Funding woes may close North Shore Japanese garden 'oasis'

The John P. Humes Japanese stroll garden in

The John P. Humes Japanese stroll garden in Mill neck on the afternoon of Aug. 7, 2008. (Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara)

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The John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden in Mill Neck, a 7-acre wooded preserve inspired by classic Kyoto gardens, is in danger of closing unless it can find new funding sources, according to its director, Stephen Morrell.

The garden, created after a 1960 visit to Japan by Humes, former U.S. ambassador to Austria, and his wife Jean on a corner of their estate, opened to the public in the mid-1980s after Humes' death.

The not-for-profit foundation established and endowed by Humes before his death recently ended a 20-year relationship with the Garden Conservancy, which in 1993 stepped in during a prior financial crisis to help raise funds, and manage the garden's operation.

The Conservancy recently shifted its own priorities, and the Humes garden decided to end its management role at the end of last year.

Now, Morrell said in a statement, and in a letter to the garden's membership, the foundation's dwindling endowment and outside support has left it short of funds needed to maintain the garden.

Morrell said that the foundation's goal was to keep the garden open through 2015 while it explored options for "its ongoing preservation: seeking a new partner, major benefactor, or other like-minded nonprofit as well as ongoing fundraising, perhaps in collaboration with an area university, other public gardens, corporations, land preservation groups or individuals." And, he said, it could be sold if that ensured its preservation.

Paths of pebbles and steppingstones, plank bridges and gateways create views intended to immerse visitors in nature and contemplation amid extensive plantings of native and Asian trees, bamboo, moss, ferns and shrubs. At its center is a koi-filled pond, or lake garden, next to an imported historic tea house.

Based on the philosophies of Shinto and Zen Buddhism, the foundation says it is one of the few examples in the Northeast of traditional Japanese garden design.

The nearly 30-acre adjacent Humes estate is on the market and Morrell expressed hope that a new owner would be interested in helping preserve the garden. The estate is surrounded by an additional 50-acre nature preserve created by the Humes family. Jean Humes died in 2000.

Lisa Ott, president of the North Shore Land Alliance, said the alliance would "love to work with the foundation to come up with a solution to save it."

The Humes Japanese Stroll Garden, she said, "is a wonderful oasis of calm and it's the only garden of its type in our community. The loss of such a special place would be a terrible shame."

Moreover, she said, the garden, plus the Humes estate, and contiguous preserved land connecting to the nearby Shu Swamp Preserve "is one of the most environmentally significant areas on the North Shore of Long Island," she said.

She added, "I think the future of the garden is uncertain so I think a lot of people are trying to reach out and figure out what to do."

Henry Joyce, executive director of the Planting Fields Foundation, which helps oversee the state-owned Planting Fields Arboretum, said it was enhanced by being set amid preserved landscapes like the Humes garden.

"It makes the North Shore a really unique and wonderful center of landscape preservation," which, he said, helps draw visitors to the area and all its parks and preserves.

Yet maintaining such gardens and ensuring good attendance involves active programming and constant fundraising, he said. "It's ongoing and you do it every year and you do it all the time, and integrate it into the programming and preservation work we do here," he said.About the Garden:

-The John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden is open on Saturdays and Sundays from April through October 26, from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with last admission at 4 p.m. Admission is $10, children under 12 free. The season's remaining public tours with tea ceremony demonstrations (reservations required) are scheduled for 10 a.m. on Sept. 13 and 27 and Oct. 11, with private tours available on Thursdays and Fridays.

-Entrance and parking for the garden are on Dogwood Lane, just off Oyster Bay Road in Mill Neck.

-The garden was inspired by a 1960 visit to Kyoto, Japan, by John and Jean Humes. They hired Japanese-American landscape designer Douglas and Joan DeFaya to design the original 4-acre garden on their estate in Mill Neck.

-In 1980, Humes, who had served as U.S. ambassador to Austria, formed the Humes Japanese Garden Foundation to help maintain and preserve the garden.

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