Skylands: A Garden for all Seasons

Confusing (or better, enhancing) the boundaries of where the Skylands can be found, the New Jersey State Botanical Garden at Skylands is certainly quarters for some of the best of what Northwestern New Jersey represents.

A garden for all seasons and all the right reasons, this is a place that holds rewards no matter what the time of year. Stroll a garden path in summer. View the bright foliage of autumn. Enjoy the quiet solitude of winter. But spring is, as in any garden, the time of most exuberance. The fragrance of spring flowers and shrubs wafts through the air--forsythia, cherry blossum, magnolia, azalea, rhododendron and lilac-- enticing a visit from even the most immune to the fever of the season.


Historic Skylands Manor, a Tudor Revival mansion built in the mid 1920s and designed by John Russell Pope, contains 44 rooms.

Among other things, Skylands is a 96-acre botanical garden nestled in the Ramapo Mountains in Ringwood, just over the Sussex County line in northern Passaic. The garden is part of larger area known as the Skylands section of Ringwood State Park. Originally a private estate consisting of 1,100 acres, and purchased by the State in 1966, the section now comprises slightly over 4,000 acres of parkland surrounding the botanical garden, which was dedicated in 1985 by former Governor Thomas Kean. There's more activity and opportunity for glorious leisure in the garden and surrounding area than you ever imagined.

When we think about botanical gardens and arboreta, there are different segments of experience to consider: environmental aesthetics, information and education, research, conservation and preservation, and public service/community pride. Skylands provides all these and more. The visual aesthetics are outstanding, rewarding the explorer with exquisite vistas both within the garden and through the surrounding valleys. Historic Skylands Manor, central to the estate, provides the backdrop for this magnificent setting.

If you visit, you'll find a self-guiding brochure at each parking lot or in the Visitors Center/Carriage House open weekdays year-round and Sundays, May thru October. Here's a mini-capsule of what you'll find.

Most visitors begin the walk heading towards the Winter Garden, which holds a collection of stimulating forms, textures and colors in golds, blues and reds. Many of these specimens were planted in the mid-1920s. A long dominant red oak, the New Jersey State Tree, has stood in front of the manor house library since the 1890s. A nine-hole golf course once graced this property when it offered refuge and recreation for the most affluent of the period. The Winter Garden contains many interesting plants, including New Jersey's largest Jeffery pine (Pinus jeffreyi). The east side is dominated by a weeping beech next to an upright beech that is a century old, planted by the original owner, Francis Lynde Stetson. The bold, dark-green needles of the Japanese umbrella pine make it one of the most distinctive and handsome conifers at Skylands. Other interesting non-native trees include an Algerian fir (Abies numidica); and the Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica), indigenous to North Africa.

On the east side of the manor house begins the Terrace Garden, a series of five terraces, each with its own distinctive essence. The first terrace features an octagonal pool with a swan fountain adding sensory pleasure to the rock garden plants seen at waist height. Many of the plants are of a dwarf nature, but some have matured extensively such as the Dwarf Alberta Spruce which now exceeds 20 feet in height. The Sweet Bay Magnolias which flank two paths of the next terrace produce white fragrant blooms in June. Investigate the "orchards" on many of the trees--marks left by the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker looking for a quick meal of insects burrowed underneath its bark. On to the third level and you'll find an abundance of azaleas and rhododendrons in every conceivable color. In summer, the long reflecting pool contains a number of hybrid waterlilies and tropical fish. A very formal bed design greets the visitor in the Summer Garden--here you'll discover an array of day lilies and annuals. At the final terrace lies the Peony Garden which terminates at the Memorial Bench, also called the Whispering Bench. Take a guided tour any Sunday May thru October to find out the secret of this bench. Close to the terraced area is the Pinetum, a special collection of evergreens.

Other highlights include the Lilac Garden, an extensive collection of varieties and species of lilac, at its peak near the middle of May. Crossing the road you will find yourself in the Perennial Garden containing a number of beds with color from March until November. The Annual Garden, another formal garden, is original to the site, and plants change from year to year. A 16th Century Italian marble wellhead is central to this garden. The Crab Apple Vista, an allee of 166 trees extending almost a half-mile, captures the true largesse of the estate, especially at full bloom around Mother's Day. Woodland paths of the Bog and Swan Ponds, the Rhododendron and Heather Gardens express a design which conforms to and embellishes the area's natural landscape.

Historic Skylands Manor, a Tudor Revival manor built by Clarence McKenzie Lewis in the mid 1920s and designed by John Russell Pope, contains 44 rooms. Many of the rooms contain antique panelling and stained glass, some of which date back to the 16th century. Guided tours by volunteers are offered one Sunday a month March thru November, with special self-guided events in May and December.

Skylands Association, the non-profit organization benefitting the State Botanical Garden, provides the interpretive and educational support necessary for this remarkable garden. Over 250 volunteers are involved with garden maintenance and manor house restoration; as garden or manor house docents; as assistants at the visitors center and in the office; or at plant sales and the holiday open house.

For more information, Skylands Association can be reached at (973) 962-9534 or visit our website.

Nearby accommodations and attractions

  • Kymer's Camping Resort
  • Located in Sussex County near the Kittatinny Mountains the camping resort offers trailer and cabin rentals and trailer and tent campsites with water, electric and cable TV hookups on 200 scenic acres.

    69 Kymer Rd., Branchville 07826, 800/543-2056

  • Sterling Hill Mine Tour and Museum
  • Step Into Earth Science! Mining museum with underground mine tour and over 30 acres of indoor & outdoor displays and historical buildings. Recent additions include expanded fluorescent display at Thomas S. Warren Museum and the Million Dollar display at the Oreck Family Mineral Gallery. Gift shop with a collection of world wide minerals.

    30 Plant St., Ogdensburg 07439, 973/209-7212

  • Legends Resort Timeshare Resales & Rentals
  • This distinctive resort features 400 standard guest rooms as well as one floor of luxury timeshare suites. The beauty of the Kittatinny Mountains meets modern amenities like Olympic-sized swimming pools, a recently renovated health spa, and championship golf courses on-site. To rent a timeshare from an individual owner (often at a discount!) or for more information on timeshare resales at the Legends Resort & Country Club, contact SellMyTimeshareNow.com, an independent timeshare resale and rental company.

    877/815-4227

  • Sussex County Fairgrounds
  • There's always something fun happening at the Sussex County Fairgrounds. Visit our web site for a full year of family fun, right in your own backyard.

    27 Plains Road, Augusta 07822, 973/948-5500

  • High Point Mountain Motel
  • Pet friendly, AAA-rated motel offers all the comforts of home on seven country acres on a spectacular hillside location minutes from High Point State Park and Appalachian Trail. Cozy, warmly decorated rooms with up-to-your-door parking offer free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs, plus microwaves and minifridges. Kids age 12 and under stay for no extra charge.

    1328 Route 23, Wantage 07461, 973/702-1860

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