Monday, September 19, 2016

A Garden Conservancy Open Days Tour: One of New Jersey's Finest

I remember reading a couple of garden magazine pieces about this Nutley, New Jersey, garden, probably 10 years ago or more.  Back then they described two gardening friends living across the street from one another and sharing a passion for gardening and a garden designer, Richard Hartlage, of Calycanthus x raulstonii 'Hartlage Wine' fame.  (As one of JC Raulston's horticulture students at North Carolina State University, Hartlage crossed Synocalycanthus chinensis with Calycanthus floridus to produce this plant.  He went on to become a landscape designer.)  

Looking back toward the cottage that's near the entrance off of Rutgers St.  It faces the main house across a small courtyard.  All of this is part of the original Mountsier garden
The write-ups stuck with me; scrolling through the list of Garden Conservancy Open Days gardens, looking for something we might visit on the way to Cape Cod, I was pretty sure the Mountsier garden was the same one I read about years earlier.  Serendipitously, it was open the weekend we were headed to Massachusetts and only about a 20 minute deviation from our route. 

From what I can glean from previously articles, the two gardening friends, Graeme Hardie and Silas Mountsier, ultimately, combined households and now share Silas's garden, which his parents started.  Silas returned to the house he grew up in after briefly living as a young man in Manhattan, only 15 miles away.   He's been working on the garden for 60 years, he told me!

Inside the greenhouse you see in the picture above

When the property behind his house was for sale Silas bought it and expanded the garden. It is now about  2.3 acres, or twice the original size.    

The lawn at the center of the garden links the two properties together.   A walk circles  the perimeter.  That's the original main house in the distance; the house on the acquired property is directly behind this view.  
The garden is bold and restrained at the same time--restrained by limiting the plant and color palette, repeating masses of the same plant in several areas, and bold by incorporating a collection of large sculptures throughout the garden and creating striking textural and color contrasts with strategic use of tropical plants.   

Numerous clipped boxwood hedges and balls, and shorn hornbeams of various heights, create a rhythm in the garden and help delineate garden rooms.  They also help give your eye a moment of rest when they hold back the view beyond before you move on to the next space.

I'm not crazy about the two cement walls.  I wish they were covered by vines, or a different color, perhaps?  They feel out of place.  

I love the way the line of the walk is broken up by the circle
One of the many brilliant design features is the viewing platform.  If you look to the left in the image above you can barely see the tops of few heads peering over the hedge.  It's a wonderful place to photograph and see the garden from another vantage point.  I often think my own garden looks better out the second story window, where some of the design aspects are more apparent.  

This is part of the circular path running along the outside edge of the garden.  

Great swaths of variegated Hakonechloa, Japanese Forest Grass, stripe the berm, front and back.  It's used liberally in other places too. 

The Hakonechloa berm from the  opposite side
In the view above, you can see how the berm hides much of the path behind it and adds privacy to a small sitting area on the side of the house.  The massive berm is yet another way to create drama on flat terrain and carve out different types of spaces within the garden.  

Can you see the Hakonechloa berm in the background? 

The visitors in the two images above seem dressed for the garden, blending perfectly with the yellow variegated Alpinia, pink Begonias, yellow Coleus, and burgundy Euphorbia.  

Besides the bold strokes, there are also wonderful details, such as the  planting below. I'm pretty sure that's Fargesia in the background, a clump-forming Bamboo, used in several places as a screen, and an Aechmea (type of bromilead) with the tall red stems and yellow blooms above the Coleus.  

A mound -- Mount Mountsier -- covered in Liriope is a surprising foil for the Brahman cow. 

Begonia 'Escargot' planted under large mauve-colored Elephant Ears make a wonderful combination. 

Bold foliage and sculpture adorn the entrance to the house at the back of the garden.  

A sheltered niche near the original main house.

The garden is a dynamic mix of formality, whimsy, and sensuality.  It's hard not to appreciate the structure in this garden; the pillars of hornbeams and walls of boxwood give the garden solidity and a timeless geometry.  The more fanciful moments seems to stand out all the more because of it.  I will have to think about how I can incorporate more plant structure into my own garden.  

About a dozen seating areas offer the chance to absorb the sights and sounds until moving on to the next surprise around the corner.  

Even the cellar door is a work of art

86-year-old Silas Mountsier talking with guests.
The Mountsier garden seems to be a regular on the Garden Conservancy's 'Open Days'.  Consider it for next year if you are in the area.  


  1. What a wonderful garden! And that blue, especially repeated on the sculpture in the first photo. Thanks for posting.

  2. I think I clipped articles about this garden, too. The cow and Hakonechloa are very familiar.