On the Road Again – Silas Mountsier’s New Jersey Garden

Last weekend I dragged a dear friend and colleague from my design firm off to the wilds of New Jersey to see Silas Mountsier’s garden. It was open as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program this spring.

I last visited this garden in 2004, en route to my Hudson River Valley garden tour – and that visit was in late summer. By now, the garden has expanded from a mere one-acre jaw-dropping delight to an expanse of nearly four acres. Richard Hartlage remains the design genius behind it all; both he and Mountsier spent time talking with us at some length about the garden and encouraged us to return in September, when it will be open again. (We can’t wait).

In the meantime, we can fantasize about what it might be like to have dinner in the garden.

Mountsier, Garden Conservancy

Dinner al fresco, anyone?

Very “Luncheon of the Boating Party”-like, don’t you agree? To the right of this splendidly set table is a small guest house, designed to look like Mr. Mountsier’s home but also outfitted with a wonderful kitchen that makes it easier to have outdoor dinner parties.

On this visit, I spent as much time drinking in the details as admiring the thirty-odd pieces of sculpture dotted about the garden. For example, the mandrill sculpture now sits in an expanded bed that is marvelous in its simplicity – a yew hedge, clipped dwarf mondo grass at its base, and only a few tulips. (The most striking were ‘General Eisenhower,’ a long-stemmed red beauty that Mountsier told us has a long bloom time and stays upright even through the rains.)

Mountsier garden, Garden Conservancy, Open Days

The Mandrill Sculpture in the main garden, along with a "rabbit-hole" brass sculptural indentation in the bed of clipped dwarf mondo grass.

Kripa and I fell in love with a small shade perennial which Hartlage told us was Lathyrus vernis, a member of the sweet pea family which is hard to find but  beautiful where it is happy.

Lathyrus vernis, Garden Conservancy, Mountsier garden

A door leading from one part of the Mountsier garden to another, with Lathyrus vernis in the foreground.

Beyond the original garden lies the newest part of the landscape. Like the garden closer to the house, the new expanse incorporates clipped hornbeams and unusual perennials that were familiar to us. Bermed-up sections of the landscape, however, are planted in ten thousand Hakone grass plants in varying hues, and are anchored by two large concrete walls. Hartlage told us he has planted different kinds of ivies that will grow up the walls in “stripes,” to be clipped by Mountsier’s longstanding, gifted gardener Mario (whom we met at the end of our visit).

Mountsier, Garden Conservancy, Richard Hartlage

One of the Hakone grass hills anchored by a concrete wall in the new portion of the Mountsier garden. Hartlage will plant the large Siebert & Rice 'tom' containers with clipped basil balls later in the summer.

Mountsier garden, Garden Conservancy, Richard Hartlage

Clipped hornbeams near the concrete walls in the new area of the garden.

At the end of our visit, we thanked Hartlage and Mountsier again for their generosity and hospitality. Kripa came away with some design ideas for a garden plan she’s working on. I had struggled all day with the sun, trying to outwit it in my photographic efforts; but like Kripa, the garden inspired me and helped revitalize my creative energies. So we look forward to visiting it again in the fall. If you live within driving distance, I hope you’ll join us.

Explore posts in the same categories: landscape, photography, Travel

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3 Comments on “On the Road Again – Silas Mountsier’s New Jersey Garden”

  1. AH Says:

    I am so stuffed full of steak I cannot imagine having dinner, even in that garden…

  2. Melissa, love, love, love it! Those tall columns of hornbeam, gorgeous, I could do that in my garden! Love the door with the gorgeous handle in the brick wall, I could do that in my garden, if I won the lottery. So many ideas, thank you.

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