Greenwood Gardens is a 28-acre public garden surrounded by 2,110 acres of South Mountain Reservation, a part of Essex County park system. The Gardens were a private estate until 2003, when the Blanchard family decided to transform them into a public garden.
Greenwood Gardens was originally the home of the Joseph P. Day family. The buildings and landscape were designed by William W. Renwick and constructed by hand of rough local stone and colorful Arts & Crafts tiles. The Days sold the property in 1944 and it declined. In the 1950s Peter P. Blanchard, Jr. and his wife Adelaide Childs Frick purchased the property and began to add their own signature to the Gardens. In particular, they added many evergreen trees and shrubs and new design elements. The allées at the entrance and near the ponds are examples.
In 2000, in keeping with his father’s wishes, Peter P. Blanchard III, and his wife, Sofia Blanchard, began the process of establishing Greenwood Gardens as a nonprofit public garden and conservation organization. The Garden Conservancy provided technical and organizational development assistance, and continues to support Greenwood Gardens as one of 16 exceptional gardens that it endorses.
The Main House and surrounding terraces have been restored. However, much of the Garden is still being restored.
1. MAIN HOUSE AND MAIN LAWN
In 1906, Joseph P. Day, a leading New York City real estate auctioneer, and his wife Pauline Martindale Pope Day, purchased 80 acres in Short Hills. After the existing home on the property was destroyed by fire in 1911, Day commissioned architect William W. Renwick AIA (a partner in the architectural firm of his uncle, James Renwick, Jr.) to design a new house and gardens, which he named Pleasant Days. The estate featured a 28-room Italianate mansion built by the Guastavino Fireproof Construction Company of New York City, renowned for its work on Grand Central Terminal and Carnegie Hall. In the following two decades, Day would invest more than a million dollars in his dream castle and 26 acres of grounds immediately surrounding it.
In 1949, Peter P. Blanchard, Jr., and his wife, Dr. Adelaide Childs Frick Blanchard, purchased the house and gardens as a country retreat where they could enjoy riding and other outdoor pursuits. By this time, the Day house had deteriorated significantly, so the Blanchards replaced it with a smaller house in the Georgian Revival style. They changed the name of the estate to The Greenwoods.
Housed in the open air East Pavilion is a magnificent hand-wrought-iron gate featuring a bird of paradise, vines, and other flora and fauna. After suffering years of exposure and neglect, this intricately crafted example of the work of Samuel Yellin (1885–1940), an American master blacksmith touted as the “Tiffany of metalwork,” has recently undergone extensive conservation work to restore it to its original beauty.
2 . REFLECTING POOL TERRACE
Pleasant Days was in its prime in the 1920s and 30s, when it was the scene of many parties for the large Day family. With shady grottoes decorated with richly colored Rookwood glazed faïence tiles, and sunny lawns surrounded by beds of peonies, iris, and mixed borders, the garden also served as a quiet retreat for the family.
The Blanchards kept the original Day-era garden features, adding their own ornaments and primarily evergreen plantings. From the Main House, broad steps lead down to a former reflecting pool with waterside iris and Blue Zinger sedge. The outer edges of the grass terrace are enclosed by a screen of mature conifers, shrubs, and hedges.
3. CROQUET TERRACE & GARDEN OF THE ZODIAC
There are two terraces below the Reflecting Pool Terrace: the Croquet Terrace, with boxwood hedges; and the Garden of the Zodiac, where twelve pairs of classical columns are arranged in a crescent around a former reflecting pool. Where recently the pool’s perimeter was planted with ever-green shrubs, now pink peonies and white goat’s beard thrive, as well as spikes of cream, pink, and bronze foxgloves. A bronze sculpture of a boy holding two geese by Emilio Angela (1889–1970) has been reinstated in the center of the pool. Clematis and roses were replanted in this garden as part of the first phase of Greenwood Gardens’ restoration when work began in 2003.
Tucked discretely behind plantings, the Summerhouse (c. 1920) is an octagonal stone pavilion constructed of local sandstone with copper coursings around cone-shaped roofs. Shaded by four horse chestnut trees, the gardens along this axis provide an attractive contrast to the formality of the terraced gardens. An exposed aggregate concrete pathway leading from the Summerhouse is an efficient method of emulating rustic elements found in Italian Renaissance gardens.
Similar to the Summerhouse in design, the Teahouse (c. 1920) interior features a ceiling studded with blue, green and brown seashell-shaped Rookwood tiles, and floors paved with pastel-hued Fulper tiles manufactured nearby in New Jersey. Limestone chess pieces—knight, pawn, queen, and king—line the walk nearby. Here dwarf iris, pink dianthus, Siberian iris and small alliums (ornamental onions) may be found nestled near four huge stone frogs.
Granite Foo dogs are placed at opposite steps to the Tea House, while an Oriental paperbush (Edgeworthia chrysantha) serves as a centerpiece connecting the walkway and the two stone follies.
6. MEADOW AND PONDS
An opening in the boxwood reveals two ponds at the base of the Watchung Mountains. The ponds (c. 1965) are frequented by waterfowl including Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, and Wood Ducks. At the terminus of this view, punctuating a field of wildflowers, is a wrought iron gate designed by Carrére and Hastings for the Frick residence in New York. Visitors are cautioned to remain at a safe distance from the animals and ponds.
The outer edges of the Garden are populated by native trees and shrubs, including sugar maple, tulip tree, oak, hickory, native dogwood, and native azalea.
The Cascade is a strong architectural feature of the garden designed by William W. Renwick. This seven tier, gravity-fed water feature culminated in an elliptical reflecting pool originally named “Dragon Fountain Pool”. Surrounded by low stucco walls, with flower beds at their feet, the reflecting pool basin is now a grass terrace that overlooks the formal European inspired allée of plane trees and maples — the creation of Peter Blanchard, Jr.
In its heyday in the 1920s, Joseph Day is said to have employed over 100 people to maintain his 80-acre estate, a number of whom lived in the Cottages. The architect, William W. Renwick, incorporated Rookwood faience tiles and Della Robbia plaques that designate each buildings’ age. Across the road is a former tennis house that is adjacent to the visitor parking lot. The Cottages will be restored in a later phase of Greenwood’s capital improvements.