Phase 1 Reopening

March 29, 2021 - After a year-long closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sarah P. Duke Gardens plans to reopen in careful phases beginning April 1, with limited capacity and timed ticketing to ensure best practices for health and safety.

In the first phase, only Duke students, faculty and staff who have completed symptom monitoring and have a timed ticket and Duke ID will be able to access the Gardens. The hours will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. No other family members or guests will be admitted, with the exception of infants aged 12 months or younger.

Entry will be only through the Memorial Gate on Flowers Drive, adjacent to West Campus. The Anderson Street entrance and parking lots will remain closed. Visitors must obtain a ticket with a specific entry time in advance of their arrival. Tickets will be available via the Duke Box Office beginning at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, March 30. 

Before entering the Gardens at their scheduled times, visitors must show their valid Duke photo ID and completed entry on the symptom monitoring apps for Duke University or Duke University Health System (please see details in the “know before you go” section below).

“We are delighted at the prospect of sharing the beauty and serenity of Duke Gardens with visitors again,” says Bill LeFevre, Duke Gardens’ executive director, who worked with Duke administrators and Gardens staff to determine when and how to reopen as safely as possible.

“Duke Gardens is a vital part of the Duke campus experience, and we look forward to welcoming students, faculty, and staff who have long cherished their time in the Gardens and have been eager to return. We are especially excited for first-year students to see the spectacular plant collections and experience how relaxing, rejuvenating and inspiring it can be to explore these nationally acclaimed gardens in the heart of the Duke campus.”  

Reducing capacity is a critical factor for safety during the pandemic. In a normal year, more than 600,000 visitors flock to the Gardens, and even the widest paths can be extremely crowded at peak times. Many of the Gardens’ paths are only 2 to 4 feet wide, so maintaining social distance is extremely challenging, if not impossible.

Opening to a smaller population for phase 1 will enable the Gardens’ staff to iron out any logistical challenges before moving into a phase 2 opening with more visitors.  

The health and safety of visitors and staff are the Gardens’ top priorities, and the reopening date and details are subject to change on short notice, as with all plans and policies during this unpredictable pandemic period. Duke Gardens does not have a reopening date for the general public at this time. To keep apprised of all COVID-19 campus information, please go to  

Duke faculty and staff may also make appointments to access the Gardens for classes and for Duke-facilitated wellness programs. Please see Duke in the Gardens for more information and to request an appointment.

Know before you go

  • Visitors must obtain a ticket with a specific entry time in advance of their arrival. Tickets will be available via the Duke Box Office beginning at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, March 30. 
  • Visitors may not bring children, or other family members or friends who are not Duke students or employees and thus are not part of Duke’s symptom monitoring program.The one exception is infants aged 12 months or younger.
  • All visitors must show a current Duke photo ID.
  • The first reservation each day will be at 10 a.m. The last will be at 3 p.m.
  • Entry is only through the Memorial Gate on Flowers Drive, near the Allen Building. It is marked on our garden map. The main gate and parking lot on Anderson Street will remain closed.
  • The nearest parking lot to the Memorial Gate is the Trent Drive lot at Duke University Hospital. Here is the lot on Google Maps. This photo shows the route from parking to the gate. The parking fee is $2 per hour up to a max of $8 per day.
  • Your visit may be as long as you like, provided that you exit before 4 p.m.
  • The Gardens will close promptly at 4 p.m., and all gates will be locked. Nobody may enter after 3:15 p.m. Please plan your visit accordingly.
  • In keeping with university safety procedures, before entering the Gardens, all visitors must show their completed entry on the Duke University (SymMon) or Duke University Health System (Duke HealthCheck) symptom monitoring apps for the day of the visit, showing the final “cleared for work” or “pass today” pages. You may display this via the phone app, email, or a printout. Download and find out more about these apps here and here.
  • If visitors would like to spend time in the Gardens with friends, each person in the group must be a Duke student, staff or faculty member and reserve a ticket separately.
  • Each week on Tuesdays, a new set of reservation dates will be added to the Duke Box Office.
  • Your ticket will be scanned before you enter. You may bring a printout or display it on your mobile device.
  • You must wear a mask or face covering and maintain a 6-foot distance from other visitors and Gardens staff at all times. 
  • Hand sanitizer stations are located throughout the Gardens. Please use them after touching handrails or other surfaces.
  • Restrooms located in the Terrace Gardens and Culberson Asiatic Arboretum will be open during visiting hours. The Doris Duke Center, gift shop and café remain closed.
  • Water fountains will not be functioning, and bottled drinks will not be available for purchase on site. Please plan ahead and pack a water bottle.
  • Bicycles and dog-walking will not be permitted at this time.


Why are you opening only to Duke students, faculty and staff?

