Local garden to be part of national tour

Photo by Javon Ross
Ron Carter gives a tour of the garden that sits atop a parking garage at the Harrison Park Towers.

EAST ORANGE, NJ — The rooftop garden at Harrison Park Towers will be one of the stops on the prestigious Garden Conservancy “Open Days” tour, which offers people a chance to see spectacular spaces they would not otherwise be able to visit.

Ron Carter, a resident and gardener of the Gotelli Garden at Harrison Park Towers, will host a tour of the garden space on Saturday, May 6. Carter, a member of the Garden Conservancy organization, has garnered attention for the garden due to his work restoring it over the last 13 years.

“For this garden to end up getting attention from a national audience is a great thing for marketing and the building as a whole,” Carter said. “People who are interested in gardens are going to pay to come see the garden and look at the building.”

A nonprofit organization incorporated in New York State, The Garden Conservancy was founded in 1989 by renowned plantsman Frank Cabot after his visit to Ruth Bancroft’s dry garden in Walnut Creek, CA. He recognized that there was an opportunity to create an organization to help preserve similarly exceptional gardens for future generations.

Each year the organization holds a garden-visiting program, called Open Days, which opens the gates to private gardens across the country, allowing thousands of visitors to explore beautiful spaces not normally open to the public.
This year tours are being offered at several locations in California, on Long Island and upstate New York.

The East Orange tour titled, “Digging Deeper: Renewing and Restoring” is to honor the legacy of the garden, which has existed for 67 years.

“There are only a few really special gardens in New Jersey,” Carter said. “One of them is in Nutley, called the Mountsier Garden and the other one is in Short Hills, called the Greenwood Gardens. To be considered alongside those gardens is a great honor.”
According to Carter, those who are garden and plant enthusiasts who previously visited the secret garden have given him advice on how to care for certain plants and where to move them for the best outcomes.

“People come to visit because of this program and give me advice,” Carter said. “They suggest I move things because they are not in the best place – very knowledgeable people come. I have learned a tremendous amount from them. I have basically obtained a graduate degree in gardening from these individuals.”

The original owner and cultivator of the garden, William Gotelli, was a construction executive who The New York Times observed as having an “unusual enthusiasm for gardening.” He spent an estimated half-million dollars on the two-acre garden he owned in South Orange. The garden he owned was later divided between the space in Harrison Towers and Washington D.C., where it has been preserved in a national arboretum.

“Gotelli was a real master, a world-class collector of plants,” Carter said. “He had the largest growing collection of conifers in North America. When he retired and moved here, the national arboretum in Washington dug up his stuff and took it to Washington where it is now a seven-acre part of the arboretum called the ‘Gotelli Dwarf and Slow-Growing Conifer Collection.’”

The garden in Harrison Towers is a classical Italian-style design on the roof of the parking garage with a statue and a larger water fountain feature built-in. It has a large oval-shaped green pasture called the “green panel,” with minimal flower designs and layouts.

“Americans really want color and flowers, but Italians prefer the serenity of the green space,” Carter said.
Carter has been raising money to restore the garden by asking his fellow residents at the building to contribute to maintaining the great history of the garden.
“The way that I raised money for this garden was by pointing out how spectacular this garden was for 65 years and that it needs to be renewed if it will have another 50 or 60 years of growth. I did the work to give us another 50 to 60 years of garden.”

Carter also talked about what he is looking forward to and expects to happen when the tour starts in May.
“The tours are made up of mainly, if not all, gardening people asking questions and giving suggestions,” Carter said. “What is this? Why did you put it there? How did you get rid of this? How did you deal with that?”

There will be two tours held on May 6, the first will start at 10 a.m. and end at 12 .pm, the second tour starts at 2 p.m. and ends at 4 p.m.