This week, I attended a press event for the Mansion in May, , a designer showhouse and gardens that is presented by the Women’s Association of Morristown Memorial Hospital. The designers have done a spectacular job and the $25 ticket price goes to support a good cause --- pediatric oncology services at Morristown’s Goryeb Children’s Hospital. The mansion and grounds, Froh Heim (Happy Home), are open now through May 31st.

Ensconced in the bucolic setting of Far Hills, this Spanish Revival home is not only unusual for horse country, but also for the Mansion series. I’ve scouted quite a number of showhouses through the years and am always on the lookout for great garden settings, as well.

The original gardens of Froh Heim were designed in the 1920s by the “dean of American women landscape architects,” Ellen Biddle Shipman, who wrapped them in an enclosure of stucco walls, creating Spanish courtyards. John Charles Smith & Associates, a firm that specializes in historic garden restoration, researched the Shipman archives at Cornell to find old drawings and photos of the original gardens. Their restoration revealed some surprises, such as the fountain that had been covered over. Statile & Todd’s interpretive restoration of the adjacent courtyard is equally charming, and shows off the original period paving of brick, bluestone, and river cobbles, set in floral patterns. The end result of both firms’ work is a restful, colorful, almost meditative space that was difficult to leave behind.

Not to be missed is the smokehouse and gardens. While this originally was a purely functional building, the years have crowned its wonderful slate roof with a thick covering of moss, a sight that lures the soul with a magical, almost ethereal, siren song that speaks temptingly to woodland gardeners. I immediately came home, downloaded my pictures, and told Dan that replicating this structure in some form, even as a ruin, is a must-have. Now, if I could just win the lottery …..

The nearby rain garden, designed by Davies Associates, with its native plants is an excellent example of how homeowners can make a difference by restoring habitat with an aesthetically pleasing garden feature. Bruce John Davies and his crew immediately enlisted in my crusade to eradicate ugly detention basins from the face of the Earth. Thanks, Bruce. I need every warrior I can get.

There’s lots more to see for avid gardeners, including a wonderfully well-done balcony on the third floor by J&M Home and Garden , which also overlooks both courtyard gardens, interesting treatments for transition areas between garden rooms, etc.

Although I had to shoot in the rain, that enhanced the colors, textures, and contrasts even more. I got soaked, but enjoyed myself tremendously. Thanks to all of the designers, publicists, and volunteers who shared their time and expertise. And thanks to the Bernard’s Inn for a cozy spot to dry off and a fabulous lunch!

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