Remembering Josephine Margetts: Gardener, Politician, and Lover of Nature

"She hadn't the heart to pull it up, she said, and so it grew and grew until it rivaled the height of the tallest hollies and its expanding girth forced strollers to detour around it."

In researching Josephine Margetts — the woman who created the bill for the State Flower of New Jersey (the Violet) - I came across her obituary.

When Josephine Margetts died in March of 1989, Fran Wood wrote a touching tribute to her that was featured in The Daily Record out of Morristown, New Jersey:

Snow was falling on the day they remembered Josephine Margetts last week.

It was gathering in little drifts on the trees outside her back door, collecting on the glossy leaves of some fifteen varieties of holly…

The fresh flakes formed in little peaks on the bird feeders just inches away from her breakfast table, covered the glass roof of the greenhouse where lantana, gardenias, and scented geraniums had flowered for more winters than anyone could remember and accumulated along the fence rails next to the vegetable garden where she used to raise more produce than her family could eat in a summer.

If the loving cultivation of these grounds, the perennials, the flowering shrubs and trees, and all those hollies she planted and nurtured had been Mrs. Margetts' only accomplishment, it would have been worth remarking on. For gardening was a successful business as well as a private pleasure for her.

Besides operating a licensed holly nursery on her home grounds, she and her family turned out some 10,000 bushels of peaches and apples each year at their Pennsylvania farm.

Like all true gardeners, Mrs. Margetts got tremendous satisfaction from planting a seed and watching it grow.

She considered herself no less rewarded by those things that grew on their own accord like the tiny white pine seedling that appeared in the middle of a flagstone path one spring. She hadn't the heart to pull it up, she said, and so it grew and grew until it rivaled the height of the tallest hollies and its expanding girth forced strollers to detour around it.

Gardening was far from Mrs. Margetts' sole accomplishment, of course, but her inherent appreciation for the beauty of the land and the miracles of nature were at the root of her environmental legacies to New Jersey.

As a state assemblywoman, she sponsored New Jersey's first "wetlands" legislation, the Wetlands Act of 1970, aimed at protecting some of our most vulnerable saltwater areas. She also sponsored the Pesticides Control Act, the Municipal Conservation Act, the National Lands Trust and the Appalachian Trail Easement all bills whose goals were the preservation of natural resources.

The Environmental Quality Act, which she also sponsored, made it a law for state agencies seeking construction funds to first submit detailed project studies to the state Department of Environmental Protection for approval.

She also supported equal opportunity for women long before the word "feminist" was coined.

But it was the environment, the beauty of nature, that stirred this farm girl most deeply, and her passion for it didn't lessen even in her last year or so, when the plants nearest to her were Boston ferns, a Christmas cactus and pots of ivy, and the closest she got to the outdoors were the vistas of lawns and gardens and trees seen through the windows of her room.

During those months, she kept a small library of books within arm's reach among them Gov. Tom Kean's The Politics of Inclusion, James Herriot's Dog StoriesThe Fine Art of Political Wit and several volumes detailing the laws of New Jersey. And, in their midst, were Cam Cavanaugh's Saving the Great Swamp, the Directory of Certified N.J. Nurseries and Plant Dealers, New Jersey: A Photographic Journey, by John Cunningham and Walter Choroszewski and several well-worn (and, no doubt, well-loved) garden books.

There was something symbolic about the snow that fell as Josephine Margetts was laid to rest last week.

For as it covered the lawns and shrubs and gardens she knew and loved, it also blanketed every square inch of the state she knew and loved and whose natural beauty and precious resources she worked so devotedly to preserve.

This post was featured on
The Daily Gardener podcast:

helping gardeners find their roots,
one story at a time
Josephine Margetts
Josephine Margetts
The Violet
The Violet

Leave a Comment