Ask Elaine: New Jersey “The Garden State.” Really?

Dear Elaine,

I just moved to New Jersey and noticed that the license plates have the words “Garden State” on them.  Does this have anything to do with public gardens or arboretums?  Thank you for your answer and Happy New Year.


Dear Tommy,

That is a very interesting connection — public gardens and the “Garden State” nickname for the state of New Jersey. But no, that is not how New Jersey got its nickname. Abraham Browning, a prominent attorney in Camden (later state Attorney General) coined the phrase at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia on “New Jersey Day.” Mr. Browning compared New Jersey to “an immense barrel, filled with good things to eat and open at both ends, with Pennsylvanians grabbing from one end and the New Yorkers from the other.” However, Benjamin Franklin is credited with comparing New Jersey to a barrel tapped at both ends. So exactly when and who came up with the image and name is questionable.

In 1954, the state legislature passed a bill to have “Garden State” added to license plates. Interestingly enough, then Governor Robert Meyner vetoed the bill but the legislature overrode the veto. About the same time, New Jersey was losing farmland to residential development very quickly. In 1963, the New Jersey legislature passed the “Farmland Assessment Act” that allowed for property tax valuations based on the land’s agricultural or horticultural use. This reduced tax assessment encouraged farmers to keep the land in farming and slowed the development of farms and fields into houses.

New Jersey has over 10,300 farms covering 715,057 acres (average farm size of about 70 acres). The agricultural industry in New Jersey has a value of over one billion dollars. While I would consider California the “bread basket” of the United States, New Jersey certainly holds its own on the production of many important agricultural commodities, even though California is nearly 19 times larger in size than New Jersey, the 4th smallest state in the United States.

And while some people only think of New Jersey as the state of petroleum production, beaches, crowded highways and “The Sopranos,” please know that we are indeed the “Garden State” and here are some production statistics (from the NJ Department of Agriculture, 2015 report):

Sweet corn – #13 in the nation
Apples – #8
Tomatoes – #8
Cabbage – #8
Cucumbers – #6
Squash – #6 (not including gourds or pumpkins)
Blueberries – #5
Asparagus – #4
Bell peppers – #4
Spinach – #4
Peaches – #4
Lettuce – #4
Cranberries – #3
Escarole and endive – #2
Eggplant – #2

New Jersey’s number one agricultural industry is greenhouse and nursery production (based on income/sales of $350 million), making us 11th in the nation, based on cash receipts. This may coincide with gardening being the number one outdoor activity. Bedding plants, perennials, trees and shrubs are big business in New Jersey. And what better way to see plants put to their best use and beauty than in a public garden or arboretum. New Jersey has over 50 public gardens and arboretums. Laurelwood Arboretum is the “hidden gem” in the Township of Wayne.

So welcome to New Jersey, Tommy!  Visit Laurelwood any season to watch the landscape change and grow and provide inspiration for your own home landscape in the “Garden State.”

Happy New Year!  Success and peace in 2020.

Yours truly,
Elaine Fogerty, Executive Director

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