Garden Makeover: A Historic New Jersey Home Gets an Elegant Update

after photo ferns
Joe Weuste
  • 01 of 22

    If These Garden Walls Could Talk...

    frances cleveland house
    Cleveland Preston House. Portrait/Anders Zorn/Wikimedia/Public Domain

    While the front yard of a South Orange, New Jersey, home that landscape architect Joe Weuste of Summerset Gardens was asked to remodel isn't a designated historical landmark, he couldn't help but give it an update that evokes an elegant, old-fashioned landscape and era from which its notable owner came. The Montrose Park Tudor Revival was once owned by former First Lady Frances Folsom Cleveland and her second husband, university professor Thomas Jix Preston Jr. The widow of President Grover Cleveland and Preston moved into the house when they wed in 1913 and lived there for decades. 

    At 21, Frances Folsom Cleveland instantly became a media darling in 1886 as the first woman to be married in the White House and the youngest wife of a president (he was 48). They had five children and he was reelected to another (nonconsecutive) term in 1893. President Cleveland died in 1908.


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  • 02 of 22

    A Historic Landscape in a Historic Neighborhood

    cleveland preston house
    Cleveland Preston House

    The South Orange, New Jersey, neighborhood of Montrose consists of about 1,000 beautiful homes built from the late 1800s to the 1930s and representing revival architectural styles like Tudor, Victorian, Mission, Romanesque, Georgian, Italianate, Art Deco, Colonial, and Victorian. The Cleveland Preston house was built around 1910 for Jennie Preston on 0.5 acres and now includes a veranda overlooking a pool, hot tub, koi pond, grapevine, and a breathtaking entry and porch with two stone guardian dogs (in place of lions or foo dogs) on the front pedestals.


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  • 03 of 22

    The Demo Begins

    demo in front yard
    Joe Weuste

    When Weuste arrived on the scene, the front yard was in dire need of a makeover. In a historic neighborhood with winding, tree-lined streets, curb appeal is especially important, and each homeowner needs to maintain their property. The architectural gems that make up Montrose Park are set on large lots with mature trees and shrubs, bluestone sidewalks and curbs, front porches or porticoes, generous front yards, and original Victorian gaslight lampposts. The gaslight is the town symbol for the city of South Orange, and these lampposts are still used on most streets.



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  • 04 of 22

    Clearing the Rubble

    clelveland preston house
    Joe Weuste

    The first thing Weuste and crew did: demo the yard and remove old, dilapidated hardscape. Three mature trees were kept: a magnolia; a large cutleaf Japanese maple; and an oak. Also retained: a privet hedge that runs along the side of the property. Weeping cutleaf maple trees are beautiful all four seasons and valued for their stunning leaves, which can be lime green, red, or gold, and their sculptural branches, which look good even when the trees are bare in winter.



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  • 05 of 22

    Pallets of Flagstone

    pavers in front yard
    Joe Weuste

    The homeowners of the Tudor Revival had seen Weuste's work and thought he'd be perfect to give them colorful, lush plantings to complement the house and period. "They were looking for a garden that changed month to month and season to season," says Weuste. The couple also requested a new walkway, steps, stone retaining wall, stepping stone paths, and outdoor lighting (in addition to the existing lampposts). 

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  • 06 of 22

    View from the Sidewalk

    sidewalk in front of old house
    Joe Weuste

    At this point, the neighbors know something is going on. Looking from the sidewalk, an impressive wall of dirt has formed, while right behind it is another wall of stacked pavers ready to be laid on the front steps and paths.

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  • 07 of 22

    Clearing Steps

    front walkway
    Joe Weuste

    In early spring, the Summerset crew broke ground at the Cleveland Preston house, removing all of the new owners' unwanted plants and trees along with the walkway. Concrete was poured for new front entry steps that rise gradually. The landscapers had to work around long-established roots of existing trees.

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  • 08 of 22

    Laying Pavers on Steps

    cleveland preston house
    Joe Weuste

    More hardscape followed: stacked stone walls line the path, while flagstone is expertly placed over the new concrete steps. This gives the house a natural, updated look that still ties in with the architecture and is repeated throughout the landscape.

