The New Jersey State Botanical Garden is a part of Ringwood State Park, New Jersey Division of Parks and Forestry, Department of Environmental Protection.
The New Jersey State Botanical Garden at Skylands appears on both the State and National Registers of Historic Places.
The New Jersey State Botanical Garden forms the heartland of a property that Francis Lynde Stetson (1846-1920) assembled from pioneer farmsteads here in the Ramapo Mountains. Stetson named his country estate “Skylands Farms” and maintained a stylish mansion of native granite, a working farm with more than thirty outbuildings, gardens and a vast lawn that also served as a nine-hole golf course. A prominent New York lawyer, incorporator of railroads and the U.S. Steel Corporation, he entertained such friends as Grover Cleveland, Andrew Carnegie, Ethel Barrymore and J.P. Morgan here at Skylands. He was a trustee of the New York Botanical Garden and chose Samuel Parsons, Jr., a protégé of Frederick Law Olmsted, to lay out his estate.
Parsons, founder of the American Society of Landscape Architects and New York City parks commissioner, designed the grounds, drainage systems and roads. He later used photos of his Skylands work, including Swan Pond, to illustrate his book, The Art of Landscape Architecture, Its Development and Its Application to Modern Landscape Gardening, a definitive text (1915).
Skylands was sold in 1922 to Clarence McKenzie Lewis (1877-1959), an investment banker and also a trustee of the New York Botanical Garden. When Mr. Lewis purchased the property, he set out to make it a botanical showplace. The Stetson house was torn down, and the current Tudor mansion of native granite was built on the site.
Lewis engaged the most prominent landscape architects of his day, the firm Vitale and Geiffert, to design the gardens around his new summer home. Feruccio Vitale (1875-1933), who specialized in private estates, included among his clients John Wanamaker. Alfred Geiffert (1890-1957) designed Rockefeller Center, the grounds of Princeton University, and the National Gallery of Art. Photos of their work illustrate an Encyclopedia Britannica article on landscape architecture.
Most of the trees now framing the house were planted at that time, including the magnificent copper beeches. Lewis stressed symmetry, color, texture, form and fragrance in his gardens. He wanted to appeal to the senses. For thirty years, Lewis collected plants from all over the world and from New Jersey roadsides. The result is one of the finest collections of plants in the state. Lewis had over 60 gardeners working in peak seasons.
In 1966, New Jersey purchased the 1,117 acres of Skylands from Shelton College, which had used it as a campus.
The Honorable Robert Roe, then commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Economic Development, said, “I regard the preservation of this area of the state as essential and a foremost opportunity to meet the Green Acres objectives.” The Skylands Garden was the first property purchased under the Green Acres program.
In March 1984, Governor Thomas Kean designated the central 96 acres surrounding the manor house as the State’s official botanical garden. It has been placed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places.