Conserve Wildlife Blog

Wild New Jersey: Spring awakens at Rutgers Gardens

April 3rd, 2020

by David Wheeler

Wild New Jersey and the COVID-19 pandemic: During these stressful times of social distancing and isolation, taking solace in the natural world is more valuable than ever. I want to share some of my favorite outdoor oases with you. My hope is that by visiting on your own, with your family, or in some cases with your beloved dog, that you too will find the peace and happiness I feel when spending time in the wildest parts of our state.

On a map of the Garden State, our spiderweb of highways seems to converge right near the middle – the New Jersey Turnpike, and Routes 1 and 18. Of course, this being Jersey, where else to locate a beautiful combination of cultivated gardens and wild woods alongside a scenic brook?

Welcome to Rutgers Gardens!

Entering this oasis is like stepping into a painter’s canvas, its palette of pastels being selected one at a time with each new tree blooming. Yet far from a passive portrait, Rutgers Gardens is bursting with opportunities for quirky activity.

Overly large, bright green Alice in Wonderland-style chairs perfectly suited for optical illusion selfies.

An Alice in Wonderland moment at Rutgers Gardens. Photo by David Wheeler.

A towering bamboo grove that doubles as a human-sized maze with an exotic flavor. An amazing diversity of trees that seem to defy gravity and laws of physics to create a natural jungle gym.

And next to the gardens is Helyar Woods, a 69-acre forest that includes some old-growth areas, replete with a network of winding trails. Opposite the Lawrence Brook, a small creek carves its way through a gentle ravine dotted with skunk cabbage and a couple toddler-sized mini-waterfalls.

Helyar Woods, Photo by Rutgers Gardens

Spring is the season to visit – even if we weren’t all stir-crazy from being stuck inside for the past few weeks. Beyond the colorful blooms and verdant vegetation, wildlife will soon abound. As you would expect, hummingbirds and other pollinators enjoy a never-ending buffet throughout the season. From the skies spring migrants will soon arrive, drawn to its natural shelter, blossoms, fruits, seeds, and insect prey. And reptiles and amphibians from snapping turtles and garter snakes to frogs and salamanders can be found alongside the ponds and wetter areas.

Art Rudolph Sun and Shade Garden, Photo by Rutgers Gardens.

With 18 different gardens to explore, the outdoor areas at Rutgers Gardens remain open for now, with some restrictions. If you prefer, you can explore this wondrous place from home on their website.

Your visit
Rutgers Gardens is located at 130 Log Cabin Road in New Brunswick. While its famed farmers market is closed for now, the gardens and forest remain open for visitors as of this writing – its website hosts up-to-date information on closures or other restrictions. As might be expected as a preserve operated by Rutgers University, the plants and wildlife of Rutgers Gardens and Helyar Woods are well-documented. Like many nature destinations, trails remain open but facilities and events have been closed or cancelled. As with many of our outdoor areas, be sure to keep your dog on a leash.

David Wheeler is the Executive Director of Conserve Wildlife Foundation and author of Wild New Jersey: Nature Adventures in the Garden State.

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