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  • Writer's pictureJulie Bare

WinH on the Road Part 2: Bamboo Brook

When we last left off the Women in Hort crew had just finished lunch and was venturing out through meadows, along streams and up hills to visit the historic landscape of Bamboo Brook. If you haven't read part 1 of this blog recap, I recommend reading that first.

Bamboo Brook neighbors Willowwood Arboretum and has been managed by Morris County Park Commission since 1972. The garden at Bamboo Brook was designed and planted by Martha Brookes Hutcheson. Her time at Bamboo Brook was from 1911-1958. Hutcheson was one of the first women to train as a landscape architect at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and Planning. She also received professional training at the Arnold Arboretum. Read more about her training at the Arnold in this essay.

The story goes that Hutcheson was inspired to create beautiful gardens after seeing the bleak landscape on a visit to a hospital. After graduating she ran her own firm and authored The Spirit of the Garden in 1923. She approached her garden design from the point of view that gardens could be therapeutic, this was before the term horticulture therapy was used. She was contemporaries with Marian Cruger Coffin, who designed Gibraltar Gardens and the campus plan for University of Delaware, and Beatrix Farrand, designer of Dumbarton Oaks and the only female founding member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Hutcheson purchased the 100 acre farm under the name Merchiston Farm in 1911 and immediately started gardening. She built a design studio down the hill from her home. It has an idyllic view and is situated right over a stream. She raised her family at Bamboo Brook.

She was also close friends with her neighbors, the Tubbs. Zinnia Cheetham, our fabulous tour guide and Plant Records Curator Specialist at Willowwood, told us that they had a friendly competition when it came to acquiring new and rare plants. They would often visit each other's gardens and share plants with each other. Zinnia told us that the Tubbs brothers would have walked along the same stream that we followed to get to Martha's. As much as she loved designing gardens, she was also an advocate for conservation. Bamboo Brook is one of the only landscapes that she designed that has been preserved. Today Bamboo Brook encompasses 687 acres! The core garden is the original 100 acre garden. It is listed on the National and State Historical Preservation.

The core gardens that Hutcheson designed consist of the Coffee Terrace, Circular Pool, and the Upper and Lower Waters. They have all been restored to their 1945 appearance. Today the house is rented by the New Jersey Conservation Society and used as their headquarters.

Our incredible tour came to an end as we sat atop a beautiful vista and reflected on the day. Thank you Zinnia Cheetham for such a wonderful tour! The only thing that would have made this tour even better is a dog (hint hint Willowwood).

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