By Carole Masters ~
Looking for just a walk in the park or some inspiration for your own garden? Deep Cut Gardens should be your destination. Located along winding Red Hill Road in Middletown, NJ, it is the horticultural heart of the Monmouth County Park System.
Deep Cut Gardens is 54 acres of beautiful landscapes and greenhouses to walk and enjoy with native and cultivated specimen plantings. Dedicated to the home gardener, plants are labeled and the Horticultural Center there has an extensive library, activity rooms and a staff of Master Gardeners on hand to answer gardening questions.
After coming through the iron gates of Deep Cut Gardens, your first walk will be through a lovely tree filled front lawn before coming to the Koi pond and Horticultural Center. Pick up a brochure with a map of the gardens. Circle around behind the Center and you will find a lovely hillside with a rockery of terraced ponds. At the bottom of the hill is an impressive Rose and boxwood Parterre, a formal garden of 52 different rose bushes that Deep Cut is most renown. A lovely Pergola is at the far end to sit and admire the landscape.
Right now the garden’s brightest display are the tulips, but come June, the roses will be the main attraction. Note the different types of roses; shrub, floribunda, hybrid teas, and climbers, all labeled with their names but as yet not in their glory.
The creation of the gardens has an interesting history. As far back as the 1600’s the land consisted of several small family farm lots bordering Middletown Village. Passed down through several generations, eventually the lots on what is now Deep Cut were taken over by the Sheriff in 1890 due to unpaid taxes. In 1928 Edward and Teresa R. Dangler bought 35 plus acres to construct a large two-story Colonial Revival Mansion on the hilltop.
In 1935, the infamous mobster Vito Genovese bought the property and set Theodore Stout to plan a garden, reminiscent of his Naples, Italy origins. Integrating the Colonial Revival mansion, Stout’s plan was a mixture of English and Italian styles, with a rockery and terraced pools on the hillside leading down to a formal garden or Rose Parterre with stone Pergola. Genovese’s only requirement was a Mt. Vesuvius rockery which remains today upon the hill above the rose parterre.
Genovese’s time with his gardens was short. Wanted for murder, he had to flee the country in 1937. Soon afterwards an unexplained fire destroyed the colonial mansion. The property passed through a few hands until in 1953, Karl and Marjorie Sperry Wihtol purchased “Deep Cut Farm” and built the existing house that serves as the horticultural center and offices today.
The Wihtols renovated the greenhouse and worked the gardens. Karl Wihtol died in 1970 and in 1977 Marjorie willed half the property to Monmouth County “to be used for a park and horticultural purposes only.” Over the years the park system has added acreage, renovated and improved the gardens that feature both native and cultivated plant species.
Besides the formal gardens there is a meadow walk with several benches to relax. Looping back towards the parking lot is a greenhouse and display garden. The first room has a wide variety of cactus and succulents. Additional rooms feature orchids, a bonsai display and other houseplants.
Families visiting should ask about the “Garden Safari Backpacks.” These contain a scavenger hunt as a fun exploration of the gardens and are equipped with tools of discovery such as a magnifying glass and binoculars. Be aware that these are limited to first come, first served.
Fulfilling its educational mission Deep Cut offers many opportunities for learning about gardening and garden inspired arts and crafts for adults and children. To learn more visit the Monmouth County Park System on line at www.monmouthcountyparks.com or call 732-842-4000.
An upcoming event is “Deep Cut Gardens Open House & National Public Gardens Day,” Friday through Sunday, May 11-13 from 9am to 4pm each day, and has free scheduled tours, garden activities and demonstrations, as well as drop in activities for children.
Presently, the gardens are only open weekdays after 6 pm until dusk and weekends. This is due to construction in the parking lot, which should be complete by late spring. Once construction is complete, the park’s regular daily hours are 8 am to dusk year round with free admission and free parking. However the office is only open from 10am – 5pm. The Horticultural library hours are Monday through Friday 10am – 4pm and Saturday/Sunday 10am – 3pm. Library books are for reference and cannot be taken out. During library hours horticultural staff, master gardeners, and volunteers are available to help you with your gardening questions at the park or by calling the Horticulture Helpline, 732-671-6906.
Deep Cut Gardens is a delightful gem for county residents to enjoy at their leisure and a real resource for gardeners. Volunteers are needed and welcomed. Inquire at the Horticultural Center or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally, directly across from Deep Cut Gardens, Tatum Park can also be enjoyed. This 366 acre county park has over six miles of nature trails, a playground and activity center.