LAKE COMO, NJ — Jon Gibbons is passionate about the plants in his garden — all 1,500 of them. And there is a reason why each one grows in the botanical creation that has come to cover nearly every inch of his home’s corner property at 513 18th Avenue.

It’s an “earth-friendly” work-in progress that Gibbons has named Candide’s Garden for Voltaire’s character who asserted, “Let us cultivate our garden.” And for the first time on August 19, Gibbons opened his garden to the public so that he could tell his story on how it all came to be and to share his first-hand gardening knowledge with the community.

A master gardener and chairman of the Lake Como Environmental Commission, Gibbons welcomed more than 50 people who gathered in the garden for its grand opening, beginning his brief presentation with: “What on earth is this garden?”

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It’s a question that many people are sure to ask when they first see Candide Garden — a lavish array of flower beds brimming with blooming plants, mingled among numerous varieties of trees, shrubbery and groundcoverings. The vibrant display of lush greenery and color enwraps his property — all in its full glory this time of year.

While this eclectic mix of nature’s beauty may appear random at first glance, a closer look reveals what Gibbons describes as a “garden with a purpose” that he hopes will be a model for other gardens.

In fact, Candide’s Garden consists of 14 different beds and surface treatments that contain more than 1,500 plants representing 400 species of plants, trees and groundcovers. Each garden bed is named and each plant within these sections is identified with a marker that contains its common name of the front and botanical name on the back. An “N” is written on all markers of native plants from this area of the Jersey Shore — the most important of all plants in his garden.

“You have to look at the garden like a menu,” said Gibbons, who has created a binder with an inventory of the plants, a grid that shows the locations of the garden’s different sections, and fact sheets for each of those 14 sections, which contain short descriptions, listings all plants and website addresses for additional information.

He particularly stressed the importance of pollinators in his garden, where perennials that bloom at various times of the season provide nectar and a place to rest for more than 400 species of New Jersey’s native bees, as well as for butterflies and moths. Because of those efforts, Candide’s Garden is certified as a pollinator habitat, monarch butterfly waystation and wildlife sanctuary. 

In her first visit to Candide’s Garden, guest speaker Irene Wanat of the Rutgers University Master Gardeners’ Speakers Bureau said she was “overwhelmed” by the experience, commending Gibbons for his work and particularly applauding his efforts to label all the plants.

Wanat also stressed the importance of native plants in any Jersey Shore garden. “Native plants were here before we came, and they lived without weeding or watering. They have survived and have grown to adapt to their situation,” she said.

She also advised to make sure to select native perennials that bloom at different times so that pollinators have a reason to visit a garden throughout the growing season.

Gibbon’s main goal with Candide Garden is to educate people on how certain landscaping and gardening techniques can improve the environment, as well as save time and money. And that was quite evident during the grand opening.

Throughout the event, Gibbons devoted much of his time talking with attendees one-on-one on a variety of topics, including how to select native plants for different locations, cover the ground in an earth-friendly way that doesn’t required insecticides or fertilizers, and create streetscapes using new and unusual techniques.

Gibbons hopes to continue the lessons from his teaching garden with four events held throughout the growing season — in April, June, August and October.

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