March/April 2011 A Visit With

Fun in the garden
Bruce Crawford is a professional landscape architect, teacher, lecturer and director of Rutgers Gardens. Crawford points out the special features of the 180-acre botanical garden, part of the university’s Cook Campus in New Brunswick. He also offers some thoughts about what is ahead for New Jersey’s many home gardeners.

I see two gigantic chartreuse Adirondack chairs in a circular space bounded by a sky-blue fence and some super-tall ornamental grasses. Is that art, or a play space?
Either, or both. Whichever you choose. I firmly believe gardens should be fun.

Hmmm. Refreshing, yes. Beautiful, we hope. Even therapeutic. But fun?
Sure. Gardens should lift the spirit, make you smile and be happy, make you feel connected to your roots. If unusual plants and zany outdoor sculpture do the job, why not add some?

Apart from fun with giant chairs, what is it about this place that would give people a reason to come to New Brunswick?
I guess you have to like plants. If you do, we have an outstanding American holly collection, trees and shrubs from around the world, an evergreen garden, rhododendrons and azaleas in early spring, and later in the season, a display garden that features the newest annuals and veggies, many of which were developed at Rutgers.

Rather than sticking just to single collections, as botanical gardens did in the past, today we emphasize combinations of interesting plants that are enjoyable through changing seasons. We have a cool historic 1935 log cabin and a party pavilion overlooking the lake, a rain garden, a labyrinth, a wedding gazebo, a no-watering garden and 70 wooded acres with hiking trails and streams. We’re officially part of the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences so there’s a big educational aspect. In addition to our regular students, we offer classes for the general community and a vegetable growing program for children featuring funny veggies like 18-inch beans.

If you sign up for a tour you also see the plant breeding area, the experimental disease-resistant hazelnut tree project, our weather station and our air pollution monitor that supplies information to The Weather Channel.

One unique feature is our incredibly dense hardy bamboo forest with trails and a stream, better than a corn maze. It was originally planted as a windbreak to protect beehives back in the ’50s. Nobody pruned it, so it spread until now it’s dense as a blanket and flourishing in this climate. Actually, you don’t have to like plants. Some people come here to walk their dogs.

Read the entire interview in the current issue of New Jersey Countryside Magazine, available now at bookstores, on newsstands and by subscription. Click here to get one free bonus issue and save more than 80% on a subscription.