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Gardens of Somerset County are year round attractions for residents

The Gardens of Somerset County are offering garden enthusiasts a wide-range of experience year round. 

In the county, residents and guests are able to view gardens in Hillsborough Township, Bernardsville, Franklin Township and Far Hills.

“Somerset County’s gardens are among our most diverse and popular attractions,” said Jacqueline Morales, Somerset County tourism director. “Some offer public education and all offer visitors the chance to experience unmatched flora and unique botanical landscapes.”

Morales said that visitors even come from Philadelphia and New York City because of the county’s accessibility with interstates and major highways.

One of the gardens the county highlights is the Orchid Range at Duke Farms in Hillsborough Township. According to county officials, 4,500 distinct orchids that come in 1,400 varieties are cultivated and bloom all year.

“People love coming during the winter and seeing those pops of color. In fact, our bloom season peaks in the wintertime,” said Nora DiChiara, director of Strategic Planning and Programs.  

Duke Farms also features other parts of the garden that include the arboretum, an Asian-inspired meditation, sunken garden with a water feature that overlooks the Great Meadow, Duke Farms’ centerpiece. 

“The sunken garden area is a great place to take pictures or enjoy a picnic on the lawn. There are four paths leading down to the bowl-shaped garden, which has a fountain that runs all day, pollinator plants, native grasses and 100-year-old lampposts,” DiChiara said.  “The arboretum currently has around 40 species of trees and shrubs, and the state’s third largest gingko tree, which dates back to industrialist J.B. Duke’s time.”

She said the goal is to eventually get to 100 different wood and tree species planted in the arboretum and become nationally recognized.

This summer, Duke Farms launched a pollinator garden to attract butterflies and bees to native plants, according to officials. 

The farm will also host a “Monarch & Meadow” program for the month of August, that will focus on the Great Meadow and Orchid Range. 

Featured in the county as well are the Cross Estate Gardens in Bernardsville. 

The garden sits on property owned by the National Park Service, on the site of the New Jersey Brigade Unit of Morristown National Historical Park.

A project of the non-profit New Jersey Historical Garden Foundation, Cross Estate features formal and natural gardens, a wisteria-covered pergola and mountain laurel allée planted for the wedding of the estate’s former owner from 80 years ago.

The gardens were conceived by Mrs. Cross, a past president of the Garden Club of Somerset Hills, who worked with her head gardener to design and build stone walls, paths and different garden areas visitors enjoy today. 

They are maintained by a corps of about 35 dedicated volunteers who began their work in the mid-1970s after the park service acquired the land following Cross’ death. 

“The gardens had fallen into such disrepair but they are gorgeous now, thanks to the foundation volunteers,” said Joan Ryder, president of NJ Historical Garden Foundation. “The walled garden is planted with colorful perennials that offer different blooms every week during the season, and the natural garden has many winding paths that were installed by one of our early supporters.”

Among the other public gardens throughout the county is Leonard J. Buck Garden in Far Hills. Situated in a woodland ravine that was carved out 11,000 years ago after the retreat of the Wisconsin glacier sheet, the 33-acre property comprises approximately 12 carefully cultivated and maintained acres with plantings around 12 rock outcroppings.

“Leonard J. Buck Garden is a wonderful example of a naturalistic garden and is quite unique in a few ways,” said Patricia Scibilia, an interpretive gardener at Leonard J. Buck Garden. “Unlike other rock gardens, Buck is not man-made; each outcropping is slightly different, which creates varying exposures and microclimates in which different plant species will thrive. Therefore, each rock has its own varieties of plantings that will grow in that spot.”

Officials said the garden is owned and managed by the Somerset County Park Commission and is a popular tour site for master gardeners and garden clubs.

The Rudolf W. van der Goot Rose Garden, located in Colonial Park in Franklin Township, is also an option for garden buffs.

“It’s a very special place; we are so proud of our heirlooms and beautiful award-winning collection,” said Shauna Moore, horticulture supervisor.

Officials said the one-acre garden comprises of 3,300 roses representing about 300 varieties.

Other sites for garden enthusiasts include the private gardens at Peony’s Envy in Bernardsville, at the home of owner Kathleen Gagan, which are open each spring to the public. 

“We invite people to pretend it’s their garden, bring a picnic dinner and blanket, sit on the lawn and take in the view,” Gagan said. “We grow over 300 of the best peony varieties we can find. It’s a living museum here, a private gallery that I am delighted to share with others.” 

Gagan opened up her private garden to the public in 2007 to showcase and share the beauty of the flowers in bloom. She also grows other flowers in a variegated garden. 

For more information about the gardens in Somerset County, visit www.visitsomersetnj.org.

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