Spring 2022 was a great season for plants at Willowwood! It provided great growing conditions for the shrubs, trees and meadows to flourish and prepared the arboretum for the long sunny days of summer. This spring also saw the installation of numerous new plantings and of course, the summer display of annuals!
Probably the area undergoing the biggest change is the Rosarie. Keeping to many of the original design concepts, the garden features plants from the Rose Family in combination with plants inspiring a more Mediterranean appearance. A new urn was placed as a focal point for visitors entering from the Chive walk, which will be surrounded by Potentillas this summer. To add a fun twist, the old door from the red barn that is featured at the end of the main walk was painted a dark purple, which very nicely picks up the blues of the Catmint and purples of the Salvia. Adding spots of hot colors, red nasturtiums were planted along with red and yellow flowered Kangaroo Paws. To hopefully provide a dry Mediterranean appearance, bark nuggets were used for the mulch. The nuggets also give a more unique feel to the garden since they are not used elsewhere in the Arboretum. Even the chive-walk received an update with a row of large pots of Agaves placed along the nursery fence. To provide a bit of contrast to the Agave’s sword-like leaves, three Button Bushes with rounded and glossy foliage were intermingled among the containers.
Elsewhere around the house and barns, the summer annual displays provide fun splashes of color in both the beds and containers. The Cottage Garden features several bright orange Bromeliads called ‘Hawaii’ intermingled amongst the perennials to add a bold shot of color and texture. True to history, tomatoes are also added to the Cottage Garden and the covered patio behind the house is appropriately bedecked in containers and hanging ferns.
The improvements begun last fall along Longview Road continued this spring. The remainder of the truncated trees beneath the electric wires were removed and the areas was chipped to suppress weeds. With the help of volunteers from Morgan Stanley, masses of Ostrich Fern, Swamp Milkweed, Columbines and Blue-Flag Iris were planted, with more plantings to come as the summer progresses. All of the plants are resistant to deer browse and will thrive in the variable moisture conditions along the road. The planting will allow visitors to see into the Arboretum throughout the year while repeating the appearance of the meadow from inside the fence.
Summer is a great time to visit Willowwood Arboretum, both to enjoy what was planted upwards of 100 years ago or merely last month. Come out for a stroll this summer and enjoy the peacefulness of the garden mingled with these many new colorful sights!
“It was June, and the world smelled of roses. The sunshine was like powdered gold over the grassy hillside.”
— Maud Hart Lovelace
Today marks the official beginning of summer, the Summer Solstice. Now that the warmer weather is here to stay for the next few months, the riot of spring blossoms have faded and the gardens are lush with green foliage. A new bench has been placed in the cottage garden and cozy nooks await to hide out from the sun. The gardeners have been busy planting annual flowers to continue the cheerful floral display until frost and have integrated containers of plantings into the gardens for extra color.
The horticulturists have also been busy with new planting projects. One of the largest has been the rosarie, located behind the nursery and wooden barn. After several years, the rosarie garden has re-opened to the public and has been planted with a wide variety of plants. Some of the new woody and perennial plantings include an Amelanchier canadensis ‘Autumn Brilliance’, Aronia melanocarpa, Geum triflorum, Acanthus, and Physocarpus Sweet Cherry Tree. The back gate to the garden was also recently replaced and the fountain re-installed for the season. We’re sure we’ll see many people resting on the bench under the rosarie pergola listening to the water again now that the garden has been re-opened. And while you’re there, be sure to admire the striking blue on the pointy Eryngium amethystinum flowers and look at the large white blooms of the Clematis languginosa ‘candida’ growing on the pergola.
Around the main gardens many perennial plantings are beginning to flower such as the native Opuntia humifusa cactus near the greenhouse, Monarda didyma ‘Gardenview Scarlet’ in the cottage garden and the Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ in front of the Tubbs house. Another interesting Hydrangra in flower is Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Midoriboshi-Temari’ in the rockery near the house which has colorful star-shaped flowers. The rockery and Pan’s Garden are also good gardens to admire in the summer for their use of color and texture in shady areas as they are full of ferns, grasses, and variegated plants.
