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Why is New Jersey Called the Garden State?

New Jersey's moniker, the Garden State, stems from its rich agricultural heritage, once supplying the region with a bounty of fresh produce. Despite its small size, the state's fertile soil and favorable climate fostered a tradition of farming that fed its nickname. But how did this densely populated state earn such a pastoral title? Discover the roots of New Jersey's verdant legacy.
Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

Despite its reputation as a drab industrial state on the east coast of the United States, New Jersey has long been known as the Garden State. The moniker is actually more accurate than the state's less flattering reputation, as much of the state is still wooded and residents are very interested in conservancy of natural lands. Further, since being dubbed the Garden State in the late nineteenth century, New Jersey has become a mecca for gardening, gardening education, and gardening clubs. The Garden State nickname came from a history of the state written in the early 20th century.

The man behind the nickname was Abraham Browning, a lawyer and New Jersey resident during the 19th century. Alfred M. Heston chronicled a speech Browning gave in which Browning refers to New Jersey as the Garden State; he said that New Jersey was an immense barrel open at both ends, bursting with good things to eat, and Pennsylvania was picking from one end and New York from the other. His reference to New Jersey as the Garden State stuck, and it is known by the moniker today. Some historians argue that Browning was not the first to use this term, however, as the imagery of New Jersey as a barrel tapped at both ends can be traced back to Benjamin Franklin, who wrote a similar comparison long before Browning.

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Since the name was given to the state, the people of New Jersey have embraced the notoriety. New Jersey is among the leaders in the country in agricultural production, and the state is rife with bird sanctuaries, nature conservancies, state and historic parks, and other areas in which the natural beauty of the state is evident. Further, many local community groups continue to push for greenways, or sections of wooded natural areas within or near urban centers. Approximately half the state is still wooded, and parks and wilderness abound.

Not all residents of New Jersey have historically been supportive of the nickname. In the 1950s, then-governor Robert Meyner struck down a bill that would have put the slogan on state license plates, saying that New Jersey's notoriety as an industrial center was more identifiable and important to the state's residents. The governor's assessment was not entirely off base, as those industries supported the state throughout the decades, but the Garden State nickname has proven to be a lasting and important part of New Jersey history and identity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is New Jersey known as the Garden State?

New Jersey earned the nickname "The Garden State" due to its rich agricultural history, which dates back to the colonial era. Despite being one of the smallest and most densely populated states, New Jersey has a diverse agricultural sector that produces a wide array of crops. According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, the state is a leading producer of blueberries, cranberries, spinach, bell peppers, and peaches, contributing to its garden-like reputation.

Who coined the term "Garden State" for New Jersey?

The term "Garden State" is widely attributed to Abraham Browning of Camden County. He is said to have referred to New Jersey as the Garden State while speaking at the Philadelphia Centennial exhibition on New Jersey Day (August 24, 1876). Browning likened New Jersey to an immense barrel, filled with good things to eat and open at both ends, with Pennsylvanians grabbing from one end and New Yorkers from the other.

When did "Garden State" become New Jersey's official nickname?

"Garden State" became New Jersey's official nickname when Governor Robert B. Meyner signed a resolution passed by the New Jersey Legislature in 1954. Despite some initial reluctance, the nickname was added to license plates to promote the state's agricultural bounty and has been associated with New Jersey ever since.

What agricultural products is New Jersey known for?

New Jersey is known for its high-quality produce, including its famous Jersey tomatoes, sweet corn, and blueberries. The state is often ranked in the top 10 nationally for the production of certain crops. For instance, New Jersey ranks third in cranberry production and fourth in bell peppers, according to the United States Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Does New Jersey still deserve the nickname "Garden State" today?

Despite urbanization and industrial growth, New Jersey continues to deserve the nickname "Garden State." The state maintains a strong agricultural sector, with over 9,000 farms covering about 715,000 acres, as reported by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. New Jersey's farmland is dedicated to both traditional and organic farming, ensuring that the state remains a significant contributor to the nation's fresh produce.

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Discussion Comments

JimmyT

Last time I visited Atlantic City I saw the cast of Jersey Shore and it somewhat disgusted me to see that these are the type of people that represent the state and form outsiders assumptions of the people who live in the state.

