Garden prime for a winter stroll

Sarah P. Duke Gardens

420 Anderson St., Durham. 919-684-3698;

The turn of the year may not be the busiest or showiest season for public gardens, but the size and scope of the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, at Duke University in Durham, guarantees something is always blooming. And admission to its 57 acres is free.

There are four gardens here, linked and crossed by roughly five miles of walkways and paths. There's the elaborately landscaped Terraces (the original garden, dating to the 1930s), the Bloomquist Garden of Native Plants, the Culberson Asiatic Arboretum and the Doris Duke Center gardens.

The hillside Terrace is notable for its fountain-holding stairway, rock garden and waterfall; the Bloomquist showcases vegetation native to the region; the Culberson's specialty is East Asia.

There are ponds throughout; at the largest, in the Culberson, is also the close-to-the-ground Yatsuhashi bridge, named for and modeled after a famous span in Japan; it has a zig-zag pattern which, according to Japanese folklore, prevents straight-moving evil spirits from following your footsteps.

In bloom right now, and seen in various parts of the acreage, are the sinensis (tea plant) and japonica (ornamental) varieties of camellia. January brings winter daphne, winter sweet, winter honeysuckle and winter jasmine. Winter is also a great season here to clearly view trees.

Programs are offered throughout the year. Jan. 21, there will be a botanical arts and crafts session on creating miniature moss gardens in dishes; Jan. 21 and 28 are three-hour sessions on winter botany. (Cost for these programs: $100 per person.)

Hours: 8 a.m.-dusk daily; visitor center is closed Dec. 24-25 and Dec. 31-Jan. 1 and other public holidays.

Cost: Free admission; free parking at the Doris Duke Center 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday-Sunday; $1 for 30 minutes at other times.

Target audience: Garden lovers, seekers of outdoor beauty and quiet.

Travel time from Charlotte: 2 1/2 hours.

Directions: Interstate 85 North to Durham; exit at Hillandale Road and follow Hillandale-Fulton Street south to Erwin Road; turn left on Erwin Road, then right on Anderson Street. Watch for the gardens entrance on your right.