Skylands is a 1,119-acre estate property located in Ringwood State Park in Ringwood NJ, that puts the “garden” into the Garden State — New Jersey’s state nickname — and is maintained by the state as the New Jersey Botanical Gardens.
As you enter the gardens, you can’t help but notice the two eagles flanking the entry drive. These eagles were carved by sculptor Adolph Weinman and originally adorned the Pennsylvania Station (an historic railroad station in New York City between 1910 and 1963.
After you park (if you park in Parking Lot A), you’ll stroll toward the Pump House, which was built in the late 1800s. Although decrepit, it’s about to be restored by a charitable organization associated with the botanical gardens.
Like several other buildings in the gardens, the Pump House has long needed repair, with many missing shingles and large holes in its roof, and even in its current state, it lends a mysterious and romantic atmosphere to the gardens.
Prominent in the New Jersey Botanical Gardens is the grand half-mile grassy boulevards, an allée of 166 crabapple trees extending almost a half-mile, referred to as “Crabapple Vista.”
Throughout the gardens, there are a variety of prominent and hidden statues!
Although the best time to appreciate the beauty of the Crabapple Visa is in early May, when the crabapples break into joyous pink blossoms, it’s a beautiful walk any time of the year.
The Vista helps visitors transition from the formal gardens closer to the mansion and the wilder gardens below.
Because we were there in late June, it was the profusion of purple flag iris blooming in the Swan Pond Meadow. Flag iris, an understated cousin of bearded iris. Flag iris do well in moist areas, making it a perfect low-land or bog plant.
In fact, late May and June are the best times to visit if hosta is your favorite plant, as it is mine.
The fenced in Rhodendron-Hosta Garden offers shade-loving hosta of all varieties, from the blue-green to the yellow-gold foliage, and all leaf shapes, from the classic heart shape to more spear-like varieties. Rhododendron and azaleas anchor the hosta garden.
In 1966, the entire estate, owned by Clarence MacKenzie Lewis, a New York City stockbroker and civil engineer, was bought by the State of New Jersey to form a State Botanical Garden open for all to enjoy. Lewis had created the estate out of multiple farms in the Ramapo Mountains, and named his estate Skylands.
It’s also a popular wedding site, and on the Saturday we were there, we first encountered the wedding party as we walked up to the 44-room manor house, with the groom being photographed.
As we strolled past the house to the summer garden, we saw chairs and decorations being set up for the wedding itself in the Azalea Garden, with the chairs on either side of the reflecting pool.
The stone mansion was designed by the well-known American architect John Russell Pope (his other works include the National Gallery of Art and the National Archives) and built in the mid-1920s in the Tudor revival style.
Later, we saw the bride strolling through the Perennial Garden, with its abundance of blooms of all shades, from the orange flower I know as the butterfly weed to lilies to asters.
Know before you go: Admission to the Botanical Garden itself is always free, however during summer months there is a parking fee charged by the state; if you’re interested in touring the mansion, tours are offered most Sunday afternoons. The gardens would be spectacular in the fall when the autumn foliage peaks.
Getting there: 2 Morris Rd, Ringwood, NJ
Hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. but may change seasonally; please check the website below.
Do you enjoy visiting botanical gardens? Be sure to visit these other gardens in the MidAtlantic!