Signs of Spring: Morris County’s Lush Gardens Parks

The Morris County Park System has always been a jewel in the crown of Morris County government. Lush green spaces, rolling hills and trees and plants in flower from early spring throughout the fall mean there is much for visitors to appreciate and enjoy in their natural state.
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The Morris County Park System has always been a jewel in the crown of Morris County government. Lush green spaces, rolling hills, trees and plants, and flowers in bloom from early spring throughout the fall mean there is much for visitors to appreciate and enjoy in their natural state.

Longtime residents glow with pride when escorting visitors to some favorite sites while newcomers to the area are always intrigued by all that this part of New Jersey has to offer. Let's take a closer look at two favorite destinations - Bamboo Brook and Watnong Gardens.

BAMBOO BROOK This spring and summer mark a time of continued growth and revitalization for Bamboo Brook. The 100 acre property in Chester Township has undergone almost a decade of replanting and improvements following the awarding of $750,000 grant to bring the property back to the level it enjoyed under its former owner, Martha Brookes Hutcheson.

The lush property was given to the county by Mrs. Hutcheson's daughter, Martha Hutcheson Norton in 1972. It's now called Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center. Originally known as Merchiston Farm, it contains both formal and informal areas as well as trails that wind through fields and along the brook. Visitors will note the symmetry and well-defined axis lines, which Mrs. Hutcheson used to help direct the visitor's gaze through the property. Informally, native plants such as high bush blueberries and native buckeye grow here alongside a graceful white cedar allee.

Mrs. Hutcheson incorporated many classical concepts such as pools, stone walls and water courses, which were found in English and Italian gardens. Most recently, work has been concentrated on the water features, which were included in the original plans as a way to provide both visual and auditory appeal. Water is captured from underground springs at the upper edges of the property and gradually travels downhill, filling a former livestock pond for animals kept on the property and was later used as a swimming pool. In addition, a water lily pond has been restored and a trough for growing watercress has also been brought back for its intended use.

Today, the rolling hills and water features provide a backdrop for the forsythia, lilacs, phlox, rhododendrons, dogwood, crab apple, cherry trees and hosta that will soon be blooming in the spring. Mountain laurel, a variety of perennials and daffodils add a subtle touch of color. Also nearing completion is a historic arbor, reminiscent of what would have been on the property in years past. Bamboo Brook is listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places. Tours of the property are available for groups of 10 or more. For tour information call 973-631-5396. To learn more about Bamboo Brook, go to www.morrisparks.net/aspparks/bbrookmain.asp.

WATNONG GARDENS Discover a gem that's been hiding in plain sight by stopping in at Watnong Gardens, tucked beside a feeder road alongside Rt. 10 in Morris Plains. A once private enclave, Watnong is now under the ownership of the Township of Parsippany and is open to the public. Watnong Gardens has been recognized as one of the most beautiful gardens in America by Forbes Magazine.

All told the gardens comprises about 2.5 acres, making it on the small side for public gardens but a perfect site for the numerous dwarf conifers and other small scale plantings that thrive here annually. The gardens come out of hibernation in spring when the many hostas, sedum, ajuga and more begin their warm weather re-birth. As the ground begins to warm, daffodil bulbs can be seen nodding their colorful tops in the gentle breezes.

By May and June the garden is vibrant with the various shades of blues and greens favored by the conifers and spruce trees that thrive here. Before the heat of summer arrives vibrant rhododendrons and azaleas will paint a splashy contrast to the deeper, greener shades. A water feature built into the hillside bubbles quietly inside the property and a whimsical "toy" train sits atop a small hill, its cars serving as planters for more of the growing inventory.

Call ahead and arrange for a private tour with Helen Donn, who still lives on the property or drop by unannounced and take your own tour along the numerous paths. Sculptural animals made of stone and metal provide a humorous diversion for the visitor and a number of benches are tucked inside the property providing a place to relax and contemplate as the sun passes overhead.

Watnong Gardens is one of those tiny treasures that should not be missed. To visit, call Helen Donn at 973-538-8633 or visit www.parsippany.net/Boards-and-Committees/Historical.

For more things to see and do throughout Morris County, visit the Morris County Tourism bureau online at www.morristourism.org. Sign up to receive e-news or bookmark the calendar of events page for planning visits yearlong.