Two-Star Certified Pilot Project

Location: Duke University, Durham, North Carolina
Project Size: 0.96 acres
Project Type: Open Space - Garden/Aboretum
Site Context: Urban
Former Land Use: Greyfield
Terrestrial Biome: Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests
Budget: $950,000
photo by: Rick Fisher's Photography

Project Overview

The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden focuses on sustainable practices, hands-on horticulture, and nature discovery for people of all ages. The garden demonstrates sustainable techniques that can be implemented by the average homeowner and gardener. The garden contains raised and at-grade vegetable beds, food forest plantings, an orchard, a rain garden, a bioswale, bee hives, an herb garden, cold frames, cisterns, an historic reclaimed tobacco barn, and pergola structures. Horticultural practices will demonstrate an organic and sustainable approach to gardening. Visitors and program participants can take part in growing, maintaining, harvesting, and enjoying fresh food from the vegetable beds and native food forest. Programs will introduce school groups, families, camp participants, and adults to the pleasures and benefits of growing their own food. From basic horticulture to math, art and science, any topic may be learned, discovered, or enriched by experiences in the garden.

Regional Context

The Piedmont Region is largely wooded and consists of irregular plains, low rounded hills and ridges, shallow valleys, and scattered monadnocks. It is a transitional area between the mostly mountainous ecoregions of the Appalachians to the west and the lower, more level ecoregions of the coastal plain to the east. Crestal elevations typically range from about 200 to 1,000 feet but higher monadnocks occur and reach 2,000 feet. The Piedmont is underlain primarily by deeply weathered, deformed metamorphic rocks that have been intruded by igneous material; sedimentary rocks also occur locally but are much less dominant than in the Middle Atlantic Coastal Plain or the Southeastern Plains. Ultisols occur widely and have developed from residuum; they are commonly clay-rich, acid, and relatively low in base saturation. These soils and the region’s humid, warm temperate climate originally supported Oak-Hickory-Pine Forest that was dominated by hickory, shortleaf pine, loblolly pine, white oak, and post oak.

SITES Features + Practices

Stormwater Management: Cisterns, a bioswale, and a rain garden collect and filter the stormwater on site. 

Salvaged Local Materials: A reclaimed tobacco barn serves as an educational center teaching visitors about the history of local agriculture, while other salvaged materials, such as reclaimed brick and barn logs were used in strucutres, raised brick plant beds, and site furnishings. Consciousness of the region, particulary with regards to the native plants used, agricultural history, and materials all helped shape the final design selections.

Organic Site Maintenance: All plant beds are managed organically, and there are on site compost bins and bee hives that promote polination and nutrient cycling. 


The design and construction team committed to meeting and exceeding sustainability standards. They faithfully documented and sought out ways to improve site sustainability throughout the entire process. An effective partner in the construction firm went above and beyond to locate regional materials and document processes.

The integrated design team approach helped maximize the project outcome. The level of skill and expertise on the team meant that design meetings were very collaborative. With contributions from all, each final selection and material choice was a better fit than if the final design were accomplished in a more linear, traditional fashion.

City and regional requirements were exceeded for site water management strategies in order to acheive City of Durham Best Management Practices for stormwater management. This expanded the design team's sense of what the rain garden could accomplish and it can manage rainfall up to the 100-year storm. 

Maintenance + Stewardship

The mission of Sarah P. Duke Gardens is to create and nurture an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. Outreach to the community has long been a mission driven goal of Sarah P. Duke Gardens. The Discovery Garden extends that opportunity and the program plans include new classes and events to focus on health, nutrition, and sustainable gardening.

The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden is a tribute to a visionary gardener, Charlotte Brody. She spent the last forty years of her life educating her North Carolina community about the benefits of organic gardening. The horticultural staff and programming staff are committed to managing this site organically and sustainably as a core mission of this garden. Additionally, the staff horticulturists are tracking daily temperatures, pests identified, pounds of produce harvested, and what is currently in bloom for the garden. Information is available for the general public and then tracked for staff use.

