Sunday, January 26, 2014

Greenwood Gardens: A Jewel of the Garden State & Horticultural Historical Inspiration

Last Wednesday was the first garden lecture in the much-loved Wave Hill winter garden series of garden talks.

The featured speaker was Louis Rauer, the now former Director of Horticulture, Greenwood Gardens.  
Louis Bauer, Horticulturist, leading our Greenwood Gardens tour
I was so sorry to have missed the evening’s talk.
The unrelenting schedule demons intervened and I was over-scheduled.
I had an extraordinary opportunity with Princeton TV to talk about my book, The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook.   
More on that TV interview experience later.

I visited Greenwood Gardens in the late summer/early fall as part of the MetroHort tour.
I admire Louis so much for his garden knowledge and design expertise and attention to garden art, history and provenance.
And of course, for his exuberant love and devotion to the Plants. 

Truth be told, I started this Wave Hill lecture post about the featured Greenwood Gardens talk on the day of the lecture, Wednesday, the 22nd.   
I thought it would be especially helpful for those garden enthusiasts and horticulturists who may have been thwarted by Mother Nature’s operatic overtures and could not make it into town to attend the lecture held at the New York School of Interior Design on 70th Street.

I was keenly aware of the travel and attendance issue that day since I had scooted over to the Beard Foundation’s (around the corner from me) for the “Beard on Books” talk with celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson for his “Yes, Chef: A Memoir” talk at noon and the usual SRO audience was, well, more than a bit sparse – even given Chef Marcus’ celebrity status.

Sooo – I salute those hort-hearty folks who did attend – you can celebrate yourselves here -- as we did on Tuesday at The New York Botanic Garden landscape design alumni meeting, when our loyal, garden-hardy members braved the #polarvortex to learn about water gardens. 
And to see the snow-globe beauty of the Botanic Garden.

It’s understandable if  you couldn’t make it to the Wave Hill lecture. 
But there is good news!
As a member of Metrohort, I was fortunate to have participated in the on-site tour of Greenwood Gardens last fall, when Louis was our tour guide.   
Sadly, my schedule didn’t allow me to write and post sooner, closer to our garden tour.  However, I think things have a way of working out.  And given the timeliness of Louis’ lecture, I hope you agree.

Greenwood Garden Overview

From a garden guru standpoint, this is a curious ying/yang, karma story.
My earlier notes about Greenwood Gardens noted that Louis Bauer – who is/was the Director of Horticulture at Greenwood Gardens was formerly at Wave Hill.
And then just last month, Bauer was named Director of Horticulture at – drum roll please – Wave Hill. 

It’s like the circle of life, no?

It’s somewhat dizzying to think the Greenwood Gardens Director who was the Wave Hill “former” became the Wave Hill Director speaking about Greenwood Gardens who was… you get it..
Life, like gardens, is ever-changing and yet…
Let me say up front, I love Greenwood Gardens.

I will write this post with the spirit of the ying/yang and time transport that gardens can afford us.

Visiting the 28-acre public historic garden in Short Hills, New Jersey (the Garden State) is an extraordinary garden experience.
Our MetroHort members – most of us who took the train from Manhattan to witness this garden magic can testify to this. The field trip was oversubscribed and all would agree it was a garden discovery tour de force.

Greenwood Gardens’ terraced gardens, meadows, woodlands, grottos, and teahouses were designed in the early 20th century.  
The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the site's original sweeping vista has been preserved. 

Greenwood Gardens is one of only 16 gardens endorsed by the Garden Conservancy.  

At our MetroHort tour, Liz Johnson, Greenwood Gardens executive director, welcomed us. 
Johnson enthusiastically explained how the small Greenwood Gardens is able to do things fast – and great – and that it was nothing less than a miracle to get things really going in 2013.
However, it was five years of planning and three years of reconstruction to get that opening day.

Greenwood Gardens is now a 28-acre public historic garden in Short Hills, New Jersey – the Garden State.
“Hills” is an operative word and not just a developer’s attempt at real estate branding.
The estate is sited to maximize the Watchung Mountains, with views of the “Italianate terraced gardens, meadows, woodlands, grottos,” rolling hills and a fine view of the New York City skyline.
The Georgian style mansion was designed in the early twentieth-century by William Whetten Renwick. 
Renwick’s Uncle James was the architect for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Greenwood Gardens was a private estate for more than a century – first owned by real estate magnate, Joseph P. Day and his family - who had the home and the landscape’s "bones" designed and installed, including the teahouses, water gardens, reflecting pools, and the perennial and annual beds. 
It was told that Mrs. Day collected the eggs from their chickens and vegetables from the pottage and sold them every Tuesday in Newark at what can only guess was an early greenmarket!

