“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
“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.’
“There comes a day towards the end of March when there is but little wind. The Sun has gained much power, so that it is pleasant to sit out in the garden, or better still, in some sunny nook of sheltered woodland”
The first warm days of spring are really here since the solstice on March 20th. The cool, wet weather from the past few days slowed the spring blooms but on a lovely sunny day the gardens are becoming a welcoming oasis of spring blooms. Some of the classic early spring flowers are still around, namely dozens of Hellebores, Siberian squill, and the early spring daffodils. The next phase of spring bloomers is just starting and will last for the next few weeks. This week the cherry blossoms and Magnolias are just starting to open at the arboretum and daffodils are steadily emerging in an assortment of colors and shapes. There are many other blossoms appearing as well, although many are not as prominent as the flowering trees. One of these is the Sanguinaria ‘Multiplex’ which is currently blooming among the Siberian squill in the Rockery. This perennial favorite is naturalizing among the gravelly garden and has a wonderfully fluffy appearance with its multitude of petals. There are also some small Tulipa turkestanica growing in front of the Tubbs House, although these are easy to miss if you walk past them before they’ve opened up in the sunlight. The garden also smells like spring. The Lonicera fragrantissima has been in bloom for several weeks and is still attracting some eager bees and many of our Magnolias have a delightful fragrance.
This is a beautiful and rapidly changing time in the garden so be sure to bring your camera to capture the moment. We also recommend stopping to sit out in the garden (perhaps in the cottage garden?) like Gerturde Jekyll recommends.
Zinnia Cheetham Plant Records Curator Specialist Division of Cultural and Environmental Resources Morris County Park Commission P.O. Box 1295, Morristown, NJ 07962-1295
“Then summer came, announced by June, With beauty, miracle and mirth. She hung aloft the rounding moon, She poured her sunshine on the earth” -Leslie Pinckney Hill, excerpt “Summer Magic”
Although the main event of spring blooms has passed, the arboretum has lots of blooms for those who are willing to slow down and look. One show-stopper that is easy to pass by is the great masterwort (Astrantia major) in bloom in the cottage garden along the back of the greenhouse. The blooms look like little fireworks and are beautiful when observed up close despite their diminutive size. Another unique bloom hidden among the planting beds is the Tricyrtis latifolia (Toad Lily) in the Rockery near a boxwood (Buxus microphylla). These flowers have an unusual shape and bright red speckles on the petals. Some other beautiful plants to observe are the Clematis vines (Clematis ‘Madame Julia Correvon’ and Clematis viticella ‘Etoile Violette’) growing on the trellises on the front of the propagation greenhouse. The blooms have big, bold purple blossoms and the seedheads they form will be just as showy as the flowers themselves.
Other plants are not so subtle. Visitors entering the Cottage Garden through the main gate will see Spiraea japonica ‘Dart’s Red’, which is a vibrant shade of deep magenta, all along the front border. There are also a number of other pink blooms in the Cottage Garden including Asclepias syriaca (Common Milkweed) and the pink Hibiscus and Phlox will be in bloom later this summer.
For those who prefer muted tones, Pan’s Garden is still in bloom planted with predominantly white flowering plants. The highlight during late June is the Astilbe ‘Deutschland’ which sends up sprays of delicate white flowers. There are also white blooms on the Magnolia sieboldii in the Woodwalk just around the corner near the towering rhododendrons. The Magnolia blooms face downward for an excellent view of the flowers. Closer to the parking area, the prominent flowers on the Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’ are on full display alongside the Shingle Barn and Hydrangea arborescens ‘Annabelle’ is in bloom near the entrance to the propagation greenhouse.
Enjoy your summer and stay safe!
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