By Erin Delmore
“You can come here and spend an easy five, six hours just walking around and enjoying yourself,” said Rutgers Gardens Director Bruce Crawford.
For more than 100 years, Rutgers Gardens has been a New Jersey institution. Today, it was granted landmark status by the American Society for Horticultural Science, and it’s in good company, joining the ranks of the New York Botanical Garden and Monticello.
“This is an award that’s rarely given very, very infrequently. We’ve got some wonderful other recipients out there that we now share company with and it’s just a very humbling opportunity for the gardens,” said Rutgers Gardens Board of Advisers Chair Bob Lyons.
The land spans some 200 acres in total and includes a bamboo forest and a community garden with an unheated greenhouse called a “high tunnel.”
“Rutgers Gardens is functioning as a teaching laboratory for many classes. And it’s not just for plant sciences, it’s for artists as well, musicians as well and then for the community of course for outreach and for having a farmers’ market so that people can see produce that’s produced locally,” Lyons said.
Over the years, Rutgers has become famous for engineering more sustainable — and tastier — fruits and vegetables like the strawberry and tomato. Today’s award recognized Rutgers’ advancements toward cross-breeding a better peach plant and a Chinese dogwood called “scarlet fire.”
“The dogwood industry was compounded and had issues with various diseases and insects. What Dr. Orton did was he made a cross which was actually resistant to the disease and wasn’t bothered by as many insects so it sort of resurrected the dogwood in New Jersey,” Crawford said.
Since the gardens’ inception more than a century ago, fewer Americans are taking on jobs in the agricultural sciences, but staff here say the need for public gardens is greater than ever — especially in the most densely populated state in the nation.
“Well, you know, as the country’s become more urbanized, the public gardens have become even more important. They’re places for us to get back to nature. They’re places for us to relieve some of the stress that’s common in modern day life. Plus, they’re just plain gorgeous,” said John Dole, director of academic programs and floriculture professor at NC State University and president of the American Society of Horticultural Science.
In the future, expect to see the garden invest in small but high-yield vegetable farms to teach students about agriculture and to give produce back to the community.