Mission & History

Our Mission

Greenwood Gardens connects people with nature and the arts in a historic garden oasis.

Our Vision

A world that embraces the beauty and transformative power of nature and the arts, and celebrates the history of place.

Greenwood Gardens is an oasis of peace in our busy region. Each year, thousands of people visit to experience the tranquility and connection that nature and the arts routinely bring. Known as a welcoming place that is open to all, Greenwood’s visitors typically think of the garden as a special place in their lives where they can return again and again. A warm sense of community grows from our shared commitment to celebrating nature, the arts, local history, and Greenwood’s beauty.

A Short History of Greenwood Gardens

The efforts, interests, and styles of two American families – the Days and the Blanchards – set the stage for the Greenwood of today.

Pleasant Days

In 1906, Joseph P. Day, New York City’s most successful real estate auctioneer at the turn of the century, purchased the country estate from Newark brewery owner Christian Feigenspan as a retreat from the hectic pace and sizzling heat of the big city. The estate included a Victorian-style wood-frame summer house and several old farm buildings. In anticipation of a wonderful life to come for his wife Pauline and their six children, Joe Day named it “Pleasant Days.” The Days did indeed live a very pleasant life in their country getaway until 1911, when a fire, caused by a mis-stoked furnace, destroyed the Victorian wood-frame house.  Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the Days resolved to rebuild.

With the help of neighbor, architect, and landscape designer William Whetten Renwick, the family built an elaborate, 28-room Italianate mansion, cultivated lush annuals and perennials, and commissioned pergolas, terraces, and garden follies constructed of rough local stone (basalt) and decorated with colorful Arts & Craft tiles. Renwick also designed or renovated other buildings on the estate, all of which survive today, in the same style of architecture as the main house, with tile and stucco exteriors, slate roofs, and Rookwood tiles that he custom designed.  The most elaborate was the Carriage House which was used as a stable for the Day family’s Arabian Horses. Between 1925 and 1927, he rebuilt two staff cottages on the foundations of earlier buildings, both faced in stucco and decorated with Rookwood faience tiles.    Fortunately, Rookwood tiles still dot the various structures throughout the property today and we believe Greenwood has the largest existing collection of outdoor Rookwood pieces in the Northeast.

Renwick also designed the formal gardens of the terraced Main Axis which gracefully unfold below the Upper main lawn, incorporating decorative objects into the floriferous design.  Throughout the gardens, Renwick methodically and successfully incorporated his incredible sense of style, color, architecture, and horticulture. The bones of the historic garden are very much present in the current day Greenwood Gardens.

The Days lived most comfortably in their new home until the 1929 stock market crash in which the family suffered significant financial losses.  Pauline Day died not long after in 1932 and Joe Day, who later remarried, remained in the house until his death in 1944 after which, the property was sold to a new owner.

The Day family (L to R): Bernard Day, Fairfield Day, Mrs. Joseph P. Day, Pauline Day (later Mrs. Arthur French), Joseph P. Day, Charles Day, Laura Day (later Mrs. James Barrett), Joseph P. Day, Jr. , 1918
The Italianate mansion at Pleasant Days designed by William Whetten Renwick.
View of Pleasant Days from the Garden of the Gods.

The Greenwoods

By 1949, the property changed hands again, when the newly married Peter P. Blanchard Jr. and Dr. Adelaide Childs Frick Blanchard purchased the 28-acre country retreat so they could ride horses, farm, garden, and enjoy other outdoor pursuits.

Peter was a corporate lawyer who worked directly under Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM.  Adelaide was a pediatrician at Cornell Medical Center and a granddaughter of the industrialist Henry Clay Frick.  Owing to the mansion’s deteriorating condition, the Blanchards replaced the Day mansion with a smaller structure in the Colonial Revival style which is the house that survives today.  The Blanchards also changed the name of the estate to “The Greenwoods,” a reference to the country home of the Parrott family, Peter’s ancestors, whose foundry near West Point, New York, played a major role in providing rifles and canons during the Civil War.

In 1951, two years after they purchased the estate, Peter and Adelaide welcomed a son, Peter the III, and the family lived blissfully for the next 5 years. Sadly, their life together at this country idyll didn’t last long.  After a brief illness, Adelaide passed away in 1956 at the age of 41. After Adelaide’s death and for the remainder of his life, Peter Blanchard would devote his time and energies to the care of his son and to improving the grounds of their country estate and the outdoor life he loved. He added hundreds of ornamental trees and shrubs to the old garden, installing miles of boxwood hedging in a double row from the upper terrace leading down to the steps at the Garden of the Gods.  He also added hundreds of pieces of garden sculpture and ornaments, that along with the boxwood hedges, transformed the garden from an informal family lawn to a formal European-inspired garden.  He enhanced other areas of the property including adding two ponds adjacent to one another at the eastern edge of the property.  He also added European-inspired allées of Norway Spruce and London Plane trees along the entrance drive which many visitors say convey an immediate sense of calm and relaxation as they drive into the property.

