Get Lost in “Wonderland” Garden

The Federal Twist garden will be open to the public on October 10 as part of the Garden Conservancy's Open Days.

James Golden invites you to tour his native plants garden on October 10.
James Golden invites you to tour his native plants garden on October 10.
Photo by Laura Moss

James Golden wants you to get lost in his garden. Not totally lost, but he prides himself on a backyard of grasses and plants so tall that it’s easy to become disoriented. “Many of my plants are much bigger than people,” Golden says of his garden, named Federal Twist after a road in Stockton. “It’s a bit of an Alice in Wonderland feeling.”

Federal Twist will be open to the public on October 10 as part of the Garden Conservancy’s Open Days. The nationwide program, established 25 years ago, includes more than 3,000 private gardens all over the country that welcome nearly 1 million visitors each year. The goal: to preserve exceptional American gardens for the education and enjoyment of the public. Six other Garden State gardens will be open in coming weeks: four in Somerset and Hunterdon counties on September 13, and two in Essex County on September 19.

This is Golden’s third year participating in the program. His leafy realm was created in the spirit of influential Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf, the mastermind behind Manhattan’s High Line. “It’s naturalistic,” says Golden, “not formal at all.” Because of difficult  growing conditions—“the soil is very heavy clay, and very wet,” he says— Golden researched extensively which plants might do well. The garden, 10 years in the making, resembles a wet prairie of grasses and plants.

“The people who come, they’re really joyful about it,” Golden says. “Gardening is my life.”

Admission to each garden is $7. For the full schedule of Open Days, visit gardenconservancy.org/open-days.

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