New Jersey is home to some great botanical gardens, whether you’re looking for landscaping ideas, horticultural education, or just a beautiful, natural environment to relax in and enjoy. From expansive arboretums to specialty collections, formal gardens to untouched woodland, native to exotic species, bucolic to urban settings, there’s a garden you should visit. Many offer classes, guided tours, plant sales, seasonal events, and are available to rent for weddings and other special occasions. With so much variety, there’s a good reason they call it the Garden State!
April is the perfect time to visit Branch Brook Park in Newark, when their two thousand cherry trees (boasting more varieties than even Washington, D.C.) burst into bloom. Also in Newark is the Greater Newark Conservancy, the state’s first urban environmental research center. Interested in greening up New Jersey’s cities, the Conservancy offers related classes in addition to their gardens, as well as giving out awards to Newark residents for such things as “Best Flower Barrel Block” and “Best Community Garden.”
There is no off season at the New Jersey State Botanical Garden at Skylands Manor in Ringwood, which offers formal gardens arranged by single species (lilacs, peonies, hosta and rhododendron), by plant type (perennial, annual, wildflower) and by season (summer, winter). In nearby Wayne, Laurelwood Gardens is known for its extensive collection of azalea and rhododendron, best seen in early spring, although there’s plenty blooming in summer as well. For another excellent specialty collection, visit the Presby Iris Garden in Montclair sometime in late May or early June to see more than three thousand varieties of iris (ten thousand flowers in all!). While in Montclair, stop by the Van Vleck Home and Garden and see their exceptional wisteria-covered courtyard and their woodland, water and butterfly gardens. If wisteria is your thing, don’t miss the pergola at The Cross Estate Gardens in Bernardsville, whose formal gardens are in the Arts and Crafts style. Or, if your tastes run to the literary, check out the Shakespeare Garden in Plainfield, displaying plants mentioned in The Bard’s works.
Northern New Jersey also has its share of arboretums. Frelinghuysen Arboretum has one hundred and twenty-seven acres of trees and gardens, showcasing collections of dogwoods, beeches, crabapples, and many more. The Reeves-Reed Arboretum in Summit, in addition to trees, features rose, azalea, and rock gardens.
May and June are great times to visit the Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills, when the extensive rock garden bursts into bloom. Duke Farms in Hillsborough is a botanical garden and environmental center. Guided wildlife and bicycle tours are offered (both by reservation only). Rutgers Garden in New Brunswick has exceptional collections of evergreens, shrubs, both shade and ornamental trees, and more. Colonial Park Gardens in Somerset is a one hundred and forty-four acre arboretum that includes a collection of ornamental grasses, roses, perennials and shrubs. They also have a “Fragrance and Sensory” garden for the visually and physically impaired, with plants that do more than just look pretty. Or try the Garden for the Blind and Physically Handicapped in Iselin, which features Braille signs and a “circle of senses,” where plants are easily accessible at waist level.
Art and gardening meet at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, a twenty-two acre collection of trees, gardens, and sculpture that also has indoor exhibitions, shopping, and the renowned restaurant, Rat’s. Morven Museum and Garden in Princeton offers formal gardens that showcase collections of annuals from the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The museum is host to a variety of exhibitions of art, furniture and pottery.
The Lewis W. Barton Arboretum in Medford is over two hundred acres of landscaped and natural gardens. Most notably, they have an extensive collection of conifers, rhododendron, holly, viburnum, and crabapple. The Sister Mary Grace Burns Arboretum of Georgian Court University in Lakewood boasts the Classic or Italian Garden, the Sunken Garden or Lagoon, the Formal Garden, and the Japanese Garden. Additionally featured is a collection of plants native to the New Jersey Pine Barrens. For ideas on landscaping in beach environments, visit the Edith Duff Gwinn Gardens in Barnegat Light.
Leaming’s Run Gardens in Cape May boasts the largest collection of annuals in the United States. They have twenty-five themed gardens, as well as a fernery, a shady bamboo grove, and a colonial living history museum. An admission fee is required. Also requiring admission is the Camden Children’s Garden in Camden. Their many attractions include a butterfly house, a train ride, dinosaur garden, and storybook garden.