New Jersey has some of the best gardens and nature centers around—and that’s one reason why it’s called the Garden State. Our lush state is full of beautiful gardens and landscapes, as well as nature centers where you and your littles can learn about all different environments and species. And now NJ gardens are having a moment because they are outside and the perfect activity to do with the fam. Walk among the blooms on the trails at New Jersey State Botanical Gardens in Ringwood, learn about bamboo at Rutgers Gardens in New Brunswick, or visit the beautiful rose gardens of NJ at the Essex County Rose Garden in Brookdale Park. Read on for the best, and since some buildings are still closed due to COVID, check out their websites before you go to get the most up-to-date info.
featured image via New Jersey State Botanical Garden & Skylands Manor
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NJ gardens and nature centers:
The New Jersey Botanical Garden and Skylands Manor range across 96 acres of gardens and about 1000 acres of woodlands—there are plenty of spaces to explore and home to unusual plant species from around the world. Stroll around the carefully crafted formal gardens or through walking paths that are a must-see for budding botanists.
Ringwood State Park, Ringwood, NJ 07456
You’ll spend a peaceful afternoon at Duke Farms in Hillsborough, which is home to over 1,000 acres of gorgeous land. Walk or bike through the paths and stop by the Orchid Range for both tropical and subtropical species. Are you in a geocaching game right now? There’s plenty of geocaching at Duke Farms. Currently, the trails are open, the buildings are closed and the Bikeshare Program is back on.
1112 Dukes Parkway West, Hillsborough, NJ 08844
The NJ Audubon Nature Center of Cape May is a great spot to visit all summer. During the year, the Nature Center is fully equipped with a touch tank and a three-story observatory tower for bird watching. At the moment, the trails and grounds are open, and the center has reopened from Monday through Friday, closed on weekends.
1600 Delaware Ave., Cape May, NJ 08204
Rutgers Gardens are open 365 days a year and are completely self-sustainable. The students and workers at Rutgers Gardens hope to bring together inquisitive minds and inspirational gardening in this garden, which includes a shrub garden, a bamboo forest, a holly garden, herbs, and ponds. Rutgers Gardens also hosts farmer markets and other fun events throughout the year.
Rutgers University, 112 Ryders Lane, New Brunswick, NJ 08902
Stop by Greenwood Gardens for all the flowers you can handle. This garden wants you to feel connected with nature, so they offer special events, bird walks, and plant walks throughout the year. Currently, the gardens are open on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, as well as guided tours of the garden. Greenwood Gardens’ vision is “a world that embraces the beauty and transformative power of nature, and celebrates the history of a place.”
274 Old Short Hills Rd., Short Hills, NJ 07078
Open to the public daily 365 days a year, from 8 AM to dusk, you can take the kids to The Willowwood Arboretum. There are several formal gardens to wander through, but there are also informal walking paths to stroll around. You’ll see plants for shade and for sun, subtropical plants, bulbs, ferns, and shrubs. New to this garden is a Cell Phone Tour, which guides you around the gardens using your cell phone.
300 Longview Rd., Far Hills, NJ 07931
Deep Cut Gardens is dedicated to the home gardener. There are 54 acres of gardens full of “cultivated and native plant materials to be observed throughout the seasons.” You won’t get lost in these gardens – everything is easy to see and pretty low to the ground. Be sure to give them a call beforehand to check on opening hours (and read more about one NJMOM’s adventure through Deep Cut Gardens here).
152 Red Hill Rd., Middletown, NJ 07748
Van Vleck House & Gardens is a formerly private estate that is now owned by The Montclair Foundation. The gardens and walking paths are open to the public 365 days a year. As you take in the beauty of the estate and the villa, you can check out their bloom list to see what flowers are blooming. There are over 60 kinds of trees alongside shrubs, rhododendrons, and perennials. Currently, the buildings are closed, but the public restrooms are open. Read more on visiting Van Vleck here.
21 Van Vleck St., Montclair, NJ 07042
Though the Reeves-Reed Arboretum is known for its spring Daffodil Bowl (when the gardens are filled with thousands of blooming daffodils), there’s plenty to admire here. Take a hike through the trails, explore outdoor sculptures, and relish the history of the grounds and display gardens. There are also kid-friendly special crafts and events all year.
165 Hobart Ave., Summit, NJ 07901
Open during daylight hours year-round, the Cora Hartshorn Arboretum & Bird Sanctuary is a fantastic spot to enjoy nature and make new friends with birds. The 16-acre forest was once a degraded woodland, so this arboretum wants to achieve its goal of sustaining a healthy, diverse, woodland habitat. Currently, the building is closed to the public, but the trails are open, and the Arboretum has an interactive scavenger hunt you can download to do on the trails to keep littles busy and learning about nature.
324 Forest Hills Drive South, Short Hills, NJ 07078
Cattus Island County Park features 530 acres and 7 miles of trails, filled with beautiful paths surrounded by the Barnegat Bay. It’s a cool mix of trees and watershed, as well as sand and shore. The Cooper Environmental Center has been recently renovated and includes hands-on activities for kids, like a live osprey cam, habitat tree and tunnel, children’s activity corner, and live reptiles and fish. Also, be sure to check out the Butterfly Garden with native plants and lots of butterflies all around.
1170 Cattus Island Blvd, Toms River, NJ 08753
The Essex County Rose Garden at Brookdale Park started in 1959 and has grown to now 1,500 bushes of over 100 varieties of roses. Some of those include hybrid tea, floribunda, hybrid musk, rugosas, and antique roses. Did you know that roses are more than just pretty colors and lush fragrances? Learn how they resist disease and more when you stop by this garden to see thousands of beautiful roses. Be sure to check the Brookdale Park Conservancy’s Facebook for any updates before you go.
Brookdale Park, Montclair, NJ 07043
The Camden Children’s Garden is a special place for families to come together and experience beautiful flowers and greenery, but to also learn about horticulture. Kids can choose from the Butterfly Garden, Potting Shed, Picnic Garden, Storybook Gardens, Dinosaur Gardens, and many other activities like the carousel, a treehouse, and an “underground” tunnel maze. Be sure to check their website for new updates and special events.
3 Riverside Dr., Camden, NJ 08103
There are nearly 300 contemporary pieces of art covering 42 landscaped acres where you can view sculptures such as the Damascus Gate by Walter Dusenbery or Daydream by Seward Johnson. As you wander through this unique garden in NJ, you’ll see ponds, wildflowers, and architectural reflecting pools on the grounds. Entry to Grounds For Sculpture is by advance timed tickets only and capacity is limited you need to reserve timed tickets online to visit.
80 Sculptors Way, Hamilton, NJ 08619
History buffs, nature lovers, and garden enthusiasts will get their fill at the historic Hamilton Square Sayen House and Gardens. Spring is the perfect time to visit their beautiful display of color and beauty with more than 250,000 flowering bulbs, as well as dogwoods, heirloom azaleas, and rhododendrons. Throughout the year annual and perennial displays fill this NJ garden and they highlight the walking trails, fish ponds, and gazebos on the grounds.
155 Hughes Drive, Hamilton, NJ 08690
More NJ Gardens and Natures Centers we love:
Leonard J. Buck Garden
Morven Museum & Garden
Barton Arboretum and Nature Preserve
Bamboo Brook Arboreta
Rudolf W. van der Goot Rose Garden
Palmyra Cove Nature Park
Presby Memorial Iris Gardens
Georgian Court University Gardens and Arboretum
Smithville Mansion Courtyard Gardens
The Cross Estate Gardens