In order to adhere to safety protocols, Duke Gardens must significantly reduce its capacity. In a normal year, we welcome more than 600,000 visitors, and even the widest paths can be extremely crowded at peak times. In addition, many paths within Duke Gardens are only 2 to 4 feet wide, so maintaining social distance is extremely challenging, if not impossible.
Opening to a smaller population will enable Duke Gardens to serve as a vital campus resource while working toward a future phase in which we can once again welcome visitors from Durham and beyond. This initial phase will also serve as a testing period, so we can make sure that future phases of our reopening will run as smoothly as possible.


I am a Duke student or faculty/staff member. May I bring my children, other family members or friends with me when I visit?

No. During this initial phase, we must limit admission solely to Duke faculty, staff and students who are part of Duke’s symptom monitoring program and are using the Duke University or Duke University Health System’s symptom monitoring apps, and who have committed to the Duke Compact. The sole exception is infants aged 12 months or younger. Please see more information above in the “know before you go” section.


When will you open to the general public?

We do not have a date for a public reopening at this time, but we are working hard to do so as soon as we are able. Our ability to increase capacity in the future will depend on how the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our state and nation, and on Duke University’s campus-wide health and safety policies.


Are all outdoor parts of the Gardens open?

Certain paths or garden areas may be closed for all or part of a given day, to enable the horticulture staff to focus on their work without putting visitors or themselves at risk of unexpected encounters. Horticulture staff members always maintain a 6-foot or greater distance from each other. But because their work can entail rigorous exertion, they may not be able to wear masks at all times. For that reason, we ask you to please refrain from entering restricted areas. A few parts of the Gardens may also be closed off entirely during this initial phase, if they don’t lend themselves to safely distanced visitor flow.


What should I do when someone is coming my way on a narrow path?

First, please ensure you are wearing your mask as required at all times. Then seek out the nearest intersection that one of you can return to, so that neither of you will need to step off the path and potentially damage sensitive plants or root systems.


Are there places where I can sit with a friend while keeping a safe distance?

Most garden benches are not long enough for two people to share safely. But there are some locations with multiple benches in close enough proximity, as well as two amphitheaters and some large lawn areas that you may enjoy. See our garden map here. Please always be mindful of other visitors’ safety needs, too.


What if I’m the only person around? Do I still need to wear a mask?

Because Duke Gardens is such a popular destination for Duke students, faculty and staff, there will almost always be someone in your vicinity. Given the likelihood of you being within 6 feet of others, even briefly, we ask that you continue to wear your mask throughout your visit, so that everyone's garden experience can be as safe as possible.


What should I do if someone in the Gardens is not adhering to Duke safety policies?

Please see the Duke Compact web page to learn what to do if you see someone straying from our shared commitment to university and community health and safety.


Where can I access WiFi in the Gardens?

Our usual WiFi access is currently unavailable due to nearby construction projects. We apologize for the inconvenience. However, we do have electrical outlets in the Fisher Amphitheater, located between the Terrace Gardens and the large pond in the Asiatic Arboretum. We invite you to plug in and recharge as needed.


May I use the Gardens for academic research or teach a small class there?

We love to partner with students and professors on academic pursuits, and for Duke-facilitated wellness programs. However, during this pandemic period, our capacity for by-appointment visits is more limited than usual. Please see our page Duke in the Gardens to explore what’s possible during this period or to request an appointment.


May I hold a meeting with a Duke colleague or student in the Gardens?

We welcome our campus colleagues during our Thursday-Sunday open hours. Please maintain distancing and prepare to be flexible with regard to location, or consider a walking meeting.


What should I bring with me?

We suggest that you bring water, sunscreen and insect repellant. If you bring food or drinks, please carry your trash out with you.


May I play Frisbee, climb trees or go swimming in the ponds?

No. Frisbees, balls and other sports equipment and activities are not permitted in the Gardens at any time, in order to protect the plant collections as well as fellow visitors. Tree climbing is also harmful to the plants and is prohibited. And although the snapping turtles and leeches would love for you to go swimming in the ponds, we value your safety and do not allow it. Please see additional policies here.


May I feed the ducks and fish?

Please do not feed the waterfowl or fish, as food intended for humans can be harmful to their digestive systems and also pollute the ponds. We feed them every morning, so you can be assured that they are happy, healthy and well fed, even when they tell you otherwise.


May I schedule a portrait session or do a video shoot?

Because of our restricted access, we are not scheduling portrait sessions in the Gardens at this time. Video shoots at Duke Gardens must always be proposed and arranged in advance and require special permission from the Gardens and the university. Please email orla.swift@duke.edufor further information.


May I fly a drone?

Drone flights are prohibited in Duke Gardens. If you have university project proposal involving drone footage in the Gardens, please see Duke’s Webdam multimedia archive, or apply in advance for permission via Duke’s drone flight request form. Proposals will be considered on a case-by-case basis and must adhere to all university drone policies.