Monmouth County is known for many things, one of the most signature elements being its park system. The commitment given to open space and how it is used and preserved is reflected in the variety of formats of the parks. Deep Cut Gardens, on Red Hill Road in Middletown, embodies gardening inspiration and education.
Diane Allen is a representative of the Monmouth County Park System who handles information pertaining to Deep Cut Gardens. She credits the county for its efforts, even during these difficult times.
"We’re a county park, not a state park, and the freeholders have always tried to hold the line (concerning park funding). There have been cuts," Allen said. "But we have our small staff and our volunteers who are invaluable to us."
Park staff efforts are evident as the colors of spring finally begin to peek out from winter’s effects. The grounds appear to have fared well, but there were casualties, Allen explained.
"We did lose some branches, and the weeping hemlock in the rockery (rock garden) was the most significant loss this year," she said. "There were some branches lost from the magnolias too." This past winter was one of the most difficult experienced in the region with frequent snowstorms and persistent, cold temperatures. In spite of that, nature finds a way.
One of the most attention-getting features of Deep Cut Gardens is the koi pond, and Allen said that the attraction is relatively self-sufficient. "It doesn’t really need a lot of maintenance," she said. "The fish go into a state of dormancy when the temperature drops. The pond has filtration and aeration and gets a winter cleaning. We do not feed (the fish) often. They do well on their own with bugs that land on the surface."
The history of the property involves many hands, and many ideas, about what it should be. The first private owners of the property, Edward and Teresa Dangler, built a two-story house there and the land did not have a specifically conceived purpose beyond that. Vito Genovese bought it in 1935, and a lot of the features that are recognizable now originated here: a mixture of English and Italian styles, the terraced back yard, the rock garden, and the pergola toward the back of the property.
Another major part of the landscaping involved the rose garden set before the gazebo, a focal point during Genovese’s years with the property, but for Middletown residents who hadn’t been to the Gardens in the past few years, the design seemed a foreign element.
"This is the fourth year for the rose garden," Allen said. "The project to reclaim the open field that was there began in 2008." The intention was to restore the grounds to the plan originally found during Genovese’s residence.
A major difference between then and now is the building used as the information center. The Danglers’ two-story house, later owned by Genovese, mysteriously burned down in 1937, the same year Genovese left the country.
The property changed hands a few more times and then, in 1953, Karl and Marjorie Wihtol took ownership and built the construction that stands to this day. It remained in the family until 1977 with the passing of Marjorie Wihtol.
Half of the property was willed to the Monmouth County Park System under the provision that it was to "be used for park and horticultural purposes only." The rest of the property was purchased with NJ Department of Environmental Protection's Green Acres program funding.
Deep Cut Gardens defies the conventional notion of what a park is; no playground equipment and, outside of special requests, no major gatherings allowed. "We do allow outdoor weddings," Allen said. For those other requests, people would need to call and said usage would need to be agreed upon by the county park headquarters.
The property has other important purposes however. "Deep Cut serves as a source of inspiration to the home gardener," Allen said. "We have a horticultural library of over 3,000 volumes. It’s the second-largest in the state behind Rutgers University. We also have a number of programs on horticulture and cooking."
The park will host an open house in June and holds "plant swaps" twice a year so town residents can freshen up their plants and limber up their green thumbs.
Deep Cut Gardens has been recognized frequently over the years for excellence, with the most recent honor coming from a readers’ poll from New Jersey Monthly Magazine.
What hasn’t been determined is the truth of the legend that the concave shape of the back yard allows those standing behind the information center, up top, to overhear conversations happening in the gazebo below. Allen has heard the tale but has never tried out the method to see if the myth stands up. "The trees in the rockery have grown significantly since 1935," she said. "I don’t know if they’d still have that same effect."
This and a plentiful garden variety of other experiences await at Deep Cut Gardens.
For more information, call 732-671-6050, or visit: www.monmouthcountyparks.com