October 12, 2022

Point Breeze Estate in Bordentown Provides Produce for Local Eateries

AN OLD GARDEN IS NEW AGAIN: The Historic Bonaparte Garden at Point Breeze on a bright sunny day. D&R Greenway’s Land and Property Steward David Seiler built the wooden fence modeled after a vegetable and herb garden on the Robert Todd Lincoln home in Manchester, Vt.

By Anne Levin

When D&R Greenway Land Trust and partners announced plans to preserve the 19th century Point Breeze estate in Bordentown nearly two years ago, part of the lore related to the property was that former owner Joseph Bonaparte — Napoleon’s older brother — brought asparagus to the United States and grew it at Point Breeze, introducing it to this country.

It makes sense, then, that creating a historically relevant produce garden was part of the restoration vision. The garden’s first bounty has yielded summer squash, beans, carrots, beets, and turnips, among other varieties. In the new “Garden to Bistro” program, D&R Greenway has partnered with five restaurants in Bordentown that are preparing dishes using the garden’s crops. The program began October 3 at Hob Tavern, and continues through the end of the month at the Old Town Pub, Toscano, Under the Moon, and Crumb.

“Some plants did better than others,” said D&R Greenway Garden Steward Lara Periard, who manages the gardens, on Monday. “Summer squash and beans were really prolific. Others like fennel and kale had some germination and pest problems. But the restaurants have been enthusiastic about the produce they’ve received. It’s going well.”

While visiting the restaurants, patrons can learn a bit of history from a Point Breeze table kiosk. “Bistro month in October connects people to the land’s abundance by providing a taste of the Historic Bonaparte Garden at Point Breeze,” said D&R Greenway President Linda Mead, in a press release. “Squash, turnips, carrots, and beans grown from historic seed are the very same crops grown at Point Breeze when it was home to the exiled King of Spain, Joseph Napoleon Bonaparte. The garden’s first harvest In September was donated to Bordentown’s Father Matt at Christ Church to feed the hungry. Now, thanks to our founding Garden to Bistro restaurants, these treasures of the land can be savored by all residents and visitors as they enjoy this history-rich and walkable town.”

Point Breeze was the palatial estate of Joseph Bonaparte, who fled to the United States in 1815 and bought the Point Breeze estate in 1817 from diplomat Stephen Sayre. The land is high on the Bordentown Bluffs overlooking extensive marshlands and the
confluence of Crosswicks Creek and the Delaware River. The location, between Philadelphia and New York, was documented in many paintings of the era that can be seen today in museums. Remnants of tunnels, leading from Bonaparte’s mansions to the waterways, can still be viewed.

At the time, the 60-acre estate included sculpture gardens, coach trails, bridges, stables, a gardener’s house, a lake, and a three-story mansion, in addition to the vegetable garden. Preserving the property in December 2020 was a collaborative effort of D&R Greenway, the New Jersey Green Acres Program, and the City of Bordentown. D&R Greenway has been involved for more than 25 years with the Abbott Marshlands, the wetlands area between
Bordentown and Trenton that is adjacent to the estate. Over the years, the land trust held some programs at the Divine Word Missionaries, previous owners of the property.

The garden was an important element of Bonaparte’s estate because its harvest was used to feed his family and guests, which included political and military figures, artists, and business owners. The Bordentown Historical Society mentions a few visitors, including Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John Quincy Adams.

The past summer’s heat and lack of rain created some challenges this first year for the new garden, but a drip irrigation system helped. Periard and local resident Val Sassaman, a member of the Bordentown Historical Society, researched the garden seeds that would have been used in Bonaparte’s time, and D&R Greenway purchased some of the seeds from Monticello, Jefferson’s estate in Charlottesville, Va.

“We’re also growing some heirloom beans and squash, and next year we’ll grow some corn varieties that are native and significant to the Lenni-Lenape people, whose ancestral homelands we’re planting on,” said Periard. “The Indigenous name in this area is Lenapehoking.”

Several volunteers helped with the first planting, which also included flowers, lavender, and blueberries by the Gardener’s House. A group of six area residents joined Periard and D&R Greenway colleague Kirsten Clerico to plant the initial crop, build trellises, and care for the garden. Bill Flemer, recently retired site manager of D&R Greenway’s St. Michaels Farm Preserve in Hopewell and a member of the Princeton Nurseries family, tilled the garden plot, transforming it from grass to create a footprint for the first planting.

Progress has been made, but more work is needed. “There is an opportunity for people to share their love of history and gardening by volunteering to help with the harvest season,” said Mead. “As we prepare to open the former gardener’s house to the community this fall, we invite people to sign up to become docents and help tell the stories of this land.”

“If people feel a relationship with the land, then they care for the land,” said Periard. “That’s my hope, that in connecting to the history of this place, from the Lenni-Lenape people who were here first, to Bonaparte’s time, to the present, people will feel a relationship to this area and ecosystem and be inspired to become — or continue to be — active in supporting conservation and restoration efforts.”