As a family who loves to travel, we had big plans for the summer. But with COVID-19, we shifted gears to stay local—and that’s how we found the Van Vleck House and Gardens in Montclair, NJ.
The Van Vleck House is a 140 years old private estate with 12 acres that once belonged to Joseph Van Vleck Sr. (and later his family) and opened to the public in 1993. These quiet green gardens are vast and bloom all year round. After quarantining, it’s a perfect time to explore with young kids—and we did plenty of that as well as lots of running around. If you’re looking for more to explore after your visit, check out our list of The Best Gardens and Nature Centers in New Jersey (like Deep Cut Gardens in Middletown) or maybe 19 Of The Best Waterfalls In New Jersey.
featured image via @vanvleckhouseandgardens
The Butterfly Garden at Van Vleck House and Gardens
We started at the first area near the entrance, which was the Butterfly Garden. The round space had plenty of benches to sit in the shade, and it was chock full of blooming flowers that filled it with life. My kids found this fairytale-like experience enchanting—we noticed bees working hard, butterflies fluttering around the flowers, bunnies, and chipmunks hopping under the bushes. This beautifully designed garden is a little ecosystem with various plants serving as food for local wildlife. As my children admired the flowers, we noticed insect eggs and Monarch butterfly larvae on some of the plants. I found it to be a perfect spot for my son and daughter to learn about everyday interactions between species in nature.
An edible garden for a good cause
Not all the gardens at Van Vleck Gardens are just for admiring; some are also practical. On the property, you can find the Edible Garden, which provides freshly grown produce for Toni’s Kitchen—an organization with the mission to fight food insecurity in the local community. As we went further, we spotted huge bins filled with compost made of garden waste that goes back into the garden. We stopped and read more about the composting process, and picked up tips on starting a garden at home.
The Formal Garden at Van Vleck House and Gardens
We followed the path (they mark each bloom and plant, making the discovery process even more exciting), revealing the prettiest views in the Formal Garden. This one was my son’s favorite, and I can see why, since there’s an expansive lawn, framed by tall trees and blooming plants. While he swirled on the vast green carpet, my daughter enjoyed chasing bunnies around the bushes. There are beautiful cedar trees and colorful flora lining the garden, and ahead is the majestic Mediterranean villa that is nothing short of breathtaking.
The Wisteria Courtyard of the Van Vleck House
Going up a few steps from the Formal Garden is the estate house with glorious, cascading Chinese wisteria. The plants wrap delicately around white stone columns, giving it the feel of an Italian villa. We took a few moments to appreciate the quietness of this little oasis. Its gorgeous and sophisticated design makes a stunning backdrop for photos, especially in spring, when purple blooms take over. As we made our way to the parking lot, the kids were tired but happy. We are lucky this pretty place, which feels like a mini-escape is just a car ride away. This visit was undoubtedly the first of many more, even when the pandemic is over.
What you need to know before you visit The Van Vleck House & Gardens in Montclair, NJ
During the visit, we felt very safe, since visitors have to keep distance and wear masks at all times. There are maps all over the pathways, so we got the lay of the land very quickly. Van Vleck Garden hours are from 9AM to 6PM daily (the house is closed). It’s free to enter, but donations are always welcome.
Van Vleck House and Gardens
21 Van Vleck Street
Montclair, NJ 07042