Written by Matthew A. Piacentini Friday, 29 July 2011 00:00
The director of John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Mill Neck was semi-reluctant to get into the paper. Stephen Morrell explained that while the beautiful four-acre garden does need patrons, what makes it special is the very private experience they have there. Trying to even find the garden off the road, one could easily pass right by the nondescript wood fence and never know the inspiring beauty waiting quietly on the other side.
Morrell did decide to give Anton Community Newspapers a tour of the grounds, and he explained that, unlike nearby botanical gardens and parks, Humes Stroll Garden has a design behind it, and a purpose – contemplation. The garden has a set path. As one takes it, moving through the winding wooded trails, the idea is to take a meditative walk, which can be experienced as a metaphor for life’s journey.
Based on Buddhist thinking, Morrell designed the trails to take a stroller through distinct phases, which represent different parts of the path toward “self transcendence,” or enlightenment.
Originally, the gardens were part of the private estate of Humes, an ambassador to Japan, and his wife Jean, who decided in 1960 to transform some of their property into the style of the Japanese gardens they discovered and fell in love with during their travels. Morrell was hired around 1980 to turn the area into a public space and that is when he renovated the garden with a vision.
He designed the experience so that, as the journey begins, the walk is uphill, the grounds are unadorned and natural. You are “leaving your affairs” and making an effort.
As you reach the peak, you find that you have attained beautiful views. “The ascent was hard but there are tremendous rewards at the top,” explains Morrell.
From the summit onward, the trails are paved and decorated – you have arrived at a new consciousness. Finally, in your pleasant descent, you end at a pond and teahouse, where you can enjoy a tea ceremony or appreciate the huge, colorful carp, lily pads, frogs, waterfall, and sometimes, large water birds.
All along the stroll, there are places to pause and reflect and take in the calming grandeur of the surroundings.
Besides the defined experience of the place, another aspect that sets Humes apart from botanical gardens is the focus on shades of green, rather than flowers. The style blends woodland with garden, allowing some “spontaneous elements” that make for a natural feel, like you are in the most beautiful forest you’ll ever see. Moss covers much of the ground, which Morrell cultivates for depth and a feeling of age. There is also a blending of native Long Island and Japanese plants.
Garden Manager Mary C. Schmutz works with Morrell maintaining the many species of plants and trees. She said that the typical Long Island visitor arrives for the first time at the gardens in a mode to get the hike done.
“But part of the point is to help you slow down. You’re not ‘doing the trail,’ you are here for contemplation, relaxation,” she said.
The guided tours that are provided by appointment are a great way to learn how to take the path slowly and appreciate the small details of the plants and trees around you. For instance, Schmutz took time out to find the Japanese and Long Island versions of the same plant and point out the small differences. She also helped find a “Jack in the Pulpit” plant and reveal “Jack” inside, a collection of tiny flowers. Focusing on such minute natural subtleties is the point at Humes. As you take your mind off the outside world, it starts to seem much more than four-acres away.