About the Garden
Coinciding with a fascination with Japanese aesthetics in mid-century America, the garden’s journey began in 1960 when John and Jean Humes traveled to Japan and were inspired by the beauty of its ancient gardens. When they returned, they decided to transform a corner of their Mill Neck, New York estate into a Japanese garden. They imported a teahouse as the garden’s centerpiece and engaged Douglas and Joan DeFaya, a first-generation Japanese-American couple, to develop the garden. For four years, the DeFayas, working with a local landscape contractor, carved the garden’s paths into the hillside, setting stones by hand and planting the forest understory with a variety of shrubs, trees and groundcovers. Remains from their original plantings—Hinoki cypress, laceleaf Japanese maple, weeping hemlock, and Katsura—can still be seen in the area surrounding the tea house.
"Reflections on the Journey," by Stephen Morrell, Hortus magazine (England), Summer 2012
"A Garden Rooted in Serenity Reaches a Crossroads," Garden Conservancy News, June 2012
1960: Lawyer John P. Humes (later Ambassador to Austria from 1969 to 1975) and his wife, Jean, visit Kyoto. Inspired by their visit, they spend the next 4 years transforming a wooded corner of their Mill Neck estate into a meditative Japanese landscape, including an imported tea house. They engage a Japanese landscape designer and his wife, Douglas and Joan DeFaya, to design and direct the installation of the original two-acre section of the garden.
From private to public treasure
In 1969, John Humes was appointed ambassador to Austria, where he and his family lived until 1975. During this time, the garden was overrun by invasive plants. In 1978, encouraged by landscape designer Francois Goffinet, Humes began to explore the idea of not only restoring the garden but opening it to the public.
A journey through space, time, and aesthetics
The defining feature of the Humes garden is its path, inspired by the intimacy of a mountain trail and based on a Buddhist metaphor for life’s journey. The ascent up the mountain and the twists and turns of the path represent the process of self transcendence. Arriving at the mountain peak, the view is unobstructed; “enlightened being” has been realized.
The journey forward
John Humes made some provisions for the garden in his estate plans, but by the late 1980s, it became clear that the garden needed to raise funds and secure management to remain open to the public. In 1990, Morrell and the Humes family began working with the Garden Conservancy, establishing a formal management agreement, which continues to this day.
The mission of the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden is to preserve and enhance the garden and its architectural elements with sensitivity to both the garden’s natural woodland setting and the Japanese aesthetic principles that guide its design.