After Day died in 1944 the house and gardens fell into disrepair and had several different owners before Peter P. Blanchard (must be the lucky middle initial, “P” that grants ownership here!) purchased the estate in 1949 for his new bride.
A senior-level IBM executive—Watson’s lawyer in fact -- Blanchard’s wife was Adelaide Childs Frick.  Yes, that Frick. 
Adelaide was not just a pedigreed partner -- it is a curiosity of sorts given the era -- that she was a career girl of sorts.  Adelaide was a pediatrician.
She managed to find the time, though, to have evergreens and garden follies and boxwoods galore, added to the landscape. 

Green Gardens was established as a non-profit garden organization in 2000 by Blanchard’s son, Peter P. Blanchard III and it is, today, one of the 16 gardens endorsed by the Garden Conservancy. 

The Garden

It’s a lovely, rather winding, drive off the street and through what is now a Preserve that surrounds Greenwood, bringing you to the parking area.  

The Garden is accessible by train to Short Hills.  We were advised that one can readily grab a cab and/or walk.  Save the walking for the Garden.

By and large, the landscape of all the "garden rooms" have been preserved. Some of the hardscapes have been modified to accommodate new roles.  For example, the tennis courts now serve as the parking lots.

One is immediately transfixed by the view, navigating across and down the stone steps from the parking courts to the house and garden area.

I have to say straight away that I have a special fondness for public gardens that were once pleasure gardens and country houses or estates. 

Think Chanticleer Gardens, ( Filoli, (  Kykuit ( Old Westbury Gardens ( – or Wave Hill ( to name a few.

These jewel-box gardens possess more beauty, artistic garden sculpture, beguiling water features and have that intimate “inside/outside” bond, not to mention an enlightened sense of genius loci.

Nowhere does the adage “Money is the best manure” ring more true than for these gardens that were designed for the sheer sensual enjoyment of their owners and by turns, their guests. These inspiring, iconic cultural icons of yesteryear were furnished with unlimited budgets --  importing plants, artisans, artwork, and people to maintain the gardens.

Greenwood Gardens

There is a compelling arbor-like pavilion perched on the precipice overlooking layers of the garden to one’s left upon arriving at the house and garden proper.  

The enclosure features a 9-foot tall gate from the Day family period.
It is an impressive handmade, wrought iron piece of garden art created by legendary iron craftsman, Samuel Yellin featuring birds and plants.

It is breathtaking.
It was pointed out to us more than several times and it’s easy to see the point of pride…

We were greeted by Louis, a perfect host and guide. 
He is an accomplished speaker, and had been a frequent guest authority on the Martha Stewart Show when Martha had her own show on network TV.
At the time of our tour, he was introduced as a former Wave Hill horticulturist. 

In a cinematic twist, Louis has returned to Wave Hill as their Director of Horticulture.
I know the Board of Greenwood Gardens is probably crying in their peonies over this loss as I heard repeatedly how fortunate they were to have Louis on staff – how he elevated the garden landscape and its mission.

Liz Johnson, Greenwood Gardens’ executive director, welcomed the MetroHort group.
She praised Louis, describing how accomplished he and the small staff is, saying it was nothing short of a miracle they opened last spring – to 1,200 visitors on day one.  
She explained how the garden does great things and is a wonderful place to host events.
It is indeed.
It is elegant, pretty and a bit mysterious. 
The landscapes reveal themselves – not all at once in a grand gesture but rather in a peeled back, discovery kind of way. 
Just the way great landscape art is meant to be experienced.

The restoration and planting are still very much a work in progress. 
And one can’t help but feel like you’ve stumbled into some long lost civilization.

And in a way you have.

Historical Garden

Starting along the main part of the house, Louis took us around the overlook terrace stopping to admire the climbing roses on the corner pergolas restored originals to the house, bordered by robust perennial plantings. 

Standing at the steps with the house behind you and looking out to the garden vista is a stunning view. 

The terraced gardens descend with three gardens to be admired along the way:
Main Terrace
Croquet Terrace
Exotic Garden of the Zodiac 

Along the way, Louis explained the plan was to “Emulate the earlier garden” rather than recreate it.  
The Blanchards installed a hedge and lawn on the upper Main Terrace.
Building on the work of local historian and research of the Norma Williams family, and the landscape inventory, Louis had enough information to create a master plan. 
And to plant with exuberance.

The modern imprint has been to work on the soil of the terrace gardens, put back the lawn and hedges and perennial beds.

The Blanchard’s used local stone that adds a superior, natural beauty.  
So too, the garden is studded with handmade Arts & Crafts period glazed Rookwood and Fulper tiles from nearby Flemington.  

There are also Moravian tiles handmade from Buck County. 

