Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center

170 Longview Rd
Chester Township, NJ 07931

T: (973) 326 - 7601

Hours:
M-F: 8am to sunset
Sat-Sun: 8am to sunset

Directions

Amenities

A respite from the busy world with fields, gardens and landscapes designed by a groundbreaking female landscape architect. Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center has a charm rarely found in the midst of New Jersey’s hustle and bustle. The property, designed by one of America’s first female landscape architects, Martha Brookes Hutcheson, features her design-style philosophy, including use of water, changes in elevation and a vast selection of native and exotic plants. The Gardens are restored to their 1945 appearance and listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places.

Plan Your Visit

Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center is a public garden dedicated to preserving Landscape Architect Martha Brookes Hutcheson’s former home and gardens based on her design philosophy. To ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, please respect these guidelines.

To best enjoy your visit, we encourage you to:

  • Explore our website prior to your visit.
  • View a map of our gardens and trails and learn about our 5 unique garden areas. Please note that not all the garden areas are ADA accessible.
  • Check our hours of operations and note special announcements or closings.
  • Dress for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. Bring water, a hat, sunscreen, and bug spray as needed. Insects, including ticks, bees, and mosquitoes, are part of our ecosystem.

During your visit:

  • Take photos! Photography for personal use is allowed, provided it does not disrupt other visitors. Commercial photography and filming, wedding, engagement, and similar types of photography require a permit. To obtain a photography permit, please click here to fill out the Event Request Form.
  • Learn more about the gardens and Martha Brookes Hutcheson by following along the cell phone tour (available seasonally from April thru November). Download the Step by Step Tour Guide which will provide full instructions plus a readable script for each stop on the cellphone tour.
  • Picnic on our lawns throughout the formal gardens. Please plan to take your trash with you as you leave. Food and beverages are not sold onsite.
  • Please refrain from climbing trees, picking plants and flowers, walking into the water features.
  • Pets are not permitted at arboreta as per article XII, Section K of the Morris County Park Commission Rules and Regulations.
  • For safety purposes, all trail users must stay on signed/blazed trails or walkways.
  • Bow and firearm hunting may be permitted in some parks. Please contact the Natural Resources Office at 973.285.6552 for more information.

To learn more Trail Courtesy, What to Bring, and other trail tips on how to share this pristine, natural space with each other – check our Trail Resources!

Maps

Official Trail Map, Large – 11″ x 17″ (1 page)

Official Trail Map, Letter – 8.5″ x 11″ (2 pages, split)

Try MCPC Explorer, a web-based, interactive, experience, where you can view your current location, search parks by activity/amenity, find trails by permitted uses, easily download offline maps to your mobile device and more! Mobile devices only.

Gardens

Designed by and previously home to one of the first American female landscape architects, Martha Brookes Hutcheson, Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center has an enchantingly magnetic charm rarely found in a public garden. The gardens are not only a peaceful retreat, but also a masterpiece of garden design, that only Martha Brooks Hutcheson could create.

The restoration of the gardens at Bamboo Brook were funded in part by grants from the New Jersey Historic Trust, the Morris County Historic Preservation Trust and many generous donors.

Circular Pool

Originally, this was a farm pond that provided water for livestock. Its topography made it an excellent location to catch and collect rainwater. The Hutchesons eventually converted it into a swimming pool. Sunken into the landscape, the Circular Pool continues to be a central water feature and functions as an anchor in the axial system of paths with steps used to move up and down the slopes at six points.

Hutcheson used a combination of evergreen and deciduous trees and flowering shrubs to enclose this space while creating vistas that revealed glimpses of the enticing water within, as well as the open landscape beyond. Of note is the Eastern Redcedar (Juniperus virginiana), was used by Hutcheson on the southwest side of the pool to frame the vistas that extended to the fields beyond.

East Lawn and Coffee Terrace

The East Lawn and Coffee Terrace were organized by axial and cross-axial patterns. These axes are defined by both built elements and plant materials. The main axis begins at the entry drive and is defined by a double row of Arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis). Opening up over the central part of the lawn, the axis is continued between a pair of pillars and a low stone wall that direct the view to the southwest.

