Touring Rutgers Gardens through bamboo groves, Holly House


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Photo by Yesha Chokshi |

Rutgers Gardens offers free tours on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month. The gardens, located at 112 Ryders Lane, is on Cook campus and covers nearly 180 acres of natural area.


From a cornucopia of serene and green spaces to the peaceful Zen garden and shadowy bamboo forest, Rutgers Gardens gives the University community a space to relax while appreciating biodiversity.

Rutgers Gardens, located at 112 Ryders Lane, is a botanical garden on Cook campus that covers nearly 180 acres of natural area, Martha Petersen, the tour guide, said. Petersen is a volunteer docent who guided a tour of the gardens’ newest features and popular spots last Saturday.

Rutgers Gardens has been offering free tours this year on the second and fourth Saturdays of each month.

“Rutgers University does not provide any funding for the Gardens’ operation and preservation,” Petersen said. “Most of our funding comes from plant sales, events and facility rentals. We depend heavily on volunteers.”

Photo: Yesha Chokshi .
Photo: Yesha Chokshi .
Photo: Yesha Chokshi .
Photo: Yesha Chokshi .

At the time of the tour, a wedding was taking place. Petersen said the garden is a popular venue for events like this.

The remainder of the income is comprised of donations from generous supporters, she said. The money raised goes toward purchasing equipment and materials, supporting salaries, providing public programs and preserving the place in general.

Step Inside The Holly House

The tour began at the Holly House, the main entrance to the park.

Petersen said the space is used for lectures and gardening classes. The Holly House earned its name because one of the largest collections of American Hollies was planted in the gardens in the 1950s, Petersen said.

The gardens, established in 1927, are comprised of a series of horticultural collections for research, she said. In the 1990s, Rutgers planned to sell the land for urban development, but a professor named “Doc” Hamilton took responsibility for its maintenance and funding and opened it to the public, she said.

Groove into the Bamboo Grove

Next, the tourists visited the bamboo grove, a collection of “running” bamboo that was also planted in the 1950s. The bamboo creates a canopy along the trails and the temperature is noticeably cooler. It is called “running” bamboo because of its fast growth and spread rate.

“It’s very aggressive, so it has to be maintained with cement or natural features like this creek,” she said.

Along the bamboo forest, it connects to a spring near the entrance where frogs, turtles and geese can be seen. The creek features a charming bridge.

Explore Rutgers’ Research Projects

The south side of the gardens is devoted to research projects, where hazelnut grows currently, she said. Researchers from Rutgers are studying hazelnut’s ability to resist viruses.

Southern magnolia trees and kousa dogwood occupy areas in the center, Petersen said. The dogwood, native to China, had red fruits that looked like compact raspberries with armor.

“The berries are edible, but the taste is nothing to talk about,” she said.

Petersen said her favorite tree was the paperbark maple of China. It looked like a rustic birch tree, or a stick of cinnamon split in two.

“The paperbark tree is what we call a four-season tree — it looks nice all year long,” she said.

Stroll Through the Zen Garden

The center also featured a small Zen garden and frog pond surrounded by a large flower garden and a memorable herb garden. The relaxing smell of thyme, lavender, sage and rosemary flourished in the herb garden, making it a nice place to read.

A small garden of succulents, such as cacti, ran along the road. From about October to May, the succulents are brought into a green house. Most of the plants are composted in the fall, Petersen said.

Several of the structures within the gardens, such as benches, were donated. She said in the back stands a pavilion funded by Rutgers alumni.

    

Flow through the Rain Garden

A rain garden on the north side was designed and constructed in 2010 by interns studying landscape architecture at Rutgers, Petersen said.

“The point of the rain garden is to prevent flooding and use storm water runoff in a good way,” she said. “We encourage homeowners to control runoff by building a rain garden.”

The attractive and environmentally sound rain garden has a series of bogs that filter water leading down to a cistern that recharges the water for the plants, she said.

Every Friday from May to November, the Garden hosts a popular farmer’s market where local vendors sell a variety of produce. In addition, it also hosts several events including a spring flower fair and fall festival.

The fall festival features a variety of autumn-themed activities and is scheduled to take place on Oct. 6 this year, she said.

“Sandy caused a lot of trees and bamboo to fall last year,” Petersen said. “We’ve been cleaning up a lot, but we’ve primarily depended on volunteers to do this.”


By Cody Beltis

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