Showhouse Season: Mansion in May 2017

When I first started blogging on a different platform in 2007, my subject was my designer show house garden in Rumson. Hardly anyone saw those posts or again in 2009. Now all these years and many designer show houses later I’ve decided to blog about the same thing. This time, it’s for the Mansion in May. So let’s begin.

First a large old house is sought by the event organizers. Once found, every other year architects, interior and landscape designers are invited to submit ideas for a space that will be on public display for the month of May. Each must submit a proposal for up to three spaces to a selection committee–so being invited isn’t the end process. The 2017 house is Neo-Gothic Alnwick Hall, one of the surviving homes on Millionaire’s Row between Madison and Morristown, New Jersey.

Photograph by Wing Wong/Memories TTL

I was only interested in one of the 17 landscape spaces offered. A small enclosed courtyard at the rear of the building. Apologies for the slightly out of focus before picture I took with my phone…

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Below is my proposal which was accepted by the committee.  The next time I post, will be about the coordinating of this garden with the various artists and personalities involved as well as the details of building it. Special consideration has to be given to these types of gardens since they will get more foot traffic in one month than most get in a lifetime–more than 20,000 people!

mim courtyard

Peapack NJ

Looking Forward by Looking Back

I spent the first grey working day of 2014 tromping through an old house and garden. Later this year, for the month of May, Blairsden, in Peapack, NJ will become a sparkling designer show house and gardens.  I was there to preview the latter. I love old houses, especially ones that have new lovers after years of neglect.  I find both the neglect and the restoration fascinating.

The place is a wreck.  Almost every aspect inside and out needs something.  Outside there are courtyards, formal terraces, sculpture, a loggia, a totally ruined cascade, a tumbled down orangerie and a grotto of sorts.  There were gardens here at one point, but all that’s left are ghosts. Very few of the landscape/garden spaces were available for re-design and I’m not at all sure that I will participate this year.  Still, it was a fantastic way to spend the morning despite a looming storm and frigid temperatures.

Peapack NJThe imposing oak front door with limestone steps and details.  Obviously there’s construction going on!  Turn around and you will see…

Empty reflecting pool at Blairsden Peapack NJ

The reflecting pool will be completely restored.  The driveway flanks it on either side.

Ruined courtyard Blairsden Peapack NJ

Loggia at Blairsden Peapack NJAn interior courtyard with a loggia on its south side.  The house is built high on a  hillside with  sweeping views of the Far Hills.  Terraced lawns are just below.  A cascade starts at the lowest terrace.

Fountainhead for cascade Blairsden Peapack NJ

Cascade at Blairsden Peapack NJ

The water cascade going down to the home’s original entry driveway.  That was at some point re-routed and is up the hill by the reflecting pool. Above the fountainhead is what used to be an orangerie.  It is abandoned with its arching glass windows long gone.

Orangerie Blairsden Peapack NJAt the base of the cascade is a remarkable view up to the house.

Base of the cascade's view Blairsden Peapack NJWith all of this desolate and forlorn beauty there was a Sphinx (one of four actually) who I’d like to think is wondering what all the hubbub is about and what spring will bring after such a long and lonely stretch of indifference.

Sphinx at Blairsden Peapack NJ

Departures and Debuts

May is (as they say) busting out all over and it’s not even really here yet.

Today I’m travelling to Little Rock to visit P. Allen Smith’s real Garden Home.

Garden designed by P. Allen Smith
Photograph via  The New York Times

Smith invited 20 bloggers to visit and see the farm, participate in workshops and generally be guests for what I expect will be genuine southern hospitality, great gardens and some cool product pitches.  It will also be great to see people that I don’t get to see often!

While I’m away, The Mansion in May opens and we’re ready…finally!  The house and gardens are absolutely spectacular…the best I’ve seen in the many years I’ve been privileged to participate.  This year I created a small rooftop terrace that is colorful, eclectic and fun.

The Voyager's Terrace

Please come and visit if you can, it’s open for the entire month of May and benefits the new hospice at Morristown Medical Center.

Print and Pattern Choices: Mansion in May

I’m trying to nail down some of the details for the show house garden and I’ve narrowed my print/pattern choices down to what I think I want to use. I’ve also experimented with some combinations. These are the details that can make a project sing or fall flat. They always make me nervous.

Initial choices...some editing will be done

Color is important, as is scale and texture just like in a garden bed. Design is design is design…it all follows the same principles. The overall look is this…

The floor will be navy blue...

I’ve been collecting outdoor fabric and trim swatches on Pinterest to make this process easier…I also have a Mansion in May board there to keep track of things.

Color Inspiration: Mansion in May Designer Show House

I’ve been working on the Mansion in May designer showhouse concept.  I’ve titled the space The Voyager’s Lounge.  I have to have sketches in color done in about two weeks so in advance of that I developed the preliminary color story.

The terrace before photos...brown and in need of some love

Since the raw space is so many shades of brown I decided to keep the color dusky rather than slathering on the brights.

Bleached desert hues

I’ll be meeting with several collaborators on-site tomorrow morning so more about that as we progress!

A possible Win-Win…

I have my hand out here.

