When John Stevens, the engineer and lawyer who eventually lent his name to Stevens Institute of Technology, designed the grid system still used by the city of Hoboken, it was almost as if he meant to provide a system by which the city’s greenest locations would be kept secret. Given the manner in which Hoboken’s brownstones are laid out, there are few vantage points by which to look into backyards. True, you could spy on your neighbor’s yard from above, but from the sidewalk there’s no hope.
So, for many of Hoboken’s talented horticulturalists, their gardens are literally secret. But the Hoboken Historical Society, now for the sixteenth year in a row, is striving to bring those secrets to the public, without actually revealing them, of course. Hence the club’s “Secret Garden Tour,” a walking tour of some of the city’s most tucked away gardens, each diverse and designed in its own unique way.
“In an environment where you’ve got paved streets, sidewalks, and maybe just a few trees, it’s important to have greenery in this city,” said Melissa Abernathy, the historical society’s communications director as well as one of the tour’s organizers. “This is a way to see some of hidden Hoboken.”
“In an environment where you’ve got paved streets, sidewalks and maybe just a few trees, it’s important to have greenery in this city.” – Melissa Abernathy
The event is one of the historical society’s biggest annual fundraisers, along with the house tour, which runs in the fall. Tickets are $25 on the day of the tour, but can be purchased in advance for $20 on the society’s website (www.hobokenmuseum.org). Children under 13 can take the tour for free.
Diverse gardens, rich history
The gardens displayed on the tour are usually chosen by word of mouth. Society members talk to their friends, consult local landscapers, and consult with members of the Hoboken Garden Club to pick each year’s participants. Some are new, while some have been mainstays of the tour for many years.
“The gardens range from homespun and self-designed that came together over the years as the gardener tried out different things to very constructed, regimented gardens,” said Abernathy.
Here’s the catch: No one will know which of Hoboken’s gardens will be on the tour until the day of, as the historical society likes to keep the addresses and names of the gardeners confidential.
“It fits well with the secret theme, but it’s mainly because some of the gardeners don’t want their addresses broadcasted,” said Abernathy. The majority of gardeners will be on hand Sunday to guide the tour through their backyards.
Most of the gardens on the tour follow some type of theme. For instance, one garden is highlighted by a New Orleans-style wrought iron balcony, on and around which various plants are located. Another includes a Japanese-style garden with pathways through intricately-designed planters. Several others are simply exercises in horticultural chaos, employing random and exotic plants throughout.
“A number of gardens are the result of years of trial and experimentation by devoted gardeners,” said Abernathy in a press release.
The diversity in the gardens are something that Stevens himself would have been proud of. In addition to his work as an engineer, the renaissance man was also an amateur gardener, and is credited with introducing two popular flowers to the area: the camellia and the chrysanthemum.
As a special surprise this year, a garden to which Abernathy referred as “one of the most amazing gardens from previous tours” will make an encore appearance. The garden features faux-gothic church ruins, a soaking pool, and waterfall amid a bevy of plant life.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org