It is the dawn of a new year. Another year of growth, of progress, love, and of course, gardening!
There is not one moment in the gardens at Willowwood that is uninteresting; even in the absence of the raucous colors of flowers abuzz with pollinators that grace us in the growing season one can find interest. Now is the time to enjoy the structure and textures of the garden: bark, fruit, buds (as they swell in anticipation of spring, or perhaps a warm spell). Some structural interest is unexpectedly whimsical, such as the remaining sporophylls of sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) or the fruit of the appropriately named blackberry lily (Iris domestica). (Click the images to enlarge them).
Even in this time of dormancy flowers can still be found at Willowwood, like this ‘Christmas Gold’ witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana), a selection of our native species with especially dense flowers and a light, spicy aroma.
A look to the meadows will reveal numerous winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), their branches upright and studded in red fruit, as in the case of the straight species. An exception is the ‘Winter Gold’ cultivar whose fruit instead reads more like a pale vermillion: this difference can be especially striking when planted along its red-fruited sisters.
In Pan’s Garden you will find the perfumed blooms of Viburnum farreri, a more unusual selection that flowers in bursts from November to February. The aroma of these is best admired while seated on the back porch of the Tubb’s House during a sunny winter day, where we would love to see you visiting. Willowwood Arboretum is open 7 days a week from sunrise to sunset. Please check the Morris County Park Commission website (Willowwood Arboretum | Morris County Parks (morrisparks.net) for more information for planning your visit.
With Halloween just around the corner this Monday, this weekend kicks off the festivities for families throughout the state. While no festive events are scheduled at the arboretum this weekend, visitors are encouraged to come visit to enjoy the orange leaves, natural spider webs, and enjoy the trails while covered in early morning fog for some spooky fun!
We were worried that the drought this summer would cause the plants to turn brown rather than showcase their usual bright colors but the significant rain in the last two months has helped revive the plants for a brilliant display. This weekend will be a great time to enjoy fall color since the Japanese maples are finally reaching their peak. Some favorites are the bright yellow Acer ‘Waterfall’ near the small waterfall in the Cypress pool, the Acer palmatum ‘Ornatum’ which was planted by Robert Tubbs in 1910, and the intensely red Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ across from the Metasequoia. Fall foliage can be tricky to time at Willowwood since different types of trees have different timing. The native maples changed colors early and have lost most of their leaves while the Japanese maples only began to change colors this week. The Katsura have already dropped their sweet, yellow leaves but the Ginkgo has recently turned colors to a summery yellow. Meanwhile, a pear tree near the lilac collection in highland park turned a bold orange this week just in time for Halloween. As always, nature’s timing is on mother nature’s schedule.
Overnight frosts have already hit the gardens this month and sent the gardeners for their pruners and shovels to remove spent plants from the gardens. However, several late-season bloomers haven’t been discouraged by the cold weather. These include asters such as Aster tataricus ‘Jindai’ and Aster oblongifolius ‘October Skies’ which are both in bloom in the cottage garden. There are also Anemone throughout the garden such as Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ in Pan’s Garden. A staff favorite, Tricyrtis formosana ‘Amythestina’ is also in bloom around the large wooden barn closest to the main house. Seasonal fruits are also appearing in the garden such as Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Gold’.
We hope that you enjoyed visiting the Willowwood Arboretum this year and will come back to visit again!
With the growing season coming to a close, please be mindful that the annual wildlife management program will be in effect with several closures in December and January for firearm hunts. For up-to-date information on park closures and events, please visit the morrisparks.net website.
“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.’
Planning Your Event
Garden facilities can be rented for special parties, corporate events and wedding receptions or a combination of a ceremony and reception.