Starting in the mid-80s, Mr. Blanchard began to entertain ideas about the future of his estate and consulted such experts as Frank Cabot, the founder of The Garden Conservancy.  Ultimately, upon Mr. Blanchard’s death in 2000, his wishes became known:  the property would be maintained in perpetuity as a public garden, to be called The Greenwood Gardens.

Dr. Adelaide Childs Frick Blanchard and Peter P. Blanchard Jr.
The Colonial Revival home built in 1951 at The Greenwoods.

Greenwood Gardens

In 2000, following his late father’s wishes, Peter III and his wife Sofia began the process of establishing the property as a public garden, to be called The Greenwood Gardens. Work began almost immediately to stabilize the buildings and the gardens.  The Garden Conservancy was also enlisted to help preserve the site and create an organization that would provide long-term oversight, in the process, endorsing Greenwood as one of 16 exceptional gardens in the country.  Greenwood was formally incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2003, hence, our 20th anniversary milestone.

Subsequently, a Board of Trustees was formed, and special guided tours were offered to begin raising public awareness about the project. Over the next several years, key renovations were made including a major restoration of the Main Terrace and retaining wall, conversion of the garage to public restrooms, and repurposing the Day-era tennis court to a parking lot. By 2013, sufficient progress had been made to open to the public for visitation, and programming was added to increase our engagement with the public through such offerings as Bee Day, a day of nature education for children and their families, en plein air painting, and sophisticated cultural entertainment like the Isadora Duncan dancers.

In 2016, the Board and staff completed a seven-year Strategic Plan that led to the redesign and renovation of the Main Axis including its two historic water features and extensive landscaping, along with a second parking lot, rain garden, and ticket kiosk. We took care to ensure that the new design aesthetic would reflect the legacy of the gardens created by both the Day and Blanchard families yet would also chart a new path for the Greenwood of today with its mission of “connecting people with nature in a historic garden oasis.”

Construction began in late 2019 with the Reflecting Pool Terrace and its D-shaped pool to recreate the original pool designed and built in the 1920s, as was the case with the pool situated at the Garden of the Gods.  Ornaments that had been held in storage were brought out and installed in the pools and in the beds filled with colorful Arts and Crafts style perennials, annuals, and shrubs.

After a year of being closed for construction, and in the face of an unprecedented pandemic, we breathlessly reopened to the public in September of 2020, welcoming over 4,300 visitors in two short months. Since that time, Greenwood has continued to grow and prosper with the help and support of our Board of Trustees, Advisory Board, staff, donors, members, volunteers, and the thousands of visitors who come through our gates each season.  In 2021, the Garden Club of America awarded Greenwood its prestigious Zone Historic Preservation Commendation “in recognition of and appreciation for the restoration and preservation of Greenwood Gardens and their commitment to transforming a private estate to a public garden.” In 2022, the garden was voted “Prettiest Garden in New Jersey” by New Jersey Family magazine.

Along with these generous accolades, we also experienced profound sadness in 2022 when our beloved Co-Founder and Founding Chairman, Peter Parrott Blanchard III unexpectedly passed away on August 8.  We continue to deeply mourn his loss, but also take great pride and comfort in continuing to implement the far-reaching vision he and his family had for the Greenwood Gardens of today.

Sofia A. Blanchard and Peter P. Blanchard III
View of the restored Main Axis at Greenwood Gardens.
The restored Garden of the Gods at Greenwood Gardens.

Greenwood: A Path to Nature and the Past

Greenwood Gardens’ founder, Peter P. Blanchard III, has written a delightful history of an extraordinary place of natural beauty, including the stories of the Day and Blanchard families who shaped the Greenwood we enjoy today. Peter grew up as an only child at Greenwood, then called The Greenwoods. Filled with vintage and contemporary photographs, the book provides an overview of the Gardens, their history, and mission. In addition, Mr. Blanchard has included a delightful collection of personal anecdotes from his life growing up at Greenwood.

Peter P. Blanchard III is the author of three long-range land conservation studies published by the Trust for Public Land and New York City Audubon: Buffer the Bay Revisited (a review of unprotected open space fringing Jamaica Bay, 1992), The Century Plan (presenting 100 conservation sites on Barnegat Bay (1994) and An Islanded Nature, (a study of remaining natural areas in Western Staten Island (2001). Peter is also the author of We Were an Island; the Maine Life of Art and Nan Kellam (University Press of New England, 2010).

A portion of the proceeds from the sales of Greenwood: A Garden Path to Nature and the Past will support Greenwood Gardens. The book is available for sale at the Garden on open days for $20. It can be purchased online via this link.

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