SOMERSET NJ - Sister2Sister, a regional non-profit that supports women fighting breast cancer in minority and under-served communities, is involved in an ambitious project that will transform the acreage adjacent to its historic retreat into a sprawling vista of colors and comforts.

Hillsborough resident and author Rikki Lyn Hauss, an unabashed admirer of Doris Duke,  is spearheading the transformation of the fallow ground into a nurturing garden as part of her social work Master’s Thesis project with Arizona State University.

Hauss has enlisted the assistance of local landscape architects, nurseries and garden suppliers, all or whom have contributed their expertise and plants for the project. The first pallet of plants will be delivered Friday. Volunteers will be kept busy the next several months planting the garden.

Sign Up for E-News

Hauss also derives her inspiration from her Hillsborough roots, honoring the township's longtime culture of traditional agriculture and the love of outdoors. 

"It helps," she adds playfully, "that I have such a connection with the late Doris Duke. I'm not sure there are many horticultural enthusiasts quite like her around.

"I definitely see myself applying her spirit in the way I approach this project," Hauss added.

Hauss, a 2012 graduate of Hillsborough High School, is the author and publisher of "The Duchess of South Somerville."  She became acquainted with the noted philanthropist vicariously while doing research for the book about the Duke Farms estate along Route 206,

The socialite, a regular on the high society and gossip pages of newspapers and magazines, was not afraid to dig in the dirt. She was a famed horticulturalist, breeding the Phalaenopsis Doris orchid in 1940 while living at her beloved Duke Farms. She also raised award-winning dairy herds in the 80s and 90s, and received countless commendations on her infamous Garden of Nations.

Duke has supplied decades of inspiration to Hauss and the women who avail themselves of the Sister2Sister program.

"Social work has so many applications here," she explains, "and I am so grateful for the warm welcome I got from the sisters here. They've been so encouraging and supportive. Their passion for this kind of work is something I want to live up to." 

Sister2Sister's garden radiates the love for life that Hauss speaks of. 

The idea for the garden was founded on concepts derived from botanical therapy, mindfulness techniques, and humanism, all of which are aimed at giving guests a local escape from treatments, stress, and the constant presence of traditional medical environments in exchange for something naturally beautiful and calming.

The hope is that the entire property feels like home with the help of their all-volunteer team, according to Hauss.

Sister2Sister is located at 1201 Hamilton St.