The arrival of summer also means that the lilac season is ending at Willowwood. The last lilacs of the season to bloom are tree lilacs which are still flowering in highland park and also along Main Street in Chester. The fluffy cotton candy like blooms seem like an appropriate summer flower since they are so large and pale as though they are trying to match the puffy clouds above them. If you’d like to see the gardens, be sure to come by between 8AM and dusk when the front gates are open for free to the public! The Willowwood Arboretum is open year-round as part of the Morris County Park Commission park system.
Reported by Zinnia Cheetham, Plant Records Curator Specialist MCPC
The 6th Annual Tubbs Lecture at Willowwood Arboretum was held this past Sunday, April 24, 2022, in memory of Henry and Robert Tubbs. Guest speaker, Jack Alexander, held the position of Plant Propagator for 40 years at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum. He shared his expertise in growing Lilacs and gave a guided walk through the Lilac collection at Willowwood. Each guest received a FREE Lilac.
Bio. – John (Jack) H. Alexander III
Jack Alexander recently retired from his position as the Plant Propagator of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, a position he held for 40 years. He is a third generation nurseryman. Jack has had a long interest in the propagation of woody plants and has a special interest in lilacs. He has published numerous articles on both subjects, including some here.
In 1995 he was named a Fellow of the Eastern Region of the International Plant Propagator’s Society and in 2004 he was awarded their prestigious Award of Merit and he was twice the recipient of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Jackson Dawson Medal.
Jack is New England Region Vice President of the International Lilac Society, has received several awards from ILS and has served numerous terms on their Board of Directors. He is also the principal author of the booklet Lilacs Plants of History – Plants for Tomorrow. Syringa × chinensis ‘Lilac Sunday’, Syringa ‘Purple Haze’and Syringa ‘Foxey Lady’ are cultivars that he introduced.
“I sought the wood in summer
When every twig was green;
The rudest boughs were tender,
And buds were pink between.
Light-fingered aspens trembled
In fitful sun and shade,
And daffodils were golden
In every starry glade.
The brook sang like a robin-
My hand could check him where
The lissome maiden willows
Shook out their yellow hair”
-Excerpt of ‘I Sought the Wood in Winter’ by Willa Cather
This past weekend was the first garden event of the season and featured Jack Alexander giving a lecture on lilacs. It was an excellent way to kick off the spring season and soon the gardens will be full of families, photographers, and artists enjoying the warm weather and horticultural displays. The gardens are looking especially lovely this season and the much-anticipated lilacs are starting to peek open. While the early-blooming lilacs like Syringa ‘Annabel’ are starting to open, the early-spring bloomers such as daffodils and cherry trees are beginning to fade. This week some daffodils like Narcissus poeticus var. recurvus are still at their peak so visit soon if you’d like to see them. These daffodils are unique for their small red and yellow cup and large white petals. The latin word ‘recurvus’ also indicates that the petals arch backwards which makes them especially unique among daffodils. The upcoming weekend will also likely be the last weekend to see a robust tulip display. The tulips are quickly coming into bloom, most especially in the cottage garden this year, but there are also some lovely Lady Jane tulips in the Rosarie which will be re-opening to the public this year.
As the mid-season spring blooms open, the garden is constantly changing. The ostrich ferns are emerging and unfurling in the shady gardens and small blooms are tucked into the corners. Some of these are Epimedium ‘Sulphureum’ and Erythronium americanum which both have delightful bursts of yellow flowers. The flowering trees are also sure to attract the eye as the crabapples, magnolias, and redbuds are all coming into flower. These are located throughout the gardens but the Malus baccata behind the rock garden beside the house and the Magnolias in the woodland trails behind the house look especially fresh. Come and enjoy a walk through the gardens this spring. Everyone could use a moment to be mindful with their loved ones, notice the leaves on the trees coming out for the season, and hear the birds cheerfully chirping overhead. As Lao Tzu said, ‘Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.’
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