Once again I’ve been asked to create a garden for ‘Mansions in May’,  a local designer show house that will benefit Morristown Memorial Hospital, specifically the Emergency Services Unit.

I want to give back in as many ways as I can so I  put my own spin on the process this year by creating an organic producing vegetable garden, depicted in the plan.  The produce harvested in the 1/4 acre garden and orchard will be donated to a local soup kitchen.

The Orchard
The Orchard

I have already taken on several partners who are donating goods and services including a landscape contractor, a master carpenter, a nursery, a  lumber supplier and a stone yard who will be announced if we are able to build the garden.  With all of the donated labor and materials we are still coming up 5-6K short.   The garden will have high local visibility and will be promoted via the Mansion staff and my own.  It is a wonderful opportunity to give back to the community.  If you know of someone–corporate or otherwise who would be willing to help make this project happen please contact me using the contact tab above.

Show House Videos No. 1 and No. 3

It’s the beginning of designer showhouse season.  Designer previews for one that will take place in May 2010 are going on for those invited to submit their concepts for  a design space.  In the past I’ve kept an on-line journal for documenting each step of  these display gardens.  I’m not going to do that this year.  Instead, if I choose to participate, and it’s still an if, I’m going to upload video.

Here’s the space I really want as well as choice No 3.  I shared my No. 2 choice over at Designers on Design. We are all competing for spaces via design concepts and briefs.  No one knows who or how many other designers have their eyes on any particular spot. I’m sure, there are others who want my No. 1 too so I can’t share my plan until I know if I’ve won the space.  We will be notified mid-December.  I’m still not sure if I’ll even draw up more than one concept–that’s a lot of time…

I love abandoned garden spaces–if you dig deep enough they bear the imprint of those who once tended them. This enclosed  former garden (55′ W x 116’L) had those ghosts and spoke to me in a way that allowed me to visualize what it once was and what it could be immediately.

As I already said, go on over to Designers on Design (link above)  to see No. 2 choice billed there as ‘The Sweet Spot’.  Here’s choice No. 3 (15.5′ W x 97′ L)–don’t mind my lovelies and beautifuls…it was way past lunch time and my brain wasn’t tuned to the lingo channel.

I went out for coffee and a snack with both of the other landscape designers on the video who I know through being a member of  APLDNJ–only one of whom is also considering No. 3–the other is considering No. 2.

#23– Four Days and Counting

The deadline for completion of the gardens is Thursday. Today, hopefully, the pool is being installed in the patio. This week has been so stressful because every hour I spend on this project is an hour that I’m not doing other work (read paying). There’s probably a 1/2 day’s work to go other than the round reflecting pool.

Other issues this week have included a cracked tabletop and scheduling issues for everyone involved. Overall, the project probably took 6-7 days to build, but it’s been done over a 6 week period which makes it seem like FOREVER.

The good news is solar lighting works and we’re going to adjust it tonight. The bad news is that all of the pea gravel mulch has to be adjusted around the plants and it hasn’t rained in 2 weeks.

Here’s an image from yesterday–it really is almost done…

The rolled stone dust path before rolling and the guys working on the patio

#14–Rock Star

The arch was finished today in anticipation of the ‘in progress’ press junket at the show house tomorrow. Many people were working today trying to get something done for the press to cover. We’ve been kind of on our own for the past few days and we’re the only landscape design group with anything major done. It wasn’t really planned, it was just when we could get everyone together to do it.

We also started the secondary stonework but didn’t get as far with that.

Here’s some photos of our rock stars–the arch and its creator, Dan Lupino.

Adjusting the keystone before dropping it into place
Dan, knocking out the temporary supports as his heart beats faster and faster.
Rock Star!!

#13– Rock On

Dan Lupino started building the boulder arch today with Frank Scheppe’s crew. It’s a big statement and we wanted it done before the first press junket on Friday. Here’s some photos…more as things progress.

Dan setting the first support stone–this was ultimately switched out for another

Setting temporary supports for the arch as it’s built

The original support stone becomes the actual second stone

The arch by afternoon

#1–Showhouse Season

For the past month, in between winter design work, I’ve been preparing a show house garden. This biennial charity event, The Mansion in May, is a big deal in my neck of the woods and interior designers and landscape designers/architects are invited to compete for spaces. Why compete? First to support the charity–this year the recipient is the Valerie Center for Children with cancer and blood disorders–a cause close to my heart. Second, it’s great exposure to both the 20,000+ people who visit during the month of May.

In January, we were invited to choose a space from a master plan and submit our ideas to the selection committee. Like most sites, there were several sweet spots–not what I was interested in though. Away from the house was ruined rockery that I was immediately drawn to.


I was able to look at some historic photos of the property and found one of two very Edwardian ladies sitting in front of a wildly planted rock garden. Upon closer inspection, the pile revealed some secrets–animal burrows and two parts of a Japanese granite planter. The base is shown below.


I re-imagined the ruined rockery to create a sustainable garden for the 21st century. Lush native and ecologically appropriate non-natives with low water and maintenace requirements, stone sculpture and renewable energy sources are key elements of the overall design. I also wanted to honor the property’s past gardeners, collectors and dreamers, so the ultimate design is a fusion of Japanese, Mediteranean and Edwardian influences.

My next post will show the plan and planting scheme.