The maintenance of the garden will be directed by a full-time garden curator and a full-time garden horticulturist. They will be assisted by volunteers and program participants. The invasive plant monitoring plan will be conducted by Bobby Mottern, Director of Horticulture at Sarah P. Duke Gardens every two months in the first year and, at the very least, twice a year in subsequent years.

Jan Little, Director of Education and Public Programs at Sarah P. Duke Gardens, will be implementing a digital survey to assess the effectiveness of the quiet areas. She will administer the surveys at the garden’s entrance as people are exiting the garden four times within the first year of operation. She will also implement a paper survey to assess the effectiveness of the areas of social interaction.

The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden visitors can now actively participate in sustainable gardening and learn horticultural skills. Programs and classes will allow participants to dig, prepare planting beds, seed and transplant plants, maintain the garden, and assist in harvesting the fruits of their labor. The Garden is enthusiastic about the opportunity to begin a conversation with the community about sustainable strategies, the movement of water and resources through our gardens, and the contributions of each gardener to overall health.

Site Challenges

The 8 percent grade change of the site was a fundamental challenge for this project. This developed into an opportunity to demonstrate water management techniques and zone the garden into use areas including vegetable beds at one grade, food forest planting that covered the grade transition, and then bioswale and rain garden features that allowed us to capture and slow water for use in the garden.

Project Goals + Successes

The Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden's overarching goals include promoting health and nutrition education, encouraging awareness of sustainable practices, fostering an appreciation for the natural spaces of the Piedmont and establishing a sense of place, celebrate diverse food traditions, achieving the highest level of SITES certification, and improving the environmental quality of the site.

The SITES certification provided a framework within which to work toward achieving these goals. The SITES certification process helped to identify areas for improvement, assisted in creating a common understanding of the end result, and helped build an effective team that was committed to this goal.

The entire design team was committed to the sustainable goals and each member helped to further that goal. The contractors found resources for reclaimed materials, staff members located used equipment for sinks and water fountains, and carpenters found ways to reuse lumber.

The garden was planted very early in the spring of 2012. The formal dedication of the space was conducted in late May 2012, and a two-day public opening celebration was held in September 2012. Children in a spring break camp assisted with planting the garden. Several of those children have returned to see how it is growing and to show their families. By the end of July the project had already attracted 40 volunteers interested in working in the garden and/or assisting visitors to the garden, and over 400 pounds of fresh, local, organic produce have been delivered to local hunger relief organizations. The garden is both very functional and very beautiful. Visitors, staff and board members have all commented that it has exceeded expectations.

Lessons Learned

After undertaking a SITES pilot project, the design team learned that local approvals and government oversight should happen as early in the process as possible. An early meeting with city officials would have provided an opportunity to share strategies, ideas, and benchmarks so that city officials would have developed a better understanding of sustainability goals and strategies being used in this garden.

Moving through the SITES process has developed a greater awareness and knowledge about sustainable development. The design team now has a better understanding of the resources available and how to implement sustainable strategies in the future.

Project Team

Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Bill LeFevre, Owner Representative and Executive Director
Bobby Mottern, MLA, Project Supervisor and Director of Horticulture
Jan Little, LA, Project Supervisor and Director of Education and Public Programs
Jason Holmes, Project Horticulturist, Curator of the Doris Duke Center Gardens
Kavanah Anderson, Project Education Coordinator
Lindsey Fleetwood, Project Horticulturist
Stefan Bloodworth, Horticulturist and Curator of the Blomquist Garden of Native Plants

Duke University
Audrey Frasca, Project Manager
Sarah Parsons, SITES Supervisor and Graduate student at the Nicholas School of the Environment

Jesse Turner Landscape Architect
Jesse Turner, RLA, Lead Site Designer
Ellen Cassilly, AIA, LEED AP, Site Designer

LeChase Construction
Jon Barret, LEED AP, Senior Construction Manger

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