I was a child when I first encountered the concept of distinct garden styles at what had been the country mansion of George Jay Gould. A railway exec and first son of robber baron Jay Gould, George had the good luck of both inheriting and earning his fortune. That luck ran out after a visit to Tutankhamun’s newly-opened tomb in 1923.
After his death, the Lakewood, New Jersey home and grounds – and well-designed gardens – were purchased by the Sisters of Mercy. It quickly became the all-girls Georgian Court College, now Georgian Court University.
I had some luck of my own. More than 50 years later, my mother began her studies at Georgian Court. The Sisters had somehow managed to maintain the estate well. I explored the grounds and buildings from time to time, and imagined what life would have been like to live as the Goulds. I loved the mansion and on-site casino building, especially its indoor swimming pool and bowling alley. But the outdoor “rooms” were as beautifully crafted as the interiors.
The garden writ large was profiled in the November 15, 1903 edition of “Gardening”. It mentioned that 9,000 arborvitae were needed for the Italian garden, and that 100 of its 180 acres were devoted to lawns and polo fields. It described a “Herculean” effort required to prepare the sandy soil for planting by top-soiling those acres with 8” to 12” of loam. Having grown up nearby and played in that sand, I am not surprised. Italian gardens don’t sprout in that sand.
None of these gardens were anything like the property’s natural landscape, rich with pines which are visible in this post’s featured image. It is situated just outside the pine barrens known as Pinelands National Reserve, the first National Reserve in the United States designated through the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978.
The Sisters did not maintain the gardens exactly as the Goulds had. That likely required an army of landscapers. But they did keep the spirit intact. You can wander through the gardens in person and virtually now. The university has been accredited as an arboretum, and its website shows the Japanese garden, the Italian garden, the Lagoon Garden, and the Formal Garden.
While some home gardeners strive for one unified style throughout their landscape, I instinctively try for that feeling of separate spaces I so loved at Georgian Court. My property is the size of a postage stamp. Still, an end unit townhome lends itself to different garden spaces. Walking around corners provides surprising opportunities.
Last year’s plantings started with a french country-style garden of cool blues, purples, whites, and greens in the front. Turning the corner revealed a pea graveled sitting area, a more formal container garden with iron trellises, evergreens, and colorful annuals. Continuing on the sidewalk led to stairs winding down a side slope, where a perennial border of neat plants in warm, creamy whites, bright pinks, and greens. Those led to a woodland moonlight garden in the back. A deck above held hot sun-loving containers spilling over the rails.
Creating it was as much fun as seeing it finished. Although a garden is never really finished. It changes as the weather changes, progresses as the seasons progress. Each season is a new opportunity to adjust.
I didn’t get to enjoy my garden as much as I would have liked after its planting last spring. By the end of May, everything in place for the Reston Garden Tour, I spent subsequent months recovering from surgery, avoiding the cicadas, and staying out of the brutal summer heat that sapped my already-waning energy.
When fall arrived, I didn’t plant mums or tuck tulips in for the coming spring, as I had the year before. It’s okay, though. My biggest garden expectation is that it should continue to be full of surprises. I can’t wait to see which plants and plans find me this spring and summer. I never aim to duplicate, and I’m never disappointed!
Note: The featured image in this post was taken in 1901. It is available from the Library of Congress. [Detroit Photographic Co. (ca. 1901) Georgian Court, Lakewood, N.J. New Jersey United States Lakewood, ca. 1901. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2008679539/.%5D