As the Garden State, it is only fitting that New Jersey is home to an abundance of idyllic floral parks—many of which will soon burst to life in the coming spring months. But if you’ve exhausted your favorite arboretums and are looking for a new spot to smell the roses, consider visiting Deep Cut Gardens in Middletown Township, NJ. With more than 50 acres of lush landscaping to explore, this botanical oasis is sure to wow guests with its countless horticultural charms.
The Mysterious Past of Deep Cut Gardens
If the grounds of Deep Cut Gardens could talk, they would have more than 400 years of stories to tell. Established in the late 1600s, shortly after the first colonists settled in Jamestown, the land was used for farming. These small estates were passed down through families until 1890 when the sheriff took over the current Deep Cut property. After several temporary owners, the 35-plus acres were finally sold to Edward and Teresa R. Dangler. The couple built a large two-story colonial revival mansion on the premises in 1928 before selling the land to an unexpected buyer, the infamous American mobster, Vito Genovese.
The Don purchased the property in 1935 as a retreat for his family from New York City. Renovations were well underway as the crime boss refashioned the grounds in a pseudo-Italian style reminiscent of Naples. Genovese hired landscaper, Theodore Stout to plan the garden, giving him free rein of the overall design. The gangster’s only request was that a small replica of the rambunctious Italian volcano, Mount Vesuvius, be built in the rock garden. Local construction companies and nurseries helped Stout transform the Deep Cut property into the horticultural haven it is today.
Life After the Genovese Era
Two years later, Genovese and his family left the country to vacation in Europe; a holiday later said to be the mobster’s attempt to flee a murder charge. The project ended prematurely and in that same year, an unexplained fire destroyed the mansion. Since Genovese’s abrupt departure in 1937, the gardens were bought and sold repeatedly before being purchased in 1953 by Karl and Marjorie Sperry Wihtol, the last family to own the property.
To replace the old mansion, the Wihtols built a quaint house that still exists today. Additionally, the couple renovated the greenhouse and worked on the gardens themselves well into the late 1960s. Unfortunately, Karl Wihtol died in 1970 and Marjorie Wihtol resided at Deep Cut Gardens until 1977. In her will, she donated half the property to the Monmouth County Park System to be used for horticultural purposes. The Park System purchased the rest of the property with the New Jersey Green Acres funds.
When the Park System acquired Deep Cut, the estate was wildly overgrown and quickly returning to its natural state. Working from research that began in the early 1980s, the parks service was able to successfully restore the grounds to how they looked in the Genovese era. On September 14, 1978, the park was dedicated as a facility devoted to the education and enjoyment of the home gardener.
The Sights and Sounds of Deep Cut Gardens
As April showers quickly bring May flowers, there is no better time in NJ to visit Deep Cut Gardens than these upcoming spring months. To truly appreciate all the gardens have to offer, we suggest dedicating an entire day to exploring the vast property. But once you arrive at the park, what should you see first?
Start your visit to Deep Cut Gardens with a trip to the horticultural center. This building, once the family home of the Wihtol’s, is now the garden’s main hub for guests, offering beautiful views of the entire park. Additionally, the center houses one of the largest libraries of garden literature in the state. With more than 4,000 books available, visitors have a wealth of knowledge right at their fingertips. Also located in the building are special program rooms where guests of all ages can attend monthly events. Upcoming workshops include lessons on cactus grafting and the basics for creating a flower bed.
After stopping by the horticultural center, we highly recommend touring the remarkable rockery just below. Nestled into the hillside are three cascading water pools that are shaded by a canopy of Sargent’s weeping hemlocks. These tranquil ponds were dry for many years but have since been refurbished. Adjacent to the rockery is the miniature replica of Mount Vesuvius. This unique volcano is actually capable of spouting flames and billowing smoke like its real-life namesake.
Exploring the Grounds
If you follow the path down from the rockery, you will reach the ground’s most admired exhibit, the rose parterre. This recessed, stone-walled garden features a combination of more than 50 varieties of roses and more than 180 bushes. While these floral masterpieces are most attractive when viewed from above, guests are advised to view the garden from a distance to truly take in its beauty. Crowning the parterre is the open-roof pergola that is a popular area for pictures. If you’re looking for an Instagrammable photo op, this is the place to capture it!
Two popular spots among younger guests are the lily pond and the natural pond. In the lily pond, tropical lilies and bog plants float upon the surface as dozens of brightly colored koi and goldfish swim by. The natural pond boasts an entirely different ecosystem; just past the rose parterre, this natural, stream-fed pond is home to native frogs, fish, birds, and plants. If the spring sun is too warm, these pools are a fantastic place to relax and rejuvenate.
Along with these breathtaking sights, Deep Cut Gardens also features a bonsai display, a Japanese-themed garden, and a greenhouse. For the home gardener, the grounds are further equipped with a display garden and even a home composting demonstration site. Learn how to transform your home and yard waste into a beneficial resource for your own home garden!
Before you visit Deep Cut Gardens, make sure you print out a copy of their park brochure and map from their website. Deep Cut Gardens is open every day of the week from 8 a.m. to dusk. Parking and admission are free.
Have you experienced Deep Cut Gardens, one of the botanical beauties of NJ? Share your favorite memories below!
Main image from Deep Cut Gardens Facebook