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The Gardens

annual garden

Annual Garden

Like that in all the formal gardens at Skylands, the layout of this garden has not been changed from the original design. It is the only garden at Skylands in which the main plantings are annuals. The displays in this garden therefore change not only through the seasons, but also from year to year. Note the small Four Seasons statues in the corners, and the Fawns which anchor the Ovals. Some of the benches here and in other parts of the garden were given by NJBG/Skylands Association.

(Adobe Acrobat PDF Annual map available in season)

perennial border

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Perennial Border

NJBG volunteers have restored this area to Mr. Lewis' original design. Here you will see a colorful floral display which changes with the seasons. This garden requires intensive cultivation.

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Crab Apple Allée

We have come to one of Skylands' most spectacular attractions, the Crab Apple Allée. In early May, a profusion of pink blossoms stretches a half mile up the gentle slope to the Lodge.

crab apple allee in early Spring

At the south end of the Allée is the horse-chestnut collection, and to the east is Swan Pond and the Meadow, a field for moisture-loving plants such as Flag Iris, as well as some of Skylands' many varieties of willow. Higher parts of the meadow contain nut trees. The Allée marks the boundary between formal gardens to the west, near the manor house, and the informal and Wildflower gardens to the east, at the foot of Mount Defiance here in the Ramapo Mountains.

Along the eastern edge of the meadow note the planet signs for NJBG's scale model Solar System, which stretches the length of the Allée. On this scale, the Earth is the size of a peppercorn.

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Hosta/Rhododendron Garden

The fenced-in Rhododendron Garden also contains a large collection of hostas. These range in size from miniature to giant and sport various shades of blue, green, and yellow-gold foliage, along with white and gold variegations.


Surrounding them is a splendid collection of mature rhododendrons and azaleas. This garden is at its best in late May and June.

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Moraine Garden

New Jersey is home to many moraines, deposits of rock left behind by melting glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age. Mr. Lewis created this garden of mostly ground-hugging alpines which thrive on rocky slopes with water seeping beneath. Look for heather, sedums, gentians, dwarf conifers, and many low creeping plants.

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primrose and water

Wildflower Garden

Winding wooded trails, stepping stone bridges and a frog-friendly Bog Pond make this part of the garden a favorite for youngsters. Wildflowers and ferns are found throughout, with a beautiful display of Japanese primroses in late spring.

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Lilac Garden

On the East Lawn, immediately adjoining the terraces, is Skylands' extensive lilac collection, It contains over one hundred varieties.

lilacs and bench

This garden is at its best near the middle of May, although some species will continue their bloom into June. The lilac's genus name, Syringa, is derived from the Greek word syrinx for "pipe," a reference to the hollow shoots. Lilacs belong to the olive family (Oleaceae) and therefore are related to white ash and privet. They are native to Europe and temperate Asia, where they grow as large shrubs or small trees.

Presumably, some lilacs predate Lewis at Skylands. Lilacs have been popular shrubs since Colonial times because of their ease of culture and their fragrant spring flowers. One of the first varieties to be recorded in Mr. Lewis' plant accession books is Syringa x persica, which he procured in 1923. In 1928, the Japanese tree lilac (Syringa reticulata), and the Chinese lilac (Syringa x chinensis) were purchased along with the French hybrids "Edouard Andre´" and "Mme. Abel Chatenay."

(Download our printable Adobe Acrobat PDF Lilac guide)

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Peony Garden

Memory Bench in the Peony Garden is encircled by Canadian hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis). Family ashes were to have been placed in small vaults on each side of the bench, but they never were. Vandals have stolen the bronze plates that covered the vaults.

The tree peonies here are native to western China. Unlike commonly known peonies, they are shrubby, with woody stems (in China, called King of Flowers). Background plantings of deciduous flowering shrubs include Weigela, Mock Orange, Kolkwitzia and Deutzia, which were popular in Victorian times.

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sun garden beds

Summer Garden

This lovely little garden was originally the site of a rose garden. Air stagnation caused by the yew hedges made maintenance difficult, and the roses were replaced by day lilies. Because they are disease resistant, day lilies need less care and put on a colorful show during the summer months. Other summer annuals planted here vary from year to year, and you can count on a cheerful daffodil display every spring.

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water lillies

Azalea Garden

Banks of azaleas and rhododendrons on both sides of the reflecting pool bloom in every conceivable shade. Hybrids include the white Boule de Neige (French for snowball), Pink Twins and the vivid red Nova Zembla. The Japanese maple (Acer palmatum 'dissectum') at the head of the pool and the globose sourwood (Oxydendron arboreum 'globosum') are particularly striking in their crimson autumn foliage. Next to the maple is a mature mountain silver bell tree (Halesia monticola). In spring, look for the Double Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida 'pluribracta').

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magnolia walk

Magnolia Walk

The sweet bay magnolias in Magnolia Walk are unusual because of their number and size this far north (they are a southern species). Mr. Lewis planted them close to the house so that their sweet fragrance would drift into the manor windows in June. Note the many unusual shrubs on each side, including scented viburnums, honeysuckles and fragrant mahonias.

East of the walk is an unusual columnar form of the sugar maple, the Sentry maple (Acer saccharum monumentale). And to the west is a Kentucky coffee tree. Its bark and very thick branches are interesting additions to the winter landscape. Also here are the Japanese pagoda tree (Sophora japonica), which blooms in August, and the fall-blooming golden-rain tree (Koelreuteria paniculata apiculata).

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octagonal garden and fountain

Octagonal Garden

The rock garden surrounding the Octagonal Pool was designed so that small plants would be waist high, thus easily shown and maintained. It has been carefully restored, and its many dwarf plants are nicely displayed. Among them are Sedum gypsicolum, a creeping evergreen from Spain, the yellow-flowered Friogonum flavum from the mountains of the western United States, and monkshood (Aconitum anthora) from the Pyrenees.

The original yews between the stairways have grown out of proportion, but two Alberta spruces, also original, are still fine specimens because of their slow growth. On the east side of the courtyard is the Chinese toon tree (Toona sinensis), which, because of its interesting bark, open crown and large white blooms, is an excellent companion planting with shrubs.

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Winter Garden

Lewis planted much of this garden in 1927-1928, but the red oak in front of the manor house library window overlooking the Winter Garden dates back to the 1890's. At that time it was surrounded by Stetson's nine-hole golf course. Mr. Lewis' Winter Garden is a collection of forms, textures and colors to stimulate the senses in winter. Notice the golds, blues and reds among the many evergreens.

winter garden

On the west side of the Winter Garden is New Jersey's largest Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi). The east side is dominated by a weeping beech next to an upright beech that is a century old, planted by Stetson. The Japanese umbrella pine (Sciadopitys verticillata) is one of the most distinctive and handsome conifers at Skylands, and was planted by Stetson sometime between 1891 and 1920. The densely conical, almost columnar appearance of the tree, and its bold dark green needles, attract great attention to this specimen. In its native Japan, the tree attains a height of 120 feet, but the specimen at Skylands is considered large for the Northeast.

Other interesting trees include an Algerian fir (Abies numidica), which was grown from seed in 1931. The tree attains a height of 70 feet in its native Algeria, where it can be found growing among Atlas cedars. The tree bears seven-inch purple cones which stand erect above the glossy green flat needles.

The Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica), also a native of North Africa, is distinguished by its graceful appearance, erect cones and clusters of one-inch long needles borne on spur shoots. The Atlas cedar growing in the Winter Garden was purchased by Mr. Lewis in April 1928. The less-erect blue type can be found next to the green form.

(Download our printable Adobe Acrobat PDF Conifer guide)

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