One of the rare botanical gardens that is open all year round and don’t charge admission is Rutgers Gardens. You are invited to come as frequently as you wish to appreciate our extensive collection of gardens and plant collections, which we refer to as a “living museum.” Your assistance will ensure that Rutgers Gardens continues to be a prized asset for everyone to enjoy. Discover more here.

Rutgers Gardens celebrated its centennial anniversary on May 17, 2016, which feels like it was only yesterday. It marked the day when Jacob and Cecilia Lipman paid $1.00 for the 35.7-acre Wolpart Farm before selling it to the university. The area between the Hollies and Westons Mill Pond currently forms the central portion of the Gardens. It’s interesting to note that it wasn’t bought with the intention of turning it into a public garden or even for the general public’s enjoyment. 

Planners in NJ expected that suburban development would expand from NYC and Philadelphia over the Hudson and Delaware Rivers around the start of the 20th century. It was also predicted that the middle class would grow and that the machine age would provide a lot of spare time. Due to the suburban development and more free time, there was a demand for decorative gardening and plants that the NJ nursery sector could not provide at the time. As a result, a 4-acre plot inside Hort. Farm 1 was set aside to exhibit woody shrubs and numerous herbaceous plants at the time, including cotoneaster and iris. Farmers anticipated the rising demand for nursery crops would increase their profits, so they visited Hort. Farm 1 to examine the shrubs and herbaceous plants. Food crops were grown on the remaining acreage for Hort. Farm 1. Vegetable research was done in the area where the Holly Collection is now located, agronomy was done in the area next to the Bamboo Grove, and apple and peach research was finally done on the remaining ground beside the Log Cabin. Although it wasn’t intended to be a public garden, visitors were welcomed when the iris were in full bloom.

Dr. Charles Connors served as the facility’s initial director, and the Iris Garden was probably the first exhibit area to be created in 1922. The garden extended all the way back to the Hemlock Hedge from what is now Log Cabin Road. A row of 50-foot tall Hemlock trees currently serves as the hedge. Formally manicured yew (Taxus) borders separated it from what would eventually become the shrub garden. Unknown to when the shrub garden was first established, it had rows upon rows of woody plants for prospective nursery workers to see by the middle of the 1930s.

The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) barracks were created on College Farm Road on what is now the Cook Campus, and in the early 1930s (before 1935), the CCC built the building known as Holly House. It was built to facilitate the peach and apple research being undertaken on Hort. Farm 1 and it contained walk-in coolers in the basement. They also built the little structure that is now located behind the Sun and Shade Garden, which shares Holly House’s barn doors and foundation stones. The Log Cabin was erected by the CCC in 1935–36, costing the university $5,000.

During this time, the university received two grants in 1927 and 1937, including the 70-acre forest known as Helyar Woods. The condition of the gift was that the forested area would be retained for research and the examination of woodland management and change. “And change it has, for sure!” Following the chestnut blight, it became an American chestnut forest, primarily one that now includes beech, oak, maple, and hickory. From 1929 through 1953, Frank G. Helyar served as the director of resident instruction. This wood was given in his honor in 1961.

When Ben Blackburn began working at Hort Farm 1 in the middle of the 1930s, he remodeled the Shrub Collection into its current shape, with a large center area surrounded by shrubs. At least according to what was recognized at the time, each shrub was placed in order by its family. The plants were gathered in 1939, nurtured for several years at the nursery next door, where the shade trees are now, and then placed in the early 1940s. The Magnolia Kobus named “Larry,” which is currently boldly standing watch at the far end of the Shrub Garden was one of his most notable contributions. This plant, which usually grows more uprightly, has low, spreading branches that extend far and have roots where they have touched the ground.

Additionally, many little children have sat on this tree. Actually, the kids came up with the name for the tree! Gardens intern KC Murry led a second-grade class during a kids’ tour in 2011. KC couldn’t recall the word “Magnolia” when one of the curious kids asked what the tree they were sitting on was named, so she just blurted out “Larry.” It’s funny how names for trees come about!

Garden Manners and Laws

The Gardens welcomed the new century, which promises further change and progress as the Gardens continue to showcase university innovations, create opportunities for students, and give a space for the community to enjoy, share, and learn. For more information, you can visit their website, or you may call them at (848) 932-7000.

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