When Peter P. Blanchard III ’74 visits Greenwood Gardens, the public garden that occupies what once was his childhood home, he likes to see if it still passes the “360-degree test.” If you can stand in one spot, make a full rotation, and “not see or hear anything that reminds you of where you are” — in suburban New Jersey, not far from the train lines and highways that carry commuters to Manhattan — then the space is meeting its goal, Blanchard says.
Blanchard’s parents, Peter Jr. ’35 and Adelaide, a lawyer and a pediatrician, respectively, bought the Short Hills, N.J., property in 1949, looking for a retreat from city life. Proximity to bridle trails at the nearby South Mountain Reservation was part of the draw — both were fond of horses. Blanchard’s father also renovated the estate’s gardens, which had been designed by the architect William Renwick decades earlier, when Joseph P. Day owned the property.
“I wasn’t wild about the garden aspect, ironically,” says the younger Blanchard, a dedicated conservationist. “It was too formal, too fancy — too grand, I guess.” But since his father’s death in 2000, Blanchard has worked to preserve the gardens as an oasis of green in the country’s most densely populated state. That long road reaches another milestone later this month: The gates will be open three days a week from April 28 through October 29, the public garden’s first full season.
Converting the historic gardens to a center for horticultural and environmental education has been a challenging process, according to Blanchard. “We had a vague idea [of what was involved], but I don’t think we understood the complexity,” he says. An alliance with the Garden Conservancy, a national nonprofit, helped to direct the restoration. Since 2003, visitors have been coming to the gardens for scheduled tours and designated “open days,” watching the gradual conversion. Landscape Architecture Magazine called the gardens “a living preservation lab where visitors can observe the thorny trash of bringing an historic landscape back to life.”
Blanchard said he hopes the formal gardens, open meadows, and woodlands will be a space where visitors can develop a love of nature, much like he did as a child. In addition to his work at Greenwood Gardens, Blanchard is involved in safeguarding coastal lands from development pressures in Maine as a board member of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. He is the author of We Were an Island, a 2010 book about a couple that lived in seclusion on an island off the Maine coast for more than 35 years.
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