Maurice River

Rosa 'All Ablaze' blazes cherry red in Burke Brothers' Tuscany exhibit, accenting classic Italian elements with bright flowers. (Ron Tarver / Staff photographer)

This week I trucked down to South Jersey to visit the Maurice River Botanical Gardens and Reserve in Heislerville, Cumberland County. It's pronounced Morris River, and don't scratch your head. If you haven't heard of it, you're not alone. This is an eight-acre garden cultivated for the last 17 years by John DiOrio, whose fulltime job is corrections officer but whose longtime hobby and passion is plants, especially rare, unusual, endangered or tropical ones. John has a crazy collection of cactuses in this garden, and many other beds filled with wonderful stuff. He opens once a year to the public for a hummingbird festival. This year it's Aug. 29 and 30. (John and his gardens will be featured in a story on Aug. 28.) His reserve isn't Longwood Gardens by any stretch, though it's interesting to me that he's been there many times and loves it. His garden is informal, spread out and, except for the cactus area and a few other specialized spots, is pretty randomly planted. But - and this is no hyperbole - he knows every single plant in his collection ... where it came from, its proper name, its status and habits. He also plants to attract butterflies and hummingbirds. I know I wrote this week about the scarcity of butterflies this summer, but John obviously has had no such problem. The day I visited, they were fluttering about in clouds!