Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Avis Campbell Gardens Wheel of Life


Hello Fellow Readers,

In last week’s story about Ripening Fall Hand-me-Down Tomatoes, I found Ed’s kindhearted lab Dolce feasting on Kousa Dogwood berries, reminding me of a fabulous Kousa adjacent to the Avis Campbell Gardens in Montclair, New Jersey.

It was a summertime when I spent a weekend with over a hundred self-proclaimed tech nerds participating in a NJ Word Camp. There were non-techies, too, that would be me, who use the WordPress platform for websites or blogging. I was there to improve this website of our weekly chats so more readers can find us.

Avis Campbell Gardens octagonal pond with a pedestal fountain.

Avis Campbell Gardens, Montclair, NJ.

Paths like spokes on a wheel lure you to meader. 

The magnificent garden greeted me beyond the parking lot of the United Way building where the event was held. A pedestal fountain in an octagonal pond drew me in through the archway of the stately red brick garden wall, adorned with a climbing hydrangea and white climbing roses in glorious bloom.

Brick paths like spokes on a bicycle wheel enticed me to meander the gardens filled with an arresting collage of roses and peonies amongst a lovely lineup of perennials – lambs’ ear, purple salvia, and white Siberian iris, to name just a few.

A weathered plaque patinaed green says – Come Rest A While and Browse in These Gardens Created for All; Planned and Maintained by the Garden Club of Montclair,1952. A newer plaque above it read Avis Campbell Gardens, In Recognition of Thirty Years of Devoted Service, May 1982.

Build it, and they will come. 

I lingered by the fountain, adoring the sounds. Floating in the water was a potpourri of petals and blossoms tickling the corner of the coping the wind carried there. I felt comforted. Then, I dove into the conference. I learned about keywords and power words for SEO, the acronym for Search Engine Optimization (yawn). I filled twenty pages of notes over the two days with suggested to-dos and not-to-dos. It was exhausting. Whatever happened to build it, they will come like it did for me with the Avis’s garden.

While some of what I learned may come to fruition, the biggest takeaway was from the garden, which a fellow word-camper brought to life. In the early eighties, Alex from Montclair worked for Avis Campbell, who was in her 80s.

Alex explained, “She kept a dozen clients to get out of the house.”

She recalls Avis graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design as a Landscape Architect, one of the few women to do so in the day.

“She was no-nonsense but kind.” Alex shared how they’d meticulously prune an expansive boxwood hedge using only a knife to be sure there would be no brown wounded tips. After this, Avis treated the crew to ice cream.

Inspired by the Wheel of Life 

According to the garden club’s website, Campbell’s design is “inspired by the Wheel of Life.” I would bet the Tibetan Wheel of Life, the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. The modern-day versions of motivational speakers add things like work, fitness, and finances to the wheel.

At the end of the conference, I stopped to admire the grand Japanese Dogwood (Cornus Kousa) on the corner of the United Way building. It stood two stories high, covered with white cartoon-like four-inch flowers of happiness. Its brownish-grey mottled trunk looks like a sculpture through every season. My fog of technology felt lifted.

a white flowering Kousa Dogwood as tall as a two-story brick building.

Japanese Dogwood (Cornus kousa)

Brownish-grey mottled trunk of a Kousa Dogwood stand out like a sculpture.

The brownish-grey mottled trunk of Cornus kousa stands like a sculpture.

The theme of Avis’s garden provides a message in today’s contemporary Wheel of Life: if we create fitness in our gardens, we can help heal our world. By no longer using artificial chemicals, we can return to the natural balance in our yards. It then snowballs as more are kind to nature and wildlife. The Wheel of Life, the health of the Wheel of Nature, is counting on us.

Garden Dilemmas?  and your favorite Podcast App.

A hybrid of Cornus Kousa and our native Cornus Florida, often used in the landscape. To find out why in a previous column titled Doggone Dogwood Disease.

There’s more to the story in the Garden Dilemmas Podcast:


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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