Yoshino cherry.
Cyndee says, “Laurie’s ability to see what could be there, and to be guided by what was there in terms of preexisting tree canopy, has made this an incredible space.”Another priority was to make it possible for the public to access and enjoy the gardens. A new path winds through the property and connects neighboring streets with views that lead the visitors through the garden. Deer are a frequent sight along the path, as are many butterflies and pollinators, thanks to the inclusion of native plants.
Another priority was to make it possible for the public to access and enjoy the gardens. A new path winds through the property and connects neighboring streets with views that lead the visitors through the garden. Deer are a frequent sight along the path, as are many butterflies and pollinators, thanks to the inclusion of native plants.
It was a complex site with topographical challenges, drainage issues and other existing conditions, so collaboration was key. Laurie says Providence Landscape Group, which worked on the installation, was wonderful and exactly what was needed on a project like this. Cyndee agrees: “Providence Landscape Group has been our partner for more than 10 years. They are so generous to us. In truth, we really couldn’t do what we do every day in the garden without their help.”
Part of the funds raised for the garden are in an endowment for its continued care. Laurie’s team also created a very detailed document that explains the intentions of the gardens, color schemes, replacement suggestions and pruning guidelines. There is also more technical information about fertilizing. And just as important, there are specific areas where the director of gardens can use his or her own creativity.
Laurie says, “On a project like this, we are installing plants to reach maturity, knowing we may have to thin some areas as they mature. I’d like to think that the garden will still be here 100 years from now.”
ABOUT THE LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT
Laurie Durden is a Charlotte, NC, native and owner of Laurie Durden Garden Design. She has a graduate degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture, studied art history as an undergraduate and credits travel with her appreciation for a wide range of styles. Laurie begins each project with a thorough investigation of the existing site conditions, including topography, sunlight, views and existing plants, as well as the context, architecture and character of the site. She is then able to create enduring landscapes that enhance the way her clients live. She enjoys travel, being with her family and working in her own garden. Laurie and her husband live in Charlotte with their two daughters and two dogs (a Goldendoodle and Labradoodle). Laurie’s work has appeared in Garden & Gun, Charlotte Home+Garden and QC Exclusive, among other publications.
The Lynnwood Foundation, a nonprofit organization established in 1996, has a twofold mission: To maintain and preserve the national historic site known as The Duke Mansion by operating it as a unique meeting facility and community gathering place, and to create and operate The Lee Institute, which focuses on building collaborative community leadership.