The Main Terrace is a circular garden, on grade, featuring iris, cranberry – which he loves - and Carrex Blue Zinger – that Louis said was not very blue... He explained there is also a wonderful display of fritillaria there in the spring

The garden historian Rodney Robinson had wanted to restore the garden with plants that the original owners grew. 

Being a plantsman, Louis has planted an overabundance of intriguing plant combinations. One that seemed to captivate all the horticulturists on the garden tour was a lovely Caryopteris ‘Snowfairy’ (Caryopteris divaricate – native to the Himalayas).  
It is a variegated leaved variety that comes up in late spring just as daffodils are fading – so good cover. It flowers in the autumn and its foliage is lavender-scented. It is an herbaceous perennial.

Heuchera in front

We admired other plant material there: Purple Euphorbia, Heuchera,   

The plant’s new growth starts off reddish and then turns black with yellow bracts. 
and a striking-looking Euphorbia ‘Blackbird’ an evergreen perennial that caught us all gaping in admiration.
Euphorbia Blackbird 

Next, we entered a long allele of yellow/orange spirea with Munder Skiles benches -- perfect for sitting and meditating on the garden view.  

The “Garden of the Gods” or the Zodiac garden once had human forms topping the columns, Louis explained, with trellises and pergolas between the columns dripping with clematis and roses surrounded the reflecting pool. 
The finials and cherubs were added in the ‘50’s.

With the overgrowing of the pine trees behind the demilune, the shadows they created plus years of neglect led to its present derelict look.  

I liked it. The look and atmosphere is one of otherworldliness – of coming upon a lost civilization’s and wondering what stories these cherub remains might whisper...

Especially curious is that the bronze cherubs were modeled after the children in the family!  

Louis told us that Superstorm Sandy took down 35 trees here.  Along with nature’s pruning, he and his team pruned both the Cut-Leaf lilacs and did heavy pruning of the box there to open up the garden and bring in more light and controlled growth.

There are good looking concrete stone paving there leading to the next garden that was installed in the mid 19220’s and discovered after some strong weeding of the path. 

We learned that it is an example of perhaps one of the earliest uses of concrete in residential landscape design.  

Moving on to the Summerhouse pergola in the next garden, it was pointed out how this area reflects a Japanese garden influence.  

Greenwood Gardens is also an early example of the use of outdoor electric lights.  They were featured in the stone pergola there. 

I liked the Carex Nigra plantings around the sundial.

Moving on further still there are big – three-foot tall --chess set pieces – a knight, pawn, queen, and king granite heads 

-- wacky statues  punctuating the walk to the upper level of the Tea House.  

The summer Tea House folly building features a scullery downstairs.  

We were told tea was served upstairs in the stone building. 

It’s vaulted ceiling and floors still houses astonishingly beautiful Fulper tiles

The look is kinda’ reminiscent of a Lotus Land.  

Since Adelaide (don’t you long for that classic name?) loved boxwood, hundreds were added to the garden when the Blanchard’s took over the garden design and especially here in this garden room. 
Louis rearranged things a bit, dividing up the plants and placing them against the stone wall.

We saw pictures of the original water grotto.  Blanchard replaced the water grotto with a swimming pool.

There is an exquisite perch here at the foot of the Water Cascade 

that overlooks an allee of Sycamore
and London Planes planted in a semi-circle, fronted by Red-Twigged Dogwood

and bordered by Meta sequoia and two ponds, dotted with swans.  

Louis explained how his team cut the old stems of the dogwoods and they re-sprouted – cut again two years later and the branches are a beautiful red and gold and a lovely accessory to the garden room here as seen from above. 

Of course there are gorgeous statues here too.  

Barn and Pasture Garden
Closed to regular garden visitors, the last stop on this part of the Hort tour was the Farm and Edible “garden room.”

The walkway to the farm is bordered by gorgeous Chinese fringe trees.

There are adorable chickens and three goats living the good life here.  

Louis reported they plan to bring horses back to the garden, too.

Buddy the cat scampered his greetings to us.

The cluster of buildings is charming. They are musty and real and I, for one, wanted to explore them more. Especially since visitors don't get to see this part of the garden.

The greenhouses and tool sheds and propagation beds are located here and like a Restoration Hardware-inspired photo spread, part of the building serves as the overwintering greenhouse or orangery for some of the tropical container plants, including the oleander and agapanthus and fig trees.

Louis completed the tour by taking us on to the other side of the house from where we started where ornamental gardens and garden rooms hug the house and walks to serve as garden event entertainment areas.

Greenwood Gardens is dramatic, enchanting, and a gem of a pleasure garden.  It boasts architecture and garden history and possesses a legacy worthy of a TV series. 
Be sure to add to your must-see gardens this coming season.

And why not become a member too?  You don't have to live nearby to support a jewel of a garden like this, right?

Let’s revere our garden history….

274 Old Short Hills Road
Short Hills NJ 07078