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April 2017

Enjoy Spring at a Glacial Rock Garden

Outside the visitor center at Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills, NJ, my immediate attention is split between a gorgeous crab apple, adeptly trimmed, and a tufa garden in a large stone trough. The large tufa is Nature-made porous rock acquired from upstate New York.

After admiring the crab apple and tufa trough, down the steps I go through a tunnel of rhododendron with swollen buds to see the gardens. At the bottom, pink azalea buds are ready to burst behind Virginia bluebells with hosta shooting up among them.

A garden spreads before me with intriguingly pruned apple and pieris and, nearby, a majestic trunk of Metasequoia glyptostroboides, a.k.a. dawn redwood, rises before me, its living hands reaching out to grab the earth and perhaps a few vibes from human admirers. I touch it, rub my hand over its softish, hairy skin. (Thank you, Ellen Herrick!) Lily of the Valley tumbles from the tree’s protective roots next to near-black trillium.

The Fern Garden swamp on this late April day is covered in primrose, their flower buds beginning to rise to form a colorful carpet. A few naked stalks topped with pink umbels grow alongside a miniature rivulet. Are they Darmera peltata?

Serenity guides this garden where Osmunda regalis ‘Purpurea’ fiddleheads and little bits of pink and blue stand up to be noticed. A slow stream meanders through this glade

On Big Rock outcrop, phlox, columbine, bluebells, tiny iris, primrose and cinquefoil blossom. Veronica ‘Waterperry’ is strewn through the grass and garden edges like wedding confetti. Big Rock and all the other outcrops were exposed long ago by Mr. Leonard J. Buck to uncover the glacial landscape of rocks, glade and stream.

“The garden was sculpted from a glacial stream valley, where waterfalls once cascaded out of Moggy Hollow to the East, then subsided, leaving behind rock faces, outcroppings, ponds and a stream. It took the eye of a geologist, fascinated by mineral-topography-plant relationships, to see the valley's potential to showcase the finest of human-bred cultivars and nature's prettiest wild plants.

The geologist who bought the land was Mr. Leonard J. Buck. As a trustee of the New York Botanical Gardens in the 1930's, he met Mr. Zenon Schreiber, landscape architect, and together they created the garden in the valley. Mr. Buck discovered the layout of outcroppings, and the men chiseled and shoveled, picked and blasted to expose the basalt--once hot lava that formed the Second Watchung Mountain about 175 million years ago.” (by Mary Jasch, first published in Skylands Visitor Magazine)

I walk the hand-made bridge over the pond that will soon burst with Iris versicolor and I. pallida, but now bloom with marsh marigolds. Upstream, wild flowers galore blossom: forget-me-not, brunnera, trillium of all sorts, epimedium pink, white, lavender and yellow and Rhododendrom ‘Mary Fleming’.

Upward, I take the high trail, the Helen R. Buck Trail to the Azalea Field and pass gorgeous white and hot pink redbuds, dogwood, azaleas and rhododendron swathed in buds and blossoms and anchored in carpets of color. Tiarella, as if in a fairy tale, bloom next to pink azaleas so pastel they’re like fluff in the air. Up here, away from the stream and rock outcrops, the paths cut through gardens bordering expanses of lawn. A patch of variegated brunnera lights the shade garden of red buckeye (Aesculus privia) near a pond edged by greater celandine and watermeal, good duck food. On the way back a small group of white flowers hiding under an azalea catches my eye. Dutchman Breeches!

Take a walk through this glacial land, now Leonard J. Buck Garden, where horticulture meets geology and Nature.

** All photos by Mary Jasch
Leonard J. Buck Garden

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