Hutcheson used existing vegetation on the property as a basis for the location of some of these axes. She used mainly green foliage plants and combined various textures to define or highlight spaces within the landscape. A profusion of other plant materials was used within the planting beds in the East Lawn, including shrubs such as Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) and Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora). Influenced by the Italianate style, she also used vegetation to define movement through a space. Today, the spatial organization of the East Lawn and Coffee Terrace remains as it was historically. Views along both series of axes are interrupted with mature vegetation today.

Spillways & Little House

The area around the Little House and Lower Pools were a wetland environment and provided a place for Ms. Hutcheson to use different plant material than what was used around the Upper Pools.

Hutcheson laid out a “Long Path to Woods and Brook,” as it is called in her 1927 plan. Along this path Hutcheson placed the Little House, designed as a getaway, over the small stream, in which a series of spills and small pools (including the Lily Pool) were created to balance both the built and natural environment. 

The area around the Little House was planted with larger trees and shrubs, such as Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana), American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), Elderberry

(Sambucus canadensis) and Arrowood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum). Herbaceous plantings used along the stream banks included Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) and species of Iris.

Upper Water

Water was an important element in the garden and a distinctive feature of the picturesque style of design used by Hutcheson in the development of her former property. The upper pond was designed as a naturalized body of water with reflective qualities enhanced by the darkening of the bottom of the pond.

This feature was placed to take advantage of topography, reflection of plant materials, and the architecture of the main house. Today, the Upper Water remains in its historic

location and functions as an introduction to the system of water features in the core area. The upper water itself is a concrete lined pool with a stone edge. Fed by springs and stormwater runoff in an elaborate system designed by Hutcheson, all of which still function today.

Hutcheson used a variety of materials in this area that provide interesting texture and color to enhance the reflection of the water. Weeping Forsythia (Forsythia suspensa var. sieboldii), and Rhododendron (Rhododendron sp.) are among varieties of plants seen in this garden area. 

Tennis Court, Playhouse and Orchard

Originally a playhouse for Hutcheson’s daughter, the structure was moved to its current location and expanded by 1930. This coincided with a change in function to a potting shed when Mrs. Hutcheson’s daughter outgrew its original use.  Hutcheson also included a recreational space within her designed landscape in the form of a clay tennis court, that was carved and leveled out of a hillside. Historical images show that Climbing Rose (Rosa sp.), grape (Vitas sp), Common Lilac (Syrnga vulgaris), Hybrid Lilac (Syringa x prestoniae), Oriental Bittersweet (Celasturs orbiculatus), Porcelain Ampelosis (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), and Crabapple (Malus sp.) were planted in this area.

The majority of current plant material was added following the passing of Martha Brookes Hutcheson (1959) and will be removed to allow for the redevelopment of the original garden. As the only remaining area not restored to Hutcheson’s 1945 design vision, a recent grant from the New Jersey Historic Trust’s Preserve New Jersey fund will help bring these areas back to their historic glory. The rose arbor, formal gardens and arbor adjacent to the tennis court will be reconstructed and the apple and pear lined walkways will be reinstated, with the walks on axis with both the tennis arbor and the Playhouse door. Running perpendicular to these walks will be the extensions of the existing walks and views from the back of the Hutcheson House, completing the cross-axis grid that Martha was so well known for designing.

Programs & Activities
  • Seasonal programs and special events for visitors of all ages.
  • Self-guided cellphone tour
  • Community Garden
  • Customizable Horticulture Therapy programs
  • Host your next special event or photography session!
History

Bamboo Brook Outdoor Education Center was once known as Merchiston Farm, the former home of William and Martha Brookes Hutcheson from 1911 to 1959.

Mrs. Hutcheson was one of America’s first female landscape architects, whose contemporaries included Marion Coffin and Beatrix Farrand. After studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mrs. Hutcheson opened her own office in 1901 and began designing gardens for estates in Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey. She became a member of the Society of Landscape Architects in 1935. Her design of the home gardens at Merchiston Farm was completed shortly after the publication of her book, The Spirit of the Garden, in 1923. Her interests were far ahead of her time, including what would later become the field of Horticultural Therapy, the use of native plants and the role of garden clubs (including her own, the Garden Club of Somerset Hills) in the advancement of civic horticulture.

Acquired by the Morris County Park Commission in 1972, the designed landscape, including the Coffee Terrace, Circular Pool and the Upper and Lower Waters at Bamboo Brook have been restored to their circa 1945 appearance with careful attention to the plants used in the original designs.