274 Old Short Hills Road
A former private estate, this 28-acre public space has 27 garden areas overlooking a vast preserve of forest and meadows. The estate, built in 1912 for the family of real estate auctioneer Joseph P. Day, became a nonprofit conservation center in 2003 and has been newly restored with native plantings and exotic species such as yellow-flowered Japanese lilac and Japanese flowering almonds. Moss-covered footpaths are clearly marked for visitors to follow through the Italianate garden terraces, grottoes and allées of sycamore and spruce trees. The gardens open April 28; Saturday afternoon educational programs begin in May. Volunteers are needed to help tend the gardens on Mondays and Wednesdays. Greenwood Gardens is open Friday and Saturday, 10 am to 3 pm, and Sunday, 1 pm to 5 pm. Admission is $10.
Barton Arboretum and Nature Preserve
One Medford Way at Medford Leas
This unique public space is set within the sprawling Medford Leas adult community, with pathways meandering among its many private residences. There are more than 1,300 trees representing about 200 different species; each can be identified using a GPS device. The 168-acre preserve features 33 courtyard gardens, landscaped meadows, natural woodlands and wetlands. Ample benches invite a pause for peaceful reflection. Check the website for a calendar of seminars, lectures and guided tours. There’s no fee to wander, but guests are asked to register at the Medford Campus Community Building, where self-guided tour maps are provided.
Morven Museum and Garden
55 Stockton Street
The 18th-century home of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, Morven later served as the governor’s mansion. It was converted into a museum in 2004 and now houses permanent and temporary exhibitions related to the cultural heritage of the Garden State. But the surrounding gardens are Morven’s real draw. The five acres are planted with heirloom annuals dating to the 18th and 19th centuries; blooming begins in April with tulips and daffodils, followed by peonies and irises in May. The display of color continues through the summer months. Guided one-hour tours are offered most days. The museum and gardens are open January through November, Wednesday through Friday, 11 am to 3 pm, and weekends, noon to 4 pm. Admission is $6.
Presby Memorial Iris Gardens
474 Upper Mountain Avenue
The pride of Upper Montclair is a spectacular sight—if you time it right. The nearly 14,000 irises in about 3,000 varieties bloom for but a few weeks starting in mid-May. By early June, it’s over. (This season’s expected dates are May 10 through June 5.) Launched in 1927 to honor local horticulturalist and American Iris Society founder Frank H. Presby, this public garden is the largest of its kind in the nation. Bring a blanket and a picnic basket, and enjoy Presby’s riot of color from the hillside above its gracefully arcing rows of blooms. The garden is open daily in season, dawn to dusk; during iris season you can order a grab bag of rhizomes dug from Presby’s own beds. Suggested donation: $5 a person. Street parking is available on Upper Mountain Avenue and Highland Avenue.
300 Longview Road (14 Longview for GPS)
Springtime at Willowwood Arboretum resounds with daffodils, cherries, magnolias and lilacs, along with flowering dogwood and crabapple trees. Once a private residence, the 130 acres were developed by Henry and Robert Tubbs, weekend horticulturalists who transformed the land in the early 1900s. It’s now home to 2,100 native and exotic plants; there are 65 varieties of magnolias alone. Stroll through the Bee Meadow, Conservatory, Cottage Garden, Cypress Lawn and other gardens. Most trees are tagged for easy identification. Bring a picnic—there are shaded picnic tables—and spend the day. Admission is free, 365 days a year, dawn to dusk.