Despite the fact that many judge our beautiful “Garden State” by their arrival into Newark Airport, New Jersey has many great hidden treasures. One particular gem tucked away in Hamilton, New Jersey is the Grounds For Sculpture (GFS). A 42-acre property founded by Seward Johnson, houses more than 270 sculptures. Works of art that are woven together, seamlessly, with thousands of trees, shrubs, annuals and perennials, many of which are exotic. Along side Mr. Johnson’s works are pieces by such “contemporary artists as Clement Meadmore, Anthony Caro, Beverly Pepper, Kiki Smith, George Segal, Magdalena Abakanowicz and Isaac Witkin” (GFS).
My most recent visit, and there have been many, was this past June where I had brunch at Rat’s Restaurant. A gastronomic experience, Rat’s is said to have its name from Kenneth Grahame’s novel, ‘The Wind in the Willows’. Seward Johnson was apparently charmed by the work and aptly named the restaurant after its character “Ratty”, a water vole who is cultured, relaxed and friendly” (Wikipedia). Surrounding the restaurant’s back exterior you can be inspired by a recreation of a Monet masterpiece. It is here that I made the transition from culinary delights and delved into a more familiar world of horticultural wonderment.
There is so much plant material to admire on this property. In the parking area alone, running along the brick wall of Seward Johnson’s Center for the Arts, wedged between the sidewalk was a long expanse of Dwarf Greenstripe Bamboo, Pleioblastus auricomus (syn. Arundinaria auricoma and Pleioblastus viridistriatus). A low, groundcovering type bamboo, this running type grows 18-30 inches tall. Beautifully colored and very hardy considering it is a variegated type. Hardy to zone 6, this bamboo has long golden yellow leaves with shades of green too. Fine hair cover the bottom of the leaves, hence its said resistance to bamboo mites. Short running rhizomes curtail its ability to run like other types, however you should still be mindful that it is a running type. Root barriers can solve this problem though or wedging it between a brick wall and sidewalk as it was done here. This plant appreciates being cut back before spring the same way grasses do. I seldom see this plant in landscapes and am always captivated by its texture and colors.
Other highlights for me were a weeping blue Atlas Cedar that was some 40 feet across and a mop cypress that was over 20 feet tall. I mention the mop cypress as a highlight because so many are purchased thinking that these cute little yellow pillows will stay 2-3 feet tall. Nothing could be further from the truth as was evident here. Oregon Grapeholly, Mahonia aquifolium, draped with blue-black fruit, reminded me how beautiful this plant is and how seldom I see it in residential gardens. Huge sweeps of Oakleaf Hydrangea were in full flower and their leaves were unblemished in most shady areas. Bottlebrush Buckeye, Aesculus parviflora, was well represented in deep shade too. Overlooked by many, Bottlebrush Buckeye “seems to proliferate in shade” (Michael Dirr) and should be given considerable thought before you dump Norway Spruce in the same area. Reaching 12 feet high and 15 feet wide, this Buckeye offers beautiful flowers and unique fruit. A handsome specimen or impressive screen, the foliage alone is enough to buy this plant…. everything else it does is just a bonus! Last but not least was the Red Maple allée, Acer rubrum. This allée, French for a walkway lined with trees or tall shrubs, really leaves you speechless. Red Maples planted, just inches from one another, had their lower branches removed, showcasing strong vertical pillars, creating their own art in the garden. This, of course, could only be outdone by its own remarkable fall color of which I am eager to visit.
“Seward Johnson conceived of Grounds For Sculpture and opened it in 1992. With a mission to promote an understanding and appreciation of contemporary sculpture deeply rooted in the conviction that art belongs in the lives of everyone, Grounds For Sculpture fulfills that mission in a multiple of ways. The Journey through Grounds For Sculpture can be largely self-directed, requires no prior art education and progressively leads visitors to appreciate more challenging work. It is also why there are so many ways to enjoy the park” (GFS). That said, with all the amazing plant materials used throughout the 42-acres, my appreciation began with its plants and along the way gave me a huge appreciation for the artists and what they have created. Grounds For Sculpture is a non-profit. Should you be interested in supporting or visiting this exciting development visit them at www.groundsforsculpture.org.