True, winter is still here and the northeast is getting hit with a foot of snow, but spring will be warming us up before you know it (we promise). Spring is a fantastic time to take the family on a Day Trip and guest blogger Eileen Lundberg shares a lovely option — New Jersey State Botanical Garden at Skylands, the garden of the Garden State!
Related: Day Trip: Storm King Art Center
Located in the Ramapo mountains on the border of New Jersey and New York, the New Jersey State Botanical Garden at Skylands is a beautiful destination for a day trip that offers interactive family fun with tours designed especially for children ages 8-12, such as a Scavenger Hunt and Solar System Walk, plus gorgeous gardens to explore.
Skylands Farms was once a working farm estate created by Francis Lynde Stetson (1846-1920.) Stetson hired Samuel Parsons, an esteemed landscape designer who trained under Frederick Law Olmsted, to design the grounds, drainage system, and roads on the estate. In 1922, Clarence McKenzie Lewis purchased the estate intent on creating a botanical showplace. He tore down the original stone home and built Skylands Manor, a Tudor mansion built from native granite. He collected plants from all over the world and had 60 gardeners working on the estate during peak seasons.
Free guided garden tours are given on Sundays at 2 pm from May through October (but are cancelled if steady rain persists). The tours start at the Carriage House Visitor Center and are under an hour long. My family took the tour on Mother’s Day and had a charming guide, a spry 86 year old passionate Skylands volunteer who shared many interesting facts about the history of the plants and grounds on our walk.
One of our favorite parts of the tour was the magnolia walk, which was created close to the house so the fragrance would waft inside. It is unusual that so many trees of this Southern species would be found this far North. We really enjoyed the scented viburnums and honeysuckles along this path, too. Visitors can enjoy the lilac garden at its peak in May as well as the azaleas, rhododendrons and Japanese Maple trees lining the reflecting pool. A crab apple allée divides the formal gardens from the informal and wildflower gardens. There is a perennial flower border which changes through the season and requires significant tending by the volunteers. The tree peonies in the peony garden are actually shrubby and native to Western China. They are accompanied by deciduous flowering shrubs that were popular in Victorian times such as Deutzia, Weigela and Mock Orange.
Elegant statues pepper the different garden areas but the highlight for us was The Whispering Bench. The docent positioned my daughters on either end of the stone bench and had them whisper into the curve. They were delighted that the trick worked. The adults in our group all clamored to have a try.
Even if you don’t catch the tour with one of the knowledgeable guides, simply wandering around the grounds is relaxing and worth the trip. There are concerts on Friday nights and different nature walks throughout the Summer.
There are table and chairs on the Manor terrace and snacks available in the gift shop but picnics on the lawns are not permitted. Note: Skylands does not permit pets or frisbee games on the lawns and insists that you carry out your trash.
New Jersey State Botanical Garden at Skylands
Hours: Open from 8 am – 8 pm every day and admission is always free.
Parking: On summer Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, there is a State parking fee of $5 for New Jersey-registered vehicles and $7 for non-New Jersey-registered vehicles. At all other times, parking is free.