If you’re looking for a lush patch of green in New Jersey, you’re in luck: the Garden State is so named because of the multitude of flora- and fauna-filled havens to choose from when you’re looking for an escape.
But one garden stands apart from the crowd, not just because of its exceptional beauty, but because the price is right for everyone. The New Jersey Botanical Garden at Skylands is the only free botanical garden in the state and offers something to see every month of the year. If you haven’t been yet, there’s simply no excuse.
The Botanical Garden is really only one part of a much larger parkland. The NJBG, which covers just under 100 acres, forms the heartland of a larger property that spans well over 1,000 acres in total. In the late 19th century, Francis Lynde Stetson, a corporate lawyer for J.P. Morgan, assembled the Skylands Manor. The mansion, farms, gardens, and golf courses tucked within the Ramapo Mountains supplied work to the people of the area, since the iron mines were losing momentum. Stetson named his vast country estate "Skylands Farms” and used the impressive setting to entertain friends that included the likes of Andrew Carnegie and Ethel Barrymore. Such celebrity guests were impressed with the grounds—no surprise, considering Stetson had used one of Frederick Law Olmstead’s protégés, Samuel Parsons, Jr., to design the estate.
During the roar of the 1920s, a civil engineer and stockbroker from New York City, Clarence Mackenzie Lewis, purchased the estate—and the people of New Jersey have Lewis to thank, largely, for laying the beautiful foundation of the Botanical Garden today. Lewis was a trustee on the board for the garden and felt the land should be used for showcasing the beauty of cultivated plants. During peak season, Lewis had over 60 gardeners working full-time to plant the symmetrical trees, flowers, shrubs, and plants that had been specified by prominent landscapers at the time Vitale & Gieffert. The duo had designed landscapes for Rockefeller Center, Princeton University, and grand estates on Long Island and lent their gifted hands to the NJBG, the results of which are still felt today.
Skylands was sold by to the State of New Jersey in 1966 and was deemed an official botanical garden in 1984. The New Jersey State Botanical Garden is a part of Ringwood State Park within the New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry in the Department of Environmental Protection. Today, the NJBG appears on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places.