Horace Trumbauer, the Philadelphia architect who provided plans for the Dukes’ unfinished country mansion at Duke Farms, also developed the plans for the “New Greenhouse” and its associated outbuildings (later to become the Indoor Display Gardens).
Construction of the New Greenhouse took place in two phases. The first phase was constructed around 1909, and construction of the second phase was not completed until 1917. The New Greenhouse is substantially intact within the present Indoor Display Gardens.
The New Greenhouse complex is emblematic of the country house aesthetic. It was a center of production essential to furnishing the flowers, ferns, plants and produce required to maintain the lifestyle of the Dukes. Families such as the Dukes often shipped produce and cut flowers from their farms and estates to their resort homes and city houses.
Greenhouses also enabled the wealthy to indulge in the leisure pursuits of plant collecting and competitive flower shows. As steamships and the Panama and Suez Canals made foreign lands more accessible, wealthy individuals became patrons for plant collectors who scoured rain forests and exotic locations for new specimens.
And while flower shows placed a premium on the individual specimens, they also rewarded the creation of floral displays. These displays, which were on view for several days or a week, rewarded gardeners who could force the flowers to bloom in unison.
Under Head Gardener Angus MacDonald, Duke Farms’ American Beauty roses won first prize in the cut rose class at the New York International Flower Show in 1917. In 1920, Duke Farms’ orchids, grown under the supervision of Arthur E. Miles, won first prize. In both shows, Duke Farms mounted extensive displays.
More than four decades later, the magnificent flowers at Duke Farms would be displayed in an entirely different way. In 1958, Doris Duke began to transform the New Greenhouse complex into the Indoor Display Gardens, which she opened to the public for the first time in 1964.
Doris Duke had long been personally involved in the construction, repair and remodeling of her properties, and she was directly involved in the physical design of the Indoor Display Gardens. Although she lacked specific botanical knowledge, she had a clear vision of the spaces and features she wanted to create. According to the New York Post, she designed all but one of the gardens, incorporating her interests in color, design and fragrance.
The Indoor Display Gardens reveal the interests and philanthropic aspirations of Doris Duke, as well as an appreciation for other cultures and a yearning for global understanding. Today, a staff of 18 gardeners maintains the 11 thematic gardens, which are still open to the public for guided tours.
Indoor Display Gardens entrance.
Photo: Duke Farms
Interior working area of the Indoor Display Gardens. Photo: Betty Bird & Associates, Inc.
Roof detail. Note cresting, Roman grills, and finial lightning rod with drop pendant.
Photo: Betty Bird & Associates, Inc.