Women in Landscape Architecture-Newsletter-Fall 2003 Newsletter Image
Merchiston Farm-Bamboo Brook
by Patricia M. O’Donnell, FASLA, AICP
Martha Brooks Hutcheson is recognized as one of the pioneers of landscape architecture. Beatrix Jones Farrand, Hutcheson, and Marian Coffin undertook their professional studies within a 10-year span, respectively, and each established an office in New York City. Hutcheson received her training at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at the Arnold Arboretum, and on travels through Europe. She was strongly influenced by classical Italian design and its resurgence as popularized by Charles Platt, Edith Wharton, et. al.

Although Hutcheson maintained an active office for only eight years, from 1902 to 1910, she continued to write and lecture on the profession, and in 1935 she was named as a Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects.  

In 1911 Hutcheson purchased Merchitson Farm in Gladstone, New Jersey, which became her seasonal and later full-time residence. It also became her most personal and mature design work.  

Historic documentation shows that the landscape was continually evolving throughout 47 years of ownership, and that it was at its peak during the 1930s and 1940s. Merchiston Farm consisted of 102 acres, much of it cultivated, with a five-acre

Women in Landscape Architecture-Newsletter-Fall 2003 Newsletter - Image1 
Overlooking the stone terrace with armillary sphere to the pool and field beyond during the period of significance, c. 1935. Courtesy MCPC Archives.

core of gardens surrounding the house and outbuildings. Signature elements of Hutcheson’s design included an orderly axial arrangement, a strong component of native plants, and an extensive and varied integration of water elements. Segments of stone walls were used in combination with plants to create space and strengthen axes, and arbors provided overhead structure and shade. Hutcheson died in 1959, and in 1972 the property was renamed Bamboo Brook and given by Hutcheson’s daughter to the Morris County Park Commission, with the agreement that it would serve as a public outdoor educational facility.

In January 2000 the Park Commission selected LANDSCAPES LA • Planning • HP, Patricia O’Donnell, principal, and Kimball Erdman, project manager, to develop a historic landscape preservation and maintenance plan for Bamboo Brook.

Historical research and an analysis of period and existing conditions conducted for the plan have revealed a significantly high level of change. Fortunately, the gardens were well documented historically, making it possible to adopt a restoration treatment strategy. This will entail the stabilization, repair, and reconstruction of the walls, arbors, and paths, and the replanting of lost vegetation. The plan also outlines an enhanced maintenance calendar to care for the restored gardens, and it provides guidelines for a range of appropriate uses and programs. The planning process concluded in November 2000 and in 2001 received the ASLA Vermont Chapter President’s Award of Excellence. Two pilot projects are underway: the restoration of the “Coffee Terrace” and its adjacent gardens and the restoration of the water system of formal and informal pools, spillways, and related plantings and garden structures.

Patricia M. O’Donnell, FASLA, AICP, Principal Kimball Erdman, Associate ASLA, Project Manager email: odonnell@landscapes.cc

Contemporary image of the pool, with mature vegetation and the stone terrace and armillary sphere removed. The pilot projects underway include the restoration of the stone terrace and the pool landscape. Courtesy LANDSCAPES LA • Planning • HP

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