Reeves-Reed Arboretum

Reeves-Reed Arboretum, Summit, NJ

At first blush one wouldn’t think that formal gardens and modern sculpture would have much in common, much less be compatible within the confines of a similar context. Aristide Maillol and Henry Moore put the lie to this notion, however, as both have held very successful exhibitions of their work at the Bronx Botanic Garden in New York in recent years.

The city of Summit, gracefully perched along the crest of the first ridge of hills comprising the Watchung Mountains directly east of New York City, can rightfully claim one of the finest gardens, the Reeves-Reed Arboretum, among its many treasures. According to its website, an arboretum, distinct from a park, “is an educational conservancy promoting the awareness that the natural environment needs protection and deserves concern.”

Reeves-Reed didn’t just happen. It is the product of well-established landscaping principles pioneered by such giants in the field as Ellen Biddle Shipman and Carl F. Pilat. Most notably, it introduced the concept of the “garden room” which would go on to define the direction of country estate landscaping and is currently liberally reflected in the gardens surrounding many of Summit’s private homes.

Now owned by the city, Reeves-Reed exists as a glowing testament to the town’s long-standing tradition of philanthropic giving, the most recent transaction (with regard to this particular garden) occurring as recently as 2007 when George Morrison Hubbard, Jr. donated a field and adjacent land to the Arboretum, bringing the property back up to its historical dimensions.

Not to be outdone by its wealthier and, hence, more publicized neighbor in New York, Reeves-Reed also is experimenting with the introduction of modern art into it’s gardens. 2008 marks the second summer in which this has been done. One exhibit in particular captures the very essence of the Reeves-Reed Arboretum this season. It is David Bender’s “Excavating Eden” which shows a human hand in rough approximation of the shovel on a backhoe. We as visitors, who come to enjoy this garden for its roses, its daffodils, its flowering trees, and indeed its sculpture, must be aware of all the work that continues to go into maintaining it. My Indian-born wife often remarks to me that such things are only possible in prosperous countries. She casts no aspersions; she simply utters what is accepted as fact by many. And perhaps it is so. Where else would people find time to excavate Eden and plant it with trees and beautiful flowers; to create sparkling ponds and walkways through wooded areas? Where else would men and women devote their energies to purely artistic (as opposed to “practical”) projects that, more often than not, fail to reap monetary payback or even gratitude? And yet, it’s all on glorious display here for all those with an abundance of leisure time to enjoy the fruits of mankind’s more refined moments (perhaps).

For directions, schedules and events consult their website:

Peter Koelliker

Reeves-Reed photo attachment# 1:

1. Reeves-Reed Arboretum

2. Stone Bench

3. Polarity

4. Two-Tone Rose

5. Wishing Well

Reeves-Reed photo attachment# 2:

1. Excavating Eden (w/ red and black wires)

2. Interactions3

3. Children Playing

4. The Heart of a Rose

5. To Perish Twice

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