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A world of flowers and plants on display

By J.J. Thompson

Associated Press

HILLSBOROUGH, N.J. -- There is at least one place in New Jersey where spring and summer live on.

Duke Gardens, located on the 2,700-acre Hillsborough estate of the late tobacco heiress Doris Duke, offers the chance to see elaborate gardens in full bloom -- even when there's snow on the ground.

The gardens are housed under nearly an acre of connected greenhouses and offer 11 theme displays featuring plants from all over the world. The displays incorporate English, Chinese, Japanese and Indo-Persian traditions, to name a few.

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They primarily were designed by Duke, who was raised on the property.

The only daughter of James B. Duke, she led a sheltered life until 1925, when her father died and left the 12-year-old most of his millions. She was soon dubbed "The Richest Girl in the World."

Most of the Duke fortune came from the American Tobacco Co., the Duke Power Co., and real estate investments. The family also gave Duke University its name.

Duke died in 1993, and left the bulk of her money to charity.

During her lifetime, Duke avoided publicity and fought to protect her privacy, but the philanthropist decided some time around 1958 to create the gardens and open them to the public.

Until then, the greenhouses were used for personal and commercial purposes. Plants were grown on the estate for the New York flower markets until the use of jets to transport flowers jeopardized the local flower industry, says gardens director Tony Gsell.

By that time, the greenhouses were in disrepair. While discussing whether it was worthwhile to upgrade them when the local flower industry was changing, Gsell says Duke considered knocking everything down.

But she decided on a different solution after talking to friends.

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"Apparently she was close to just taking a bulldozer to the entire greenhouse complex and leaving it," he says. "The DuPonts were instrumental in turning her in the direction of display gardens."

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