Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A New Jersey Garden

I was lucky enough to be invited to a lunch given by Silas Mountsier and his friend and neighbor Graeme Hardie, a South African who lives across the street from Silas' home, in which he has lived since childhood (he is 80) in the town of Nutley.

The invitation came via Betty Scholtz (89), who is an old friend of theirs, and so on Saturday four New Yorkers crossed beneath the waters of the deep Hudson through the Holland Tunnel, and sped towards the wilds of New Jersey. Poor Vincent had to work.

On the way (much traffic in Chinatown) Betty told stories about lions and Leipoldt. She beat him at bridge when she was very young, and he made her cry. He asked her father to cook lion for him, as he'd never eaten it... I was struck dumb at the thought of being on friendly terms with the mythical figure of Afrikaans poetry and literature and cooking. How was the lion? I asked Betty. Gamey, she said.

Suzanne, a friend of Betty's, regaled us with stories about farm produce and sheep on Shelter Island, and wild boar in Italy. Glen, her husband, and a retired NYPD detective, drove; Nigel, his onboard computer, navigated. Betty and I sat safely seatbelted in the back.

I had no idea what lay ahead, but I was bok for sports.

There were twelve of us at lunch. A glass of Pimms and gingerale  started things off as we sat in an old fashioned circle looking at each other. Why had I never had Pimms before? What was I thinking? I now own a bottle.

Lunch was on a patio at a long table under umbrellas, under trees - the tallest oak trees I have ever seen, truly beautiful beings, some apparently 200 years old.

Before we ate, we all held hands, and Silas gave thanks.

Graeme had cooked: chilled zucchini soup, then a single ear of corn for each of us, with butter (which spelled the end of my red lipstick) and salt, farmers' market tomatoes, a melting-from the-bone lamb chop, and for dessert white peaches a la mode.

And with the lamb a truly wonderful Malbec, from the Alexander Valley circa 2005. I must find it.

Mostly I listened. There was a lot to listen to. One of the guests was Manabu Saito, the charming Japanese botanical artist, who, after lunch, looked at me seriously and said, You must return to your art. Meaning singing - my circuitous route to garden designing had come up over lunch.

Why? I asked, him, smiling.

Because you are so beautiful, he said. And he bowed.

What do you say? This is the advantage of being in the company of persons significantly your elder. Perspective is thrown on your perceptions, and you are humbled by your own whining. Manabu's sincerity moved me.

He has heard Callas sing, in person, many times. He went to the Met when it was the old Met. Long, long before the Lincoln Center Met. He was at the Venice Opera before it burned down, and he heard Tebaldi sing there. We talked about what makes art. We agreed that it must absorb your soul.

And all they see is a pretty picture, he said, sighing.

After lunch Graeme led us around Silas' garden, and then to his, across the road (separate post). Both gardens were designed by Richard Hartlage. At some point I was besieged by mosquitoes, definitely a stronger breed out there, and I still bear the bites which I scratch at feverishly when I remember about them.

So what do you think? Silas asked me expectantly when we returned. I felt like a deer in the headlights, which always disconcerts the questioner. But this always happens to me. When I see new art, I can often not say what I think. And I often have no idea what I think. Time must pass.

I could only mutter about really liking the sculpted hornbeams.

Is that all? he spluttered, good naturedly. I said that I was rather overawed, hence mute.

Well, I really did like the hornbeam monoliths, as I think of them now. Cue Space Odyssey...I loved the concrete walls as a gateway. I thought the hidden tree house/lookout in a block of beeches was lovely. So too the mass of Japanese forest grass, surely some sort of record in the United States. So too the very strong lines of the place.

I was very happy to see so much Acidanthera (Abyssinian gladiolus, aka peacock flower). I loved the variegated dogwoods and imagine that the cherries must be like gossamer in the spring.

This garden is loved, really loved, by those who live in it.

It was a lunch that reminded me of our lunches under the tree in Cape Town, where guests think about moving on late, late in the afternoon, and where the greens above and around are as much part of the conversation as the wide ranging words we use to wed our experiences over a the period of a shared meal between friends and strangers.


  1. "art...must absorb your soul"

    love how you've framed that!

  2. Thank you for showing me my dream garden. I am so inspired by this luncheon.

  3. Nothing is better than the creative and intellectual stimulation of a society of friends.

  4. Who knew what wonders Nutley could hold?

    Beautiful garden, sweeping, peaceful and ,ost of all green.

