The Garden State

Why is New Jersey called “The Garden State”?

 “Because ‘Oil and Petrochemical Refinery State’ wouldn’t fit on a license plate?”  (Miss Congeniality)

Historians claim that the name was coined in the late 19th century, when Abraham Browning of Camden compared the state to an “immense barrel, filled with good things to eat and open at both ends, with Pennsylvanians grabbing from one end and the New Yorkers from the other.”  He referred to New Jersey in this letter as the Garden State, and apparently the nick name stuck.

As many a local has told me, in my recent search for the perfect tomato, New Jersey is known for its produce and small truck farms.  This conversation is usually accompanied by the token phrase, “It is called the garden state you know.”  Being a produce snob from California, this is the first I’ve heard of the famed Jersey tomatoes and peaches.  Don’t get me wrong the tomatoes and peaches are fantastic, I’m just a little disappointed that the organic trend hasn’t caught on here.

I do not quite buy into New Jersey’s reputation as the garden state stemming from its tomatoes and peaches.  The term “The Garden State”  has a completely different meaning to me, as I have come to associate the phrase with the wide array of gardens I see on my daily bike ride around Ocean City.

The plethora of tacky beach decor, mermaid statues, garden gnomes, and fake light houses all stem from ye old problem of identity crisis.  The island I live on, tries to be  a little bit southern, a little bit northern, a little bit Californian.  It just ends up being a whole lot Jersey.

  • Although I dig the small-town surfer vibe I am so familiar with having grown up in La Jolla, fake surf art is not exactly my cup of tea.  You can keep your mucky brown mush you call waves brah.
  • Some of the architecture is somewhat reminiscent of the south with the big porches awnings and rocking chairs.  I’m sorry, New Jersey, but the maison-dixon line is over a state south of you.
  • The sail boats and beach cottages could be out of Nantucket if it weren’t for the lack of Lily Pullitzer attired owners.  Those 5ft tall light houses will not stop Philly drivers from swerving onto your lawn.

As I try to avoid swerving into a lighthouse or garden gnome on my bike to work, I am constantly discovering something new in the gardens of the ‘garden state.’

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