May 01, 2017

Botanical Gardens

By Joanne Colella

New Jersey is known as The Garden State for a reason, boasting countless miles of beautiful, bountiful forests, fields, farms, and gardens. And there is no better time of year than spring to explore some of the state’s most breathtaking floral settings – plus several other popular garden spots that lie across state lines, but beckon New Jersey garden lovers of all ages.

The Garden State’s official botanical garden is the New Jersey Botanical Garden at Skylands (NJBG/Skylands), located on Morris Road in Ringwood. Recognized on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places, the property was acquired in 1966, when the State of New Jersey purchased 1,117 acres of Skylands Farms, a former country estate in the Ramapo Mountains. In 1984, the central 96 acres that surround the historic grand manor house were designated as the state’s official botanical garden. With countless specimens in specialty gardens throughout the property, the New Jersey Botanical Garden welcomes visitors with scenes of beauty all year ‘round. The displays in the Annual Garden change from season to season, as well as from year to year.  Perennial borders boast colorful, seasonal floral displays, while the Crab Apple Allee, one of the most spectacular attractions, bursts into blooms of pink blossoms in May. The Allee also marks the boundary between the formal gardens and the informal and wildflower gardens. Late May and June are the best times to view the Hosta/Rhododendron Garden, which also features fabulous azaleas. Also not to be missed are the Wildflower Garden (a favorite for children), Lilac Garden (with more than 100 varieties), peonies, magnolias, and much more.

NJBG/Skylands, part of Ringwood State Park, is open most of the year from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in winter). Admission is free. On summer weekends and holidays, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, there is a small parking fee; other times, it’s free. Free garden tours are available every Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m., May through October, while guided tours of the ground floor of the Skylands Manor house are offered on select Sundays for a fee. In addition, NJBG sponsors a variety of programs, concerts, and special events throughout the year. For more information, visit www.njbg.org.

Rutgers Gardens, comprised of a series of horticultural collections arranged in garden settings and spread over 50 acres, are located just east of U.S. Route 1 on Ryders Lane in New Brunswick. Some collections date back to 1927 and the gardens feature a diverse variety of landscape plants that originate from all over the world. Some of the feature attractions are the Donald B. Lacey Display Garden, with award-winning flowers and vegetables, one of the largest collections of American Hollies in the U.S., a shrub collection, a shade tree collection, a rhododendron and azalea garden, the Roy H. De Boer Evergreen Garden, a bamboo forest, and more. True to its proximity to the state university, Rutgers Gardens also serves as an educational resource for all things horticultural, with classes designed to provide both the average homeowner and the master gardener with ideas and techniques presented by a variety of experts. Admission to the Rutgers Gardens is free, and they are open year-round from 8:30 a.m. to dusk. Special events are held throughout the year, as well. Learn more at www.rutgersgardens.rutgers.edu.

A short drive out of state will take you to two more exquisite garden getaways, both in the boroughs of New York City. One is the New York Botanical Garden, open from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays most of the year (10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in January and February), plus some holidays, except Thanksgiving and Christmas. Located on the Bronx River Parkway at Fordham Road in the Bronx, the New York Botanical Garden boasts 50 breathtaking gardens and plant collections on 250 acres, including a landmark glasshouse with a tropical rain forest and a unique cactus-filled desert. The National Historic Landmark landscape is lined with 30,000 trees, a 50-acre Native Forest, a rock garden, home gardening center, and two gardens designed especially for children. Seasonal programs, classes, exhibitions, and tours provide educational and festive floral adventures each month of the year. Explore it all online at www.nybg.org.

Or, you can always head over to Brooklyn, where the Brooklyn Botanic Garden awaits in all its splendor. Founded in 1910, it’s located at 1000 Washington Avenue and renowned for its beautiful display of cherry blossoms (over 220 trees of 42 different varieties) and its Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden – one of the oldest and most visited Japanese-inspired gardens outside of Japan. A Discovery Garden geared for children, parents, and caregivers provides special learning opportunities about the world of nature, including a schedule of family workshops. Specialty gardens showcase herbs, native flora, lilacs, orchids, roses, daffodils, tropical and desert specimens, a bonsai museum, and many more delights that beckon visitors with their fragrant loveliness. Open at varying hours from Tuesday through Sunday, plus some Monday holidays, it’s a perfect oasis in the heart of a busy borough. Plan your visit on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden website, www.bbg.org.

Whether you have a green thumb or you wish that you did, there is a garden of earthly treasures within easy distance of home, ready to grow memories of a picturesque day trip.