WAYNE, NJ – Nestled in the Pines Lake section of Wayne, tucked away and almost hidden lies “the most beautiful place in town,” according to resident Dave Hall, who walks his dog Otis along the paths that curve throughout the arboretum.  There are many who would agree with that statement, and yet there are more who have never stepped foot in Laurelwood Arboretum. Paul Bastante of Silk City Films wants to change that. 

The Wayne documentary titled Hills and Valleys sold out its first showing scheduled for November 2 at the Rosen Performing Arts Center at the Wayne YMCA. Because of demand, a second showing is set for the following day, while there are plans for two more showings later in November.

For the next several weeks, TAPinto Wayne will follow Bastante as he captures the last of interviews and ‘B-roll’ for the film. Each segment covers certain aspects of the storied history of Wayne, its famous residents and historic locations.

Sign Up for Bloomfield Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

“I wanted to start with Laurelwood because as I’ve been interviewing people and talking to the residents of Wayne, I found that a lot of people here are so industrious and so focused that a lot of times they don’t look to the left and don’t look to the right, and they don’t notice all the things that the community has to offer,” said Bastante, adding: “There is no better example of that concept then here at Laurelwood.  If we do anything with this documentary, we’re going to leave, and people are going to know about this place. The increased notoriety is going to bring in more donations and bring more success to Laurelwood and help to keep it around longer.”

This follows the Silk City Films mission: to make the places they visit better off because of their work.

On one of the last really warm days of summer, Bastante and his cameraman Shane Connolly walked through Laurelwood, capturing extra footage and speaking with the volunteers who work passionately to keep Laurelwood beautiful and residents who had chosen that day to visit.

“It’s a beautiful place to go for a walk,” said Jane Burt who’d come from Butler to walk the trails throughout the thirty-acre park. “They do a great job maintaining the property. There are always flowers blooming; there’s always a variety. Every season it changes.”

Mario Pozo and Shannon Busch came with their beautiful and super-friendly Pitbull named Beckham whom they adopted from the Wayne Animal Shelter a year ago. “I bring Beckham here almost every day,” said Pozo. “He loves it. This is one of his favorite places to come, and mine too. I’m from Bergen County; I moved to Wayne two years ago. In Bergen County they have open spaces, but nothing as unique and nice as this, or as big.”

Bastante has become a Wayne historian and as he trekked through Laurelwood on his way to the rare Dawn Redwood growing on the south side of the park, he spoke of the Arboretum’s founder, Dorothy Knippenberg. “Dorothy had a home in Pines Lake and bought the acreage across from her home and started a commercial garden nursery which became a mecca of sorts for the hybridization of rhododendrons.  Over time there have been very famous people in the rhododendron world that have contributed hybridizations to the Arboretum. It’s a very nationally recognized rhododendron sanctuary and hybridization garden. In the spring when the Rhodos bloom you can see all different ones, different colors, shapes, sizes, blooms.”

“As she got older, her vision was to turn this into a sanctuary for people to enjoy, and because of her and so many others here in town, her vision has become a reality, and we tell that story in the film,” explained Bastante. “We interviewed one of the rhododendron experts, we interviewed Nancy Fadynich, the founder of Friends of Laurelwood, whose non-profit maintains the property and maintains Dorothy’s vision.

“We also tell about the volunteers who give up their time to come here weekly to keep this place beautiful and what they get out of it,” said Bastante after stopping to interview Audrey Malec, one of Laurelwood’s volunteers. “There’s a social aspect to it. This is a gathering spot for like-minded individuals who share the same passions about gardening and for Laurelwood itself. This is camaraderie, this is fellowship.  This is more than just coming to put woodchips down, for example. Its working with friends and talking and supporting each other.”

At the base of the Dawn Redwood, Bastante films himself talking about the rare tree which no live species had been discovered until 1941 along some rice paddies in China.  It’s a feature that’s part of the ‘Top Ten Trees Tour’ at the Arboretum and another great example of what makes Laurelwood so unique. 

The real essence of Laurelwood is not tangible, according to the filmmaker. “For you to be able to come here, in the middle of a busy town, surrounded by interstate highways and close your eyes, breathe and then open them again and you could be anywhere in the world.”

Tim Blixt has lived in the Pines Lake section of Wayne his entire life and walks his Irish Setter, Gilly here almost every day. “Laurelwood is a dream come true. I grew up near here and in the 1950s and 1960s it was unlike anything else in the area, but now its unlike almost anything in the state,” said Blixt. “So much has changed in Wayne. This used to be cow country and dairy farms all over the place.  You can look around and see what’s changed since then, but this is the one thing that’s still here. We see people walking through here and they don’t even believe they’re in Wayne.”

Sharon “Nani” Dalto seemed to capture the essence of Laurelwood in one sentence: “This is what I feel heaven’s going to be like when I die.”

For Bastante and Silk City Films, attempting to capture a bit of heaven within the town of Wayne is a personal joy. “Look at what I do for a living. Look at where I am now,” he said gesturing to the beauty surrounding him. “I love what I do and I’m excited to share all of this with the great people of Wayne.