Time stands still on a walk through 691-acre Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park, a historic winter wonderland nestled against the shores of the Connetquot River.
Strolling amid towering firs and shimmering holly trees, you’re immersed in some of Long Island’s rarest and most unusual scenery, with foliage that originated in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas.
“Our conifer collection is second to none with trees from all over the world,” says Nelson Sterner, a forest pathologist and executive director of the arboretum.
HISTORY OF A TREE MUSEUM
The arboretum was planted in 1886 by William Bayard Cutting, a businessman, philanthropist and founding member of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Frederic Law Olmsted, who designed Manhattan’s Central Park as well as other great gardens around the world, used plants Cutting collected from China, Algeria, Spain and other foreign climes. Cutting died in 1912, and his widow, Olivia, donated the land to the state in 1934, although the agreement allowed the family to continue to reside on the estate until the 1950s.
Nowadays, many of the original trees are more than 125 years old, Sterner says.
BY ALL THAT IS HOLLY
The Holly Walk is one of the garden’s marvels. A walkway meanders among 200 types of holly trees — a symbol of Christmas, with shiny green leaves and brightly hued berries. “They are in peak fruit right now,” Sterner said of the hollys. “This is the time of year that they shine with their bright red, orange or yellow berries.”
Most are evergreens, with a few exceptions. The winterberry holly, for instance, sheds its leaves in winter and is currently sprouting clusters of bright-red berries.
PINE GROVES, OLD AND NEW
You don’t have to “keep off the grass” here, so feel free to wander amid the majestic conifers of the Old Pinetum, which dates to the 1800s, and the New Pinetum, planted in the 1940s. A number of the 75- to 80-foot-tall evergreens are “the rarest of their kinds” on Long Island, Sterner says. The rarities include Momi and Nikko firs from the mountains of Japan, Nordmann firs indigenous to the Black Sea coast of Turkey and fir trees taken from pre-DMZ Korea. Other trees normally would rise high in the Rocky Mountains.
Hurricane Gloria in 1985 knocked down 80 percent of the trees in the Old Pinetum, Sterner says. Survivors of that storm include an Algerian fir generally found only in the mountains of the Northern African nation, and a Hinoki Cypress native to Central Japan.
TOUR THE MANOR HOUSE
After you’ve filled your lungs on your arboretum jaunt, warm up inside the 60-room Westbrook mansion. The big house was built to take advantage of cooling breezes from the Connetquot, Sterner says.
In winter, evergreen cuttings, a period decoration, are placed throughout the rooms. Evening Manor House tours are conducted by candlelight and led by volunteers in period costume several times a week through Dec. 29 ($20, reservations suggested). Tea, coffee and treats are served afterward. Daytime tours, $12, are offered at noon and 1 p.m. through Dec. 30.
The Manor House’s Hidden Oak Café occupies a parlor where Mrs. Cutting entertained guests. It’s a cozy spot with a view of the grounds through picture windows.
Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park
WHEN | WHERE 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday at 440 Montauk Hwy., Great River (Closed Dec. 25 and Jan. 1)
INFO 631-581-1002, bayardcuttingarboretum.com