Greenwood Gardens, a Garden Conservancy preservation project, is also a public garden that has recently re-opened after several years of adaptive renovations.
In Short Hills, NJ, it’s about ten minutes from my home office, so I have visited it often since its first open day about 10 years ago. I was lucky recently to be part of a private tour for APLD’s NJ chapter led by Louis Bauer, Greenwood’s Director of Horticulture. It has been fascinating to watch the transformation of this garden.
When I first visited, the bones were there and the plantings, particularly the boxwood and yew hedging, were overgrown and blowzy.
Much of the boxwood and yew hedging has been tamed.
The areas around the Georgian Revival home have been restored and are used for lectures, fund raising events and private parties. Peter P. Blanchard, III, a descendant of the estate’s second owner, has been instrumental in saving and preserving the property in a region that is rapidly being subdivided, with old wonderful homes replaced by newer ones. It’s a wonderful testament to loving the land we live on.
Formal axis and monumental water features were in disarray, some still are, others, like the fountain like the fountain below, with Rookwood ornamentation, have been restored. Rookwood and the locally based (now defunct) Fulper tiles and charming repetition of a rooster motif can be found throughout the gardens.
Other areas aren’t restored yet and Bauer has used plants to allude to what was once there. The large water feature at one end of the long formal axis has a crumbling colonnade was once topped by a pergola.
The garden has always appealed to the decay porn lover in me and I found it have its own visual poetry.
Greenwood Gardens still has aspects of that tumbled down romance, but now parts of it are side by side with renovated details, pumped up and pruned plantings as well as new ADA required accessibility necessary for a public garden. I miss some of what was left to my imagination but also admire the restoration. There are many details that I have yet to photograph…this last visit was at dusk and two of the wonderful architectural features were cloaked in darkness–the folly and the summerhouse.
The foundations of the estate’s former glasshouses are lovely in their ruined state although they will be much more useful once restored.
The lower gardens at Greenwood have an incredible cascade that once culminated into a swimming pool, a folly with sculptural dwarf chess pieces, and a beautifully proportioned summerhouse as well as a natural pond and Sycamore allee.
Greenwood is a garden in transition and to me, as a designer, that’s the most interesting and intriguing part of visiting. I love gardens that allow my imagination to soar, that have stories to tell and mysteries to reveal. Plants in some cases to echo what used to be architectural features and new naturalistic plantings in the front of the house are particularly beautiful. I look forward to following the rest of the renovation, but will miss the romance of the ruin.