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  • 09 of 22

    Planting Shrubs

    cleveland preston house
    Joe Weuste

    As it warmed up, planting beds were prepared with new soil, amendments and shrubs, perennials, and bulbs in blues, whites, purples, and lavenders were planted. Once everything had been placed, irrigation and an outdoor lighting system were installed. It's important to establish planting beds, lawns, and paths before the arduous task of installing irrigation. Lighting comes last.

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  • 10 of 22

    Historic Lamppost

    lampost in front yard
    Joe Weuste

    All homes in Montrose Park must keep their gas lampposts—it's something the historic district is known for and helps retain its old-fashioned charm.

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  • 11 of 22

    A Year Later: In Bloom

    front yard makeover
    Joe Weuste

    About a year later, everything is in full bloom, including tall, blue-spiked Veronica (speedwell) and Mazus reptans, soon to be followed by sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) and low-growing carpet bugle (Ajuga). A decorative copper light fixture that looks like a reproduction illuminates the pathway. Mazus is a creeping groundcover that makes a good lawn substitute and produces small clusters of bluish-purple tubular-shaped flowers.

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  • 12 of 22

    Before and After

    before and after
    Joe Weuste

    "I've been doing jobs like this for quite some time and still have a difficult time convincing clients that their new planting will fill in within a year or two," says Weuste. His secret? "Choosing the right plants for the right location, using the right soil mix, feeding, and water will give you the same results that I get."

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  • 13 of 22

    Blue and White Color Scheme

    curving border of cleveland preston house
    Joe Weuste

    A curving border is nestled against the house and front porch, surrounding a large green front lawn. Weuste is especially happy with this project's blue and white color scheme (although there are some pinks certain times of the year) and enjoys seeing how the garden changes month to month. He is known for using popular hydrangeas in his landscape designs, but this particular client requested, "No hydrangeas".

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  • 14 of 22

    A Profusion of Blooms

    plants in spring
    Joe Weuste

    That elegant, romantic look is achieved with flowing bedlines and a layer planting scheme that uses a variety of shrubs, perennials, groundcovers, and just a few annuals. Weuste designed the beds and borders to change and provided nonstop color from April to October. The season is kicked off with flowering bulbs like tulips and crocus, along with creeping phlox and myrtle.


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  • 15 of 22


    plants in spring
    Joe Weuste

    White Tiarella cordifolia (foamflower) and woodland phlox are in full bloom. This front yard garden design changes every few weeks. Tiarella spreads via underground runners, tolerates shade, and is used as a groundcover.

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  • 16 of 22

    A New Lawn

    lawn and shrubs
    Joe Weuste

     Summerset planted a beautiful, healthy new lawn surrounded by colorful beds and borders.

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  • 17 of 22

    Rustic Stone Wall

    Joe Weuste

    The new rustic stone wall contains a bed of perennials that should begin to creep over the wall and soften it in a few months. Weuste uses a variety of perennials in his landscapes to ensure continuous color.

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  • 18 of 22

    A Touch of Blue

    purple flowers
    Joe Weuste

    Low-growing perennials (phlox) in bluish-purple bring color to the front yard.

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  • 19 of 22

    Filled-in Pavers

    plantings in front yard
    Joe Weuste

    Flagstone pavers are filled in with low-growing perennials in blues and purples, including phlox. Weuste plants Boston Ivy so it will climb on the brick portions of the house to further soften it. Additional splashes of color are achieved by planting annuals in with the creeping myrtle (vinca minor). Creeping myrtle, or periwinkle, grows well under trees, which is ideal for a landscape like this one where growth and color is desired beneath mature trees. 

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  • 20 of 22

    Annuals and Perennials

    Joe Weuste

    Weuste also used rhododendron, holly, peony, lythrum, Shasta daisy, day lily, anemones, creeping thyme and salvia. Lythrum, also known as loosestrife, produces purple spikes and lots of seeds. Peonies are sumptuous, sweet-smelling, old-fashioned perennials that come in a variety of colors: pastel pinks, whites, yellows, and deeper reds and lavenders.

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  • 21 of 22

    View Through the Ferns

    ferns and trees
    Joe Weuste

    Ferns are shade lovers that are always a good choice to grow under the canopies of large trees. They also establish barriers and fill in borders.

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  • 22 of 22

    Lush and Lovely

    house with shrubs
    Joe Weuste

    The homeowners of the Cleveland Preston house chose to keep the privet hedges. Holly and privet (Ligustrum) are smart choices for privacy hedges. When pruned and maintained regularly, they become denser, make them even more private.