Garden Diary - July 2011

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Friday, 22 July 2011
Garden Writers Move On To Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center

Having finished our tours at Willowwood Arboretum the 40 or so members of Garden Writers Association attending today's event drive off to Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center. It is just next door, practically a hop and a skip, and in better weather I have no doubt that some would stroll over. It's only about a mile and a pleasant walk. In today's putrid heat and humidity - everyone drives.

Gathering in the air conditioned comfort of the meeting room Lesley Parness, Superintendent for Horticultural Education describes the background and life of Martha Brooks Hutcheson, one of America's first women landscape architects. Born in 1871, her life straddled a millennium and a time of great change for women. Copies of black and white photographs revealed Martha as a young child, a happy bride, with her daughter (also named Martha), the Women's Land Army of the war years, and more. Her landscape design principles, harmonizing with the Country Place Era, are as appealing to us today as they were when Merchiston Farm, as it was then know, was her family home and a "work in progress" for her design aesthetics.

Clearly, she loved water, water as a moving, musical, flowing aspect of the landscape, and as a mirror.

There are two interesting articles here, and here, with illustrations and some discussion of the water features at
Bamboo Brook, both the original design and today's restoration. Originally a farm pond used to water livestock,
Martha designed the Circular Pool as an intersection, a line / line central focal point that anchors different
axial pathways connecting various garden areas. I find that the geometry of the gardens adjacent to the house
have a pleasing subtlety, a directness without rigidity. It is easy and comfortable to stroll without any compulsion.

After her death in 1959 it was not until 1972 that her daughter, Martha Hutcheson Norton, and Charles McKim Norton gave the property to the Morris County Park Commission. The property fell into disrepair. When Jay was taking the group I was with around the grounds he mentioned how all the stones for various walls, walks, steps, and seats were all piled up on the East Lawn from where they were "mined" in the various restoration projects.

Over time the several concrete fruit baskets that ornamented the property began to disintegrate and crumble away. The least affected specimen was brought to Campania at their Pennsbury, Pennsylvania location. There, a mold was created and replacements made. Now located on several plinths here and there throughout the garden, they are in pairs on either side of steps or along axial pathways. There are a few baskets being held in reserve against future needs. Campania so liked the design they wanted to keep the mold, which - as you might expect - a request to which the Morris County Park Commission did not agree.

Visually as well as actually, a pair of gates lead out to sunlit lawn, embellished with shrubs and trees.

We clearly demonstrate our preference for remaining in the shade, even amplifying it with an umbrella.


It was a year ago that I was last here at Bamboo Brook. The Circular Pool was renovated but stone
plinths were topped by pots, not the concrete fruit baskets. Today's visit reveals something else that's
new - a wonderful stepped trellis built in-house from cedar poles cut on the property. Wonderful!

Not all is not repaired / restored / renovated though. The tennis court needs to have an arbor made for the now-stabilized stone pillars. Nice if vines could be planted on the tennis court's roadside chain link fence too. And while none of the cold frames are in working order, there are at least a couple that look as if they could be restored. All it takes is money, and that's in short supply these days. I commend the Morris County Park Commission on the work that's been accomplished to date. Bamboo Brook looks fabulous compared to how it was when I first saw it. Just hope they keep up the momentum.

Willowwood had lilies. So too does Bamboo Brook. These are
Lilium superbum, one of our magnificent native lilies. Elegant.
Martha appreciated native plants, incorporating many in her designs.


The "Little House" which Martha built over a small stream was her personal getaway. It is far enough
from the main house to feel like a destination, yet close enough to retrieve a forgotten book, a refreshing drink.

Its crisp exterior was rebuilt by the buildings and construction crew of the Morris County Park Commission while the other restorations were being undertaken. Potentially it will be used for interpretive display space for Martha Brooks Hutcheson and her gardens. As Lesley Parness made mention, all three of the gardens on today's tour were once personal spaces. Willowwood, Bamboo Brook, and the Frelinghuysen Arboretum were private estates donated to Morris County, now open to the public for all of us to enjoy and appreciate. And I do.

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