Tuesday, September 7, 2010

When is a Garden a Park?

City dwellers go to the suburbs to have gardens as few in the city have much that can be considered anything more than a courtyard. Often these courtyards are 10 by 20 feet. So when you get yourself a suburban lot that measures 50 by 100 or even 50 by a 150 you really feel that you have room to garden. Imagine then a garden approximately 100 by 1800 feet with a creek running not only through it by snaking twice around the garden and flowing into an edge wetland that is canopied with towering 100 foot Tulip Poplars in every direction. On Sunday September 5, my intrepid friend Carmen and I trekked to the Second Annual Rutgers Master Gardeners of Burlington County Garden Tour to see the Silberstein Garden in Willingboro. The Rutgers offering is rather extensive allowing garden enthusiasts to purchase a booklet that provides addresses and schedules to 37 gardens that have been on display since Mid April and continues until the Mid October. It is not too late to explore some very interesting gardens. For us, we managed to visit only one garden so far of the 37, but WHAT A GARDEN!

From the street the plantings are lush and you can barely see the house for all the potted plants that have been brought out to enjoy our tropical summer. Upon close inspection you note an assemblage of plants that is unlike anything you are likely to see elsewhere in New Jersey.

We arrived and there was a sign-in sheet on a chair by the driveway and no one to greet us as the host, in typical manner, was gardening. Normally I would see this as a sign of neglect to visitors, but when I turned the corner past the house and the hosta bordered lawn, I knew we were in for a first class adventure.

Steve Silberstein is a horticulturalist for the state of New Jersey inspecting nurseries. I suspect that every moment that he is not working on his daytime job Steve is gardening. You could not have a garden like this otherwise. Even with his wife sharing this passion and working alongside this garden is beyond description in size, design, plantings collection you name it. Nothing I will show you in photographs or my writings will accurately describe this endeavor of love. The plant collection is extensive and is strongly based on native planting local to Jersey and the region but reaches with a wonderful flair into exotic tropical regions of the world.


I know plants. I have studied botany and although I am not a botanist or horticulturalist by degree I know a lot of plants from traveling to gardens around the world. Well, this garden had me stumped. Every time I guessed one thing Steve would enlighten me and Carmen. He is like most gardeners a kindred spirit who when he discovers that you share this passion there is nothing that he will not do to share in this wonderful collection he has assembled. So he spent better part of three hours walking with the two of us before I realized that I had to get myself back to deal with "The Limo".

I am not going going to even attempt to give you names as I did not take a notebook to write them down, for that I have Steve, who I know will be a friend from now on. I will tell you briefly that these above are not your typical bananas. These are Japanese and overwinter under thick mulch.

He has a major collection of Colocasias commonly referred as Elephant Ears. Among the more exotic is this one growing along the stream bank from Thailand? that he lifts every year because it cannot remain outdoors in Jersey winters. The same plant was blooming elsewhere in the garden you can see these very unusual blossoms that resemble irises as they unfurl.



There are collections of ferns and cycads in sheltered banks that remind you of the forest primeval.


There are hills and valleys as you go up and down various rises and then descend into the final wetlands at the end of roughly 1800 feet in from the road.

Even the decay was fascinating as shown above with this fungal growth on a dead stump.

Steve originally purchased two acres and about ten years or so purchased two additional landlocked acres directly behind his first two.

Steve Silberstein with my friend Carmen

He is a small man in stature, but a giant amongst gardeners and his generosity and skills are certainly beyond comparison.

At the end of the 1800 feet I trudged the furthest out to this point overlooking a wetland area and where Steve's stream flows into this marshy area that eventually flows into the Rancocas Creek.

I wondered how much room he has left for himself in his house when there are hundreds if not thousands of tender tropicals that need to move into protection during the winter. As I looked into this wonderful natural wetland I also wondered if Steve had any plans to further expand. I don't think so, NJ DEP is pretty strict about wetland encroachment. For me the challenge at this point was the return walk back to the car through this magnificent garden turned park.

Happy Gardening!

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