By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN – The summer is gone, fall is upon us and winter is not far behind. But as the weather cools, the days grow shorter, the work and beauty continues at Deep Cut Gardens, one of the gems of the Monmouth County Park System.
There are still things for the public to experience and enjoy from the outdoor gardens and ponds to the displays in the park’s greenhouse.
Even in the coldest months, “believe it or not, it’s a really nice walk in the park,” said Karen Livingstone, public information officer for the park system. “You can still walk through the gardens. The vistas are still lovely.” Even in the heart of winter, “you can really experience it in a different way.
“When it snows,” she said, “it’s just beautiful there … lovely scenery.”
Beverly DeFelice, a seasonal worker in the gardens, said there is “something here for everyone, for all ages.”
The 54-acre Deep Cut Gardens is located at 152 Red Hill Road, across from Tatum Park. It was bequeathed to the county in 1977 by Marjorie Wihtol and opened to the public the following year.
One of the site’s enduring attractions is its greenhouse, which dates back to the 1930s, prior to the Wihtols owning it, when it was owned by the infamous underworld figure Vito Genovese, according to Livingstone.
The 1,950-square-foot greenhouse has three rows of different plant life, including cacti, bonsai trees, orchids and succulents for the public to view year round.
The orchids bloom mainly through the winter months, until about March, favoring the cooler, damp weather.
“They’re just spectacular,” DeFelice said.
The succulents also are special plants, said DeFelice, who counts the jade plant among her favorites.
The delicate bonsai trees also always seem to attract a lot of attention, though they require some additional care and have to be trimmed regularly and wired to grow in particular shapes, DeFelice noted. The bonsai are winter hardy for the most part and can remain outside for much of the winter. However, about 23 of the more tropical variety are kept in the greenhouse, she said.
As the winter changes, workers like DeFelice, along with a number of people who volunteer their time to the gardens, are busily getting ready for planting roughly 1,400 tulip bulbs so they’ll be up and blooming for the spring – always a crowd pleaser.
“That’s our main display for the spring and it’s very popular,” she said.
In addition, work must be done on the All-American garden, which next year will have a variety of annuals, perennials and vegetables.
The staff also is working on the rockery and ponds scattered around the site.
For the public, there are also activities to tide them over during the winter, such as a holiday wreath-making workshop and a chance for children to make vases and paper flowers for Valentine’s Day.
While visiting, Livingstone said, “You can pop into the horticultural center and ask gardening questions or visit the library,” the second largest horticultural library in the state, after Rutgers University.
The location has remained popular for its 34 years with regular visitors and the newly initiated.
DeFelice remains just as thrilled to be at Deep Cut Gardens. A trained horticulturalist, she works there from March to November. “It’s very rewarding to work in the garden, to plant something and see the beauty it creates,” she said.