There are areas of New Jersey that are absolute dumps and are not places you would want to visit or live near. Also, there are places that depict the state as being a commercialized center of industry as well as entertainment. However, like most other states there is both a rural and an urban area and two entirely different cultures in the state.

I would recommend to someone looking for a quiet relaxed vacation to go on a quiet retreat in the country when visiting New Jersey and if someone is looking for a club hopping like vacation, that is a step down from Las Vegas to visit the urban areas like Atlantic City.

Izzy78

@kentuckycat - I totally agree with you. New Jersey has beautiful landscape in the countryside and a lot of historical place to visit. If you get tired of seeing the countryside and simply sight seeing you could visit the more urban areas and visit a place like Atlantic City that has both casinos and a beach.

I was amazed how diverse New Jersey was in this aspect and feel like the urban aspect of the state overshadows the phenomenal countryside. I still remember driving through a very rich area in rural New Jersey and seeing an incredible sight which I never thought I would see after hearing a bunch of negative things about New Jersey.

kentuckycat

@matthewc23 - I completely agree with you. I have visited both places in New Jersey and have to say that there are two completely different sides to the state.

Like a two sided coin the state of New Jersey has two different sides with one being very negatively depicted and one being completely beautiful that very few people outside of the state seem to know about.

In my visits to New Jersey I have always felt that it is a very underrated state, that is rich in history, and has both a rural and urban area. In visiting New Jersey you get to see a lot of everything and since it is not a very big state I highly recommend taking a vacation and visiting this state.

matthewc23

I took a vacation to the East Coast a couple of years ago and on the way to Atlantic City I took the scenic route through New Jersey.

In order to avoid a toll on the Interstate I took the state highways and drove through various small towns in New Jersey. I was amazed to see that this state has a beautiful countryside and that it gets a very bad rap from everyone that says anything bad about it as a dump.

I cannot emphasize enough how different the state looked than in the stereotypes I had heard about the state. I thought it was a beautiful state and was much better an enjoyable than most other states I have driven through.

I would highly recommend to anyone driving through New Jersey to please take the scenic route and you will be amazed at what you will see.

mutsy

@Latte31 - I think that New Jersey has a bad reputation because of the way the media portrays people from the state. People that are unfamiliar with the state believe these portrayals that you see depicted on television which are really incorrect.

I think that this image takes away from the revenue that the state could generate from tourism. There are great beaches in New Jersey, but who wants to book a trip to say Seaside Heights after knowing that this is where a lot of the show “Jersey Shore” takes place.

I personally think that this program does a lot of disservice to the people of New Jersey because it plays into an image of what some people of New Jersey are like and it is not accurate.

Ocean City is probably better for that nostalgic boardwalk feel for a family vacation. Too bad there are not more travel related shows that feature places like this. I think that New Jersey is probably more famous for its beaches than for its gardens.

latte31

@Bhutan - I grew up in Weehawken New Jersey, and when I was little I remember places like nearby Hoboken and even Jersey City were dumps and now they sell multimillion dollar condos there.

It is amazing how they redeveloped that area. It makes sense because all of these little towns border New York City, but many apartments in Manhattan are really expensive and living in Weehawken or Hoboken is now a great alternative if you can find something affordable.

Weehawken is really only a mile from Manhattan and it is directly across the Hudson River and the first town that you hit when you cross the Lincoln Tunnel on the New Jersey side.

I really think that Weehawken is a pretty town with some historic parks. In fact, Hamilton National Park is the site where Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had a duel. The state also has great shopping with malls like Garden State Plaza in Paramus as one of the best.

Bhutan

I think that New Jersey is a beautiful state, but it does get a bad rap especially among comedians. The problem is that a lot of factories are located in north central New Jersey and that is an area that is highly traveled so it sticks in people’s minds because the area really tends to smell badly.

The reality is that New Jersey really is home to a lot of companies especially in the medical and pharmaceutical industry and because it is so close to New York City is it really a great place to live. It is also considered the most densely populated state. So although its size is small, the state does carry a lot of weight.

I lived in New Jersey most of my life and I can tell you that there are a lot of farms where you can pick your own apples in the fall. It is really a terrific state.

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