The Historic Whitesbog Tract encompasses all 3,000 acres of Whitesbog, including cranberry bogs (both active and fallow), blueberry fields (both active and fallow), woodlands and waterways, and the Village, which includes Elizabeth White’s residence, Suningive, and its gardens.
Whitesbog’s Cultural Landscape
The Whitesbog tract land-use involves numerous partner organizations that share the resources of this historic farm landscape. The property is owned by New Jersey Division of Parks and Forests which is responsible for overall management and in particular the forest resources. Cranberry production resources are leased to the J. J. White Company, which has farmed the land for 150 years.
The P.I.N.E.S. program of Rowan University at Burlington County utilizes the Village and landscape to conduct historical and environmental field education for school children and enrichment programs for older adults.
The Pinelands Antique Engine Association is a partner organization, assisting with maintenance and event production. The Whitesbog Preservation Trust is dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the Village resources. In addition to these, many other organizations and thousands of individuals utilize the property for a diverse range of recreational purposes such as hunting and fishing, touring, bird watching and hiking.
The blueberry fields include the “front field” (just past the entrance to the Village on the right), the “triangle field” (east of the Old General Store), two-story cottage and schoolhouse, approximately 90 acres near Florence (an old workers’ village), and a tiny remnant of Elizabeth White’s test field (east of the “Demonstration Field” that is located east of Suningive).
The woodlands are mostly successional. Most remain in a natural state, while some containing rare, showy or significant pioneer plant species are managed by retaining canopy openings and keeping clearings relatively free of shrubs. Periodic assessments of the woodlands and the fallow fields are made to determine the presence of threatened and endangered species, and a strategy for protection is addressed.
The Village, during the 1920s and ’30s, it’s busiest period, had a sparse but deliberate landscape plan. Residents maintained small gardens and planted various specimen trees, including some of the native ornamental species that Elizabeth White was commercially producing, such as the American holly, the Franklinia, and the highbush blueberry.
Elizabeth White’s deliberate use of native plants make Suningive’s gardens unique. The landscape includes her original blueberry test field; an interpreted demonstration field; a cultivated crescent garden; her original circular garden; front, rear, and side gardens; and a sphagnum moss pond.
From childhood, White passionately loved the New Jersey Pine Barrens and its native plants, many of which are found nowhere else on earth. She learned about botany and horticulture from her father, J.J. White, and ultimately devoted her own life to propagating plants that she deemed to be of outstanding beauty and merit.
Having tamed the wild blueberry with Dr. Frederick Coville of the U.S.D.A., Miss White enlarged her field of endeavor to include growing many otherPine Barrensplants, originally marketing the results through J.J. White, Inc., and later through her own nursery, Holly Haven. Miss White was concerned about the future of rare and unique plants of the Pine Barrens and was determined to contribute to their greater appreciation.
Then she made a truly remarkable decision, which in the long view of history may ultimately prove of even greater import than her work with blueberries. Having built her house, Suningive, in Whitesbog Village, she chose to deliberately landscape her home exclusively with native Pine Barrens species.
A close observer of nature, Miss White lived at Suningive, surrounded by her beloved gardens, for 31 years. During that time, she expanded the gardens and later experimented with non-native plants, but her initial decision to create a visual feast from native plants is the reason the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office (N.J.S.H.P.O.) has listed Suningive’s gardens among the ten most historically important gardens in New Jersey. In an article in “The American Gardener,” world-renowned horticulturist and author Rick Darke remarked that Miss White’s “words reveal both the romance Elizabeth White felt toward her native place, and the straight-forward Quaker practicality with which she was raised.” She passed away in 1954, and the gardens were indifferently cared for until late in the twentieth century.
Presently, a small but hard-working and highly knowledgeable volunteer staff are restoring the gardens, step by step, retaining appropriate plant materials, removing aliens, and replanting native Pine Barrens species. June Vail, a graduate of the Temple-Ambler School of Horticulture, lived at Suningive and collaborated closely with Miss White from 1945 through 1954, and serves as our advisor.
In years to come, Elizabeth White’s gardens will be restored to the condition that once stirred her soul, and planted with the flowers and shrubs that inspired her to reach beyond her personal landscape to influence and guide a world newly awakening to an appreciation of the exquisite beauty of the flora native to the New Jersey Pine Barrens.