There was a wilderness to explore in Mill Hill over the weekend as residents opened their garden spaces to tourists and residents alike. The Mill Hill Garden tour celebrated its 31st year of bringing people to Trenton across the Tri-state area.
Judy Winkler, Mill Hill resident for 45 years and who works with the community garden on Mercer Street, remembers the beginning of the tour.
“31 years ago, somebody thought it would be a good idea because, at that point, a lot of the houses had been restored,” Winkler said. “And people were now turning their eye to their garden…one person was putting in a fountain, other people putting in palms, all kinds of things, people were getting, you know, different kinds of unique plants.”
She explained that they started small and grew the event over the 31 years it has been around. ” This year, there are 28 places on the garden tour, so at 20 bucks a pop, it’s less than $1 a garden. You can’t beat it,” Winkler said.
The gardeners in the back of the Mill Hill residences are small. They range from 25 by 25 feet or 25 by 35 feet. However, that doesn’t prevent residents from creating a small oasis in their backyard. “So they’re narrow, small square yards. So you’ll see a lot of paths, and brick decks, with plants and pots, as well as you know in the ground and some unique plants,” Winkler said.
Residents like Joe Ozga, who has lived in Mill Hill for over 35 years, invited guests on an adventure as they toured his garden.
“When they first walk in, they see a row of plants in containers that draws the eye in, and then they come into the patio area where they can see the small pond. And they’re always surprised if there was more of the garden because of the way the garden was designed,” Ozga said.
After seeing his small pond with a birds nest and a territorial toad, tourist went down a winding path that leads through greenery into a view of the Assunpink Creek.
“So it’s designed with rooms, and the rooms are rather separate so you can’t see the whole garden in one shot. It’s a garden that you explore,” Ozga said.
Winkler explained that residents like Ozga would frequently answer questions from those that inquired about the garden.
“I think the best part of the tour is that the homeowners and gardeners are there. And they’re really happy to talk to you. A lot of the tours that you go to have tour guides or other people babysitting… Here it’s the actual gardeners, they’re incredibly enthusiastic about (their gardens),” Winkler said.
Mill Hill residents take pride in their gardens and the houses they helped build. Residents like John Wnuk, Mill Hill resident for over 42 years, look forward to the tour every year. He created a little oasis to escape the everyday hustle and bustle of Trenton.
“This is always a very important day for me, because it was a lot of work to get it set up. And part of the reason for doing it, is it forces me to get it all done early in the spring. And then I get to enjoy it for the rest of the summer,” Wnuk said.
Bessie Immanuel, Trenton resident, explained that the tour made her feel like she was going out of town. “It made me feel like I was out of town, not in Trenton… I appreciate being able to see things that I didn’t know were here. I live in Trenton and didn’t know that all this existed back here. So it was wonderful,” Immanuel said.
According to the Old Mill Society website, the tour is run and organized by the Old Mill Hill Society and the residents of Mill Hill. It has played an essential role in the historic restoration of the neighborhood. Money raised by the tour funds the preservation grants that assist homeowners in maintaining the Trenton Landmarks Commission for Historic Preservation Standards that have helped make the neighborhood what it is today.
The idea is to create little getaways. Evelyn Bethea, a Trenton resident, said that she had never been to the Mill Hill Garden Tour. “I’ve been living here ever since for 60 years, and everything was beautiful. I’m saying I walked around this area and have been here all my life. And I never knew that it was so beautiful and even existed. So the gardens were beautiful—the artwork, beautiful. The people, friendly and nice,” Bethea said.