    Ii don't know if you have "an" art, I think everything you do is art.

  5. I am not a gardener, but I do love to see beautiful gardens. This one is spectacular. I love how it feels so soothing, all those shades of green. And the use of grasses, sweeping curves, vertical lines. OH man, it is just wonderful. How lucky you are to have toured it in person! And to have lunched in the company of so many interesting souls. Nice post, Marie.

  6. Interesting how peaceful a monochromatic garden can be - even in photos.

    Would like to know how he served the Pimms, tho. Bought a bottle a couple of summers ago thinking that we would sip "Pimms Cup" for the summer. Alas, we hated it! and threw away the remainder of the bottle. I'd try it again with another recipe to try...

  7. While I live in Jersey City, I drive through Nutley on a regular basis. It has an extremely diverse housing stock … Victorian, 1920's, Mission, and ugly 1950' onwards…with lots of different type of gardens, from grand as the one of your luncheon to simple as wild flowers in a front garden. There is also a wonderful meandering park with a creek that runs through one of the sections of the town. While I have driven through lots of streets…I'd not seen the section where this house and garden are located. I will do more exploring next time. Nutley is also a nifty place for interesting food. Good butcher shops.


  8. Marie - thank you for the remark about the acidanthera. I don't think mine made it through the winter in lower Westchester, but planted more. This year I do notice a light lemony fragrance, more pronounced at dusk than during the day. Maybe I'm not planting them deep enough -- I've had them for several years always replanted, but I do plant them fairly shallowly. If you have an idea about how deep they should be please say. Where I have them planted is fairly clayey soil, so maybe that's the problem (though in the same soil I had canna and dahlias overwinter this year -- quite unintentionally because I usually leave them in with the notion that they 'compost in place'). I was also amazed that phygelius made it through last winter, so all the more puzzled about the acidanthera,

  9. A truly gorgeous garden, so serene. It must be amazing when a light breeze passes over the fields of Japanese grass.

  10. On-ge-loof-lik. Ek kon nie eens verder lees na die breinboggelende vertelling van Betty Scholtz wat actually-actually-actually vir Leipoldt geken het nie...
    Dit is... net ongelooflik.
    Ek hoop sy werk aan haar mémoires.

    Nou eers kan ek verder lees oor Graeme Hardie (ek't eenmaal 'n artikel oor hom gelees op die NYTimes) en die tuin.

  11. Just came across your beautiful blog and have been enjoying it. Don't ask me how I got here..referred by another blogger. You have shown me a different side of NY than I knew possible. Only been to NYC once, 41 yrs. ago and only saw whatever the tour took us on and Radio City Music Hall, China town(not my cup of tea)You really travel to interesting places and your photography talents are exceptional. The Capt that Cafe Twon, S.Africa? I didn't expect mountains or lush green lawns. Do you have something to do with planting the city's public places? Or were you just pointing out certain public areas that had been beautified with flowers? Did I see something mentioned about Rockaway, NJ? I have a niece who lives there but I have never been there. How in the world do you manage all that rooftop gardens? I'd be scared Kitty would fall off the ledge, and that's a long way down, but cats are sure footed, it would probably land on its feet!
    Thanks for sharing all of this beauty with your readers. I really have enjoyed what I viewed just now.

  12. Hi Betty - thank you, and I'm happy you have enjoyed some posts...

    "My" Rockaways are within NYC, in Queens.

    Yes, Cape Town is in SA and its Table Mountain is a world heritage site. It's very beautiful.

  13. Hello Marie, Enjoyed this post and your delight in our gardens! The Acidantheras are planted each year - no we d not leave them in the ground! They came up last week. We save the bulbs and plant them in June! Yes that fragrance at night is stunning - and their vertical form so dramatic. I'm not sure but we do refer to the monoliths as hornbeams - but are they not in the beech family! Betty will know! And come back again- you would be most welcome - next time with Vincent! How did I find this? I goggled myself - and came upon your blog - and to add to the strangeness of this I am reading it in Bangkok on my way to BAli! Cheers - what a world! NExt year we will be opening the garden on the 10th September to honor Betty's 90th year and what funds are collected she can give to BBG to a project she finds deserving. Maybe you can help us publisize this event. BEtty is a marvel and the stories which she remembers like the Leopold one are amazing! Graeme

  14. Sien julle volgende week, Graeme!


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