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.
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.