The Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina are one of the few remaining gardens designed by Ellen Biddle Shipman.
This trail-blazing female landscape architect, born in 1869, began her career in 1912 when she was 43. When she died at 81 in 1950, she had designed over 600 gardens mostly in the Northeast and Midwest. However, after her death, her type of gardens fell out of favor as they were perceived to be too high maintenance.
She layered her plantings, which consisted of annuals, shrubs and perennials, in a manner that produced lovely textured and colorful effects. Her clients were mainly families who could afford help to maintain extensive flower-filled gardens, though her ideas have inspired many modern home gardeners who love a profusion of flowers.
Shipman was a life-long advocate for women in what was then a male-dominated profession. Her gardens were featured in popular magazines of her time. She lectured widely during her lifetime and profoundly influenced American garden design during the first half of the 20th Century.
Her artistry was exquisite, and the small number of the gardens she designed that survive are certainly worth a visit. Other examples are The Italian Garden at the Cumner Museum of Art and Gardens in Jacksonville, Florida, Longue View House and Gardens in New Orleans, Louisiana, and The English Gardens at Stan Hywet Hall, Akron, Ohio.
The Gardens of Ellen Biddle Shipman, (Abrams/Sagepress, 1996).