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This article was prepared for the December 22, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Duke Farms Decks Out Its Greenhouses for the Holidays

Duke Farms, the Somerset estate of Doris Duke, philanthropist, world traveler, and lover of the natural world, was in a quiet phase for the better part of the last decade. But now its wonders are increasingly being made accessible. This year, for the first time, the estate’s greenhouses are decked out in holiday splendor, and are open to the public.

“Doris Duke passed away in 1993, and the charitable foundation didn’t get control of the money until 1999,” says Richard Feldman, newly appointed program consultant at Duke Farms. Once charged with the care of the magnificent estate, members of foundation took their time in deciding what access to allow. “As well they should have,” declares Feldman. Gradually, guided tours and public events, like last September’s Dodge Poetry Festival, have been welcomed.

This holiday event — Feldman is careful not to call it a “Christmas” event — is the latest outreach.

“Duke had a love of the Southeast, of Asian art,” says Feldman. “She had one home designed around Islamic culture.” One of the holiday displays, therefore, contains elements of a Ramadan holiday. Others highlight celebrations centered around Diwali, Kwanza, Channukah, the winter solstice — and, yes, Christmas.

Plants from around the world — including a number of unusual specimens — have been grown and decorative elements have been added.

Feldman, enthusiastic about the holiday displays, is delighted to be organizing the event, and to be heading up programming at the estate. A native of Cherry Hill, he earned a marketing degree from Southern Illinois University before serving five years in the Air Force during the Vietnam war. “I volunteered to go to Vietnam,” he says, “but they sent me to Cape Cod instead.”

Safely out of the military, he earned a master’s degree in HR management. His corporate career took to him a number of companies, including Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Lockheed, and York International, from which he recently retired as vice president of global HR. He then took on several consulting jobs.

Just about one year ago, he got a call about another consulting possibility. “‘Do you know where Duke Farms is?’” he was asked. His answer? “I live on Duke Parkway, 1.7 miles away.”

Presenting himself for an interview, Feldman “fell in love with the place.”

The holiday displays he is overseeing are open as a tour. There is no free-form rambling at Duke Farms, but Feldman is sensitive to the desires of the public. Guides take visitors through the festooned gardens on a one hour walking tour, and are fully prepared to tell all about the plant specimens as well as the holidays depicted in each display. But, says Feldman, so far most visitors have been mainly interested in taking in the visual wonder of verdant scenes. If little or no narration is requested, the guides keep mum as their charges admire the rare purple pointsettias.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring

Holidays Around the World at Duke Farms, through early-January (date dependant upon the longevity of the plants). Closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day; Duke Parkway at Route 206 in Somerset, a one-hour tour. $10, $8 seniors, $6 children 6-12 (under 6 admitted free). Advance reservations strongly recommended. 908-722-3700 or www.dukefarms.org.


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