Looking for a place to take in beautiful flowers and spend time outdoors? If so, a visit to the New Jersey Botanical Garden in Ringwood, NJ, should be on your list of things to do. With blossoming trees and wildflower gardens, recently restored historical buildings, and stunning reflection pools nestled among the willowy trees, it’s easy to see why this 96-acre former estate is the official botanical garden of NJ. And there’s a lot your family will love here—kids will have a ball learning about plants, smelling exotic blooms, going on a nature discovery walk, and learning about this garden’s unique and storied history. Read on for 7 things to do and what to know before you visit. (featured photo credit: New Jersey Botanical Garden)
7 Places to Discover in the New Jersey Botanical Garden
Designed in the mid-1920s by distinguished American architect John Russel Pope (he also designed the Jefferson Memorial in DC), this “Tutor Revival” Mansion was made to look centuries old, with all stone quarried from the estate. Fireplaces, antique paneling, and stained glass give the Manor House its distinct historical style, and to see them firsthand, hop on a 45-minute guided tour led by a docent on select Sundays from May through October (there are additional fees for the tours).
A variety of azaleas and rhododendrons frame the large reflecting pool filled with gorgeous, pink flowering lotus and lily pads at the Azalea Garden. In the spring, the double-flowering dogwood takes center stage, while in autumn, the Japanese maple is not to be missed. Your kids will love to see their mirrored image in the water below as they view the lily pads and lotus in the reflecting pool.
This specialty garden hosts over one hundred varieties of lilacs, and most types possess the most beautiful sweet aroma you can smell as you enter the park. The oldest varieties date to 1923, when Mr. Lewis, the founder, procured them. To get the best photos for the ‘gram, plan to visit the Lilac Garden in mid-May and June to capture these Syringa (lilac’s genus name) in full bloom. And here’s a fun lilac fact to pass on to the kids—lilacs belong to the olive family and are native to Europe and Asia, where they grow into large shrubs and trees.
Surrounding the “Bog Pond,” the Wildflower Garden—with its winding wooded trails and stepping stone bridges—is a picturesque spot to visit with the fam. Your little ones will love testing their balance as they jump onto the stepping stones in this shade garden. You’ll see spring ephemerals, Japanese primrose, and flame azaleas in this garden, and if you’re looking for insta-worthy photos, make it a point to go on a sunny day in April and May, prime months for the best and most beautiful blooms.
Located off the Manor House, this restored garden is centered with a large octagonal fountain filled with white lotus and lily pads, surrounded by rock walls and a plethora of collected plants from the founder, Clarence Lewis. Lewis purchased the Skylands property in 1922 and made it his mission to create a botanical showplace, commissioning prominent landscape architects to develop it. In this garden, you will see a creeping evergreen from Spain, monkshood from the Pyrenees, and yellow-flowered Friogonum flavum from the western United States’ mountains. The Octagonal Garden is part of the more extensive Italianate Gardens filled with other flowers like magnolia, azalea, and peony. You may even spot a bride or two since this is one of the most popular spots for wedding photos in NJ.
This part of the garden is one of the NJ Botanical Garden’s most spectacular attractions. In early May, a half-mile of Crab Apple Trees burst into full pink glory, but it’s worth seeing any time. This area is great for running around, bringing a picnic blanket, and having a snack while enjoying the scenery. And there are plenty of fun games to do, too—plan a scavenger hunt, and see if kids can find the statues of the four continents at the end of the Allée. Or challenge them to find the missing planet signs for NJBG’s Solar System walk, where after they complete the task, kids can redeem a prize at the Carriage House gift shop on Sundays. (Hint: the walk is along the eastern edge of the meadow, and it stretches the entire length of the Allée).
On the third Sunday of each month, you can bring the whole fam to learn about the plants, geology, and animals unique to the gardens. Join up with a knowledgeable NJBG docent on an easy, kid-friendly hike on the trails in the woodlands, and see the notable parts you might miss if you were on your own. The walk is open to all ages; remember to wear sturdy shoes, and feel free to bring a hiking carrier for little ones who tire easily on a long walk. And good to note—this event is free, but donations are always appreciated.
New Jersey Botanical Garden
26 Morris Road, Ringwood, NJ 07456
Where will you go first in the New Jersey Botanical Garden when you visit? Share your favorite spot with us!
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