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The Secret Garden at 377 Turns 60!

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EAST ORANGE, NJ -  377 South Harrison Street, East Orange has a Secret Garden, designed in 1955 and built by a man whose day job was CEO of a major construction company.  A garden hidden from most people except dozens of apartments in Harrison Park Towers that look down on this elegant and beautiful secret oasis of greenery.  

Over the years this unique asset has gone through its ups and downs. Happily though, today as the building and garden approach their 60th birthday in 2015 the Secret Garden is in its ascendancy, as lush and inviting as it was in its best years. 

The garden’s designer was William T. Gotelli, who after selling his home in South Orange, gave his collection of dwarf conifers to the National Arboretum where it is now referred to as The Gotelli Collection.  

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The formal Italianate garden he designed comprises one acre and sits atop the building’s indoor parking garage. Access to the garden is through the building’s lobby.

For many years the garden was lovingly cared for but as the building went through various management changes attention waned and the garden suffered. In 1983 a new resident, Gale Barter realized the garden’s potential and the need for better care.  He helped organize a Garden Committee, later renamed Friends of The Garden (FOG) at HPT.  Gale and FOG worked during the 80s and 90s to restore the garden’s original charm. Things were looking up.  

Then in 2009, a major construction project to restore the parking garage and drainage system, required large sections of the garden to be disturbed.  During this process many shrubs were lost and the Garden’s beautifully designed green space with mature foliage and many flowering plants became something of a wasteland.

But that low point in the Garden’s history was short lived. Once the construction project was completed the Friends of the Garden group made the restoration of the Garden its mission. Very soon as a result of the hard work and a clear management vision the garden was restored to its former glory. 

Today the garden’s major features are a fountain and statue surrounded by knockout roses, a circular area full of azaleas, two rear corner shade alcoves and a newly planted perennial garden installed in spring 2010.  Other features of The Secret Garden are a large collection of Iris, Hydrangeas, Lilacs, Peonies, Tree Peonies, Perennial Hibiscus and many different types of Hosta as well as many seasonal perennials.

Currently funding for the Garden comes from two sources. Funds for new shrubs, tools and such come from resident donations. Larger expenditures for mowing and cleanup and for an Arborist for major tree/shrub care are paid for by the building’s general budget.  

Tours of the Garden by the general public are by appointment only. Ideas, suggestions or questions should be directed to Ron Carter. To contact Ron call 973 202 4728 or email him at rcarter31@aol.com.

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