9 Must-See Gardens in NJ
It’s no secret that the Garden State is home to beautiful greenery. Now’s the perfect time to take in these amazing sights (and scents!) with the kids. Plus, most are totally free. For more flora and fauna, check out our huge list of arboretums and nature centers.
Photo courtesy of Duke Farms
1112 Dukes Pkwy., West Hillsborough Township
In 1893, American Tobacco Company President J.B. Duke turned more than 2,000 acres of land into a residential estate with stunning sculptures, huge buildings and ornate gardens flecked with fountains. Opened to the public in 2003, this natural sanctuary has 18 miles of walking and biking trails and the Orchid Range offers a year-round tropical oasis. Make sure to swing by the Old Fountain and ruins of the never-completed mansion. Bikes are welcome, but if you forget yours a limited number are available to rent on site.
353 East Hanover Ave., Morristown
As the main headquarters for the Morris County Parks Commission, this 127-acre arboretum is a part of Patriots’ Path, a 35-mile stretch of hiking, biking and equestrian trails that run from East Hanover all the way to Washington Township.
The “Getting to Know Us” stroll lasts 30 minutes and takes you through the Great Lawn (home to outdoor summer concerts), past the mansion and the rose gardens. Be sure to do some bird-watching at the Belvedere, too.
The self-guided tour ends near the Branching Out Garden where the kids get their hands dirty during scheduled classes. If you miss the class, pick up a monthly scavenger hunt list, or a Family Discovery Backpack (for $5), chock-full of ways to teach the kids about the scenery.
274 Old Short Hills Rd., Short Hills
This spot is located along 2,110 acres of South Mountain Reservation. Visitors take in stunning examples of architecture, statues and ceramic works of art alongside beautiful greenery. Stroll past blooming cherry blossom trees or watch butterflies feed on agapanthuses and peonies. Chickens, geese and goats may want to mingle during your visit. Drop by at twilight (with a reservation) for a magical guided walk or sign your tween (ages 9–15) up for a cell phone photography workshop.
Grounds for Sculpture
181 Fairgrounds Rd., Hamilton
Besides the 42 acres of breathtaking natural beauty, these gardens boast more than 200 sculptures, including a collection of NJ native Seward Johnson’s bronze figures around the grounds. There’s also a gorgeous lily pond flanked with wildflowers (which pays homage to Monet’s Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge) you can see from Rat’s Restaurant, where you can enjoy light fare like chopped salads and mussels. Don’t forget to visit the friendly peacocks roaming the park. A gorgeous walkway lined with trees is a favorite for photo-ops. Timed tickets are required, so reserve a slot online in advance. $18 for adults at the door, kids under 5 are free.
Leaming’s Run Gardens & Colonial Farm
1845 Rte. 9 N., Cape May Court House
Celebrating its 40th anniversary, Leaming’s Run hosts the largest annual flower garden show in the US (14 gardens in total!). Just a short drive from Cape May, the gardens are a perfect spot to escape the beach crowds while taking in incredible scenery.
Boasting 30-plus acres of shady paths and stunning vistas, Leaming’s Run was established by Jack and Emily Aprill and their kids, and opened to the public in 1977. The family wanted to preserve the woodlands and wetlands that are home to a variety of rare and native plants. Visit in August to see hundreds of hummingbirds feeding before their annual migration south.
Leonard J. Buck Garden
11 Layton Rd., Far Hills
This 33-acre public botanical garden is home to one of the premier rock gardens on the East Coast. Leonard J. Buck developed the garden as part of his estate in the late 1930s, leaving behind an idyllic place for families to unwind.
The garden’s made up of 12 planted rock outcroppings and woodland gardens with trails that connect wildflowers, ferns, azaleas, daffodils, violets, dogwoods and more.
The largest rock formation on the property is Big Rock, which incorporates the remains of a waterfall just to the north and offers a striking display of all that Buck Garden has to offer.
New Jersey Botanical Gardens at Ringwood State Park
2 Morris Rd., Ringwood
Known as “Garden of the Garden State,” NJ Botanical Gardens at Skylands is an outdoor haven. Listed on both state and national Registries of Historic Places, this oasis is set amongst 96 acres of 13 specialty gardens and is surrounded by more than 1,000 acres of woodlands in Passaic County.
Walk several miles of paths flanked with wildflowers or take in more than 400 (!) types of lilacs from around the world. Don’t forget to smell the rhododendrons and azaleas in the Hosta/Rhododendron or Moraine Gardens, where clusters of rock deposits are left behind from the Ice Age. Self-guided tours are available, and on select Sundays you can tour the historic Skylands Manor. Or head to the woods behind the garden for some of NJ’s best hiking trails.
165 Hobart Ave., Summit
The Reeves-Reed Arboretum offers 13.5 acres of nature’s best with historic and contemporary gardens highlighted by six acres of woodland forest.
Check out Reeves-Reed’s newest feature, the Square Foot Vegetable Garden, right outside the Stackhouse Children’s Education Center. The arboretum’s gardening program encourages healthy eating and showcases gardening practices to try on your own.
Kids will love digging in the vegetable garden, hiking woodland trails and visiting fishy friends at a koi pond with a bog garden and waterfall as well as a 180-plus-year-old European beech nicknamed “The Elephant Tree.” Visit the historic Wisner House and Library Lounge to learn the history of the arboretum and the families who lived there.
The Willowwood Arboretum
300 Longview Rd., Chester Township
More than 2,100 different kinds of native and exotic plants (many rare) grace 131 acres of rolling farmland at this arboretum, established in 1908 by the Tubbs Brothers. There are 14 gardens, each with a unique setting of stunning tree canopies including oak, maple, willow and magnolia. The kids will marvel at the NJ Champion Dawn Redwood (one of only a handful in the US), which is 100-feet-tall. When in bloom, Pan’s Garden is a sight to behold, with its colorful design crafted to look like a Persian prayer rug. And if you want to learn about the inner workings of the arboretum, take a cell phone tour that gives you the lowdown on more than 100 years of history.