RUTGERS UNIVERSITY - The 100th Anniversary of Rutgers Gardens on Ryders Lane presented not only a chance to look back at the achievements of the past, but also to provide an opportunity to envision a vital future.
Rutgers Gardens was established in 1916, right in the middle of World War I, when local farmer Robert Lipman bought the farmland and donated it to the university. According to the Director of Rutgers Gardens Bruce Crawford, "Since then, Rutgers Gardens has served the greater Rutgers community as a site for horticultural research, climate studies and landscape design."
East Brunswick Eagle Scout projects have supported the oasis that is Rutgers Gardens, and many EBHS prom pictures have been taken on the spacious lawns. There are currently Master Gardeners classes, flower sales, a farm market ,and even some live music and theater performances. But what new vision lies ahead for the location?
Robert Lyons, Chair of the Advisory Board for Rutgers Gardens, and Robert Goodman, the Executive Dean of the School of Environmental and Biological Science are inspired by the Gardens' recent designation as a Horticulture Landmark by the American Society for Horticulture Science (ASHS). This award recognizes horticultural history and is designed to commemorate sites of horticultural accomplishment and are selected for historical, scientific, environmental, and aesthetic value—a great honor for Rutgers Gardens. The closest location with which Rutgers shares this designation is Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania.
The designationa allows Rutgers to re-vision the Gardens and revive them to serve a new purpose. Rutgers Gardens will become a "living museum" pf the 4-million-year history of plant life on earth. Says Crawford, "There will be more trails and walkways, more informative signs, and a different purpose. The Gardens will feature a chronological walk through a living exhibit starting with the lichen that created earth's atmosphere. The path will then move on to illustrate the mosses, ferns and conifers that were the first plants on earth."
"One part of the tour will feature a water-lily garden. Others will provide examples of grass types, bromyliads, and Spanish moss. The tour will conclude with a trip through a 3 to 4-acre organic farm," said Crawford.
"We hope to teach students to be socially and environmentally aware as they develop a good business model with a soft carbon footprint," noted Crawford.
Crawford also expressed the desire to have an "organic restaurant" associated with the farm, with some food provided by current vendors to the Friday Farmer's Marke already in place at the location.
A new mission statement will be developed for the Gardens, which is currently participating in a Museum Assessment Program (MAP.) Crawford referenced the Chicago Botanic Gardens as a model for revisioning. That location recently added a labrynth that grew out of a student project.
Crawford continued, "We are trying to create a 'soft environment,' building on the Friday morning visits of local families to the Gardens, followed by a stop at the Farmer's Market." "Middlesex County has a a population which exceeds that of Wyoming," commented Crawford, pointing to the need for our population to experience a day on the farm and in the garden.
Theresa Lam, Chairperson of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission, is also a volunteer at the Gardens: "I am so happy to see organic farming come to our area." Lam acknowledged that Rutgers is "trying to plant a seed" in the county to support organics.
Rutgers Instructor Arianna Lindberg of the Landscape Archtecture Department, who has studied local community gardens including the one here in East Brunswick, added, " Rutgers Gardens offers a really broad horticultural experience for all ages. A knowledgeable staff is always ready to answer questions."
Rutgers Gardens has begun a fundraising process to redesign their environment here on Ryder's Lane. Crawford encourages locals to become a member of the Gardens and support the growth of this "suburban oasis."