When one thinks of New Jersey, especially if you’re a native New Yorker, “vacation” does not come to mind. What many people underestimate about the Garden State are its beautiful gardens (yes, the state doesn’t have that name for no reason!).
New Jersey also has a glorious coastline, but I didn’t see it on this trip. I usually spend at least three weeks each summer on the Jersey shore on the quaint and underpopulated Long Beach Island. Instead, I chose to visit Trenton, easily accessible from NYC or Philly by public transport. Arriving at the Seward Johnson Center of the Arts, the underwriter for Grounds for Sculpture, it was a perfect spring day. Breezy and 66 degrees, the wisteria, oak, and pines swayed easily as we rode a golf cart throughout the gardens for a one-hour private tour.
Grounds for Sculpture is a not-for-profit sculpture park, arboretum, and museum, founded by the late Seward Johnson, a sculptor of modern realism whose ginormous figures based on paintings from artists as diverse as Monet, Matisse, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic dot the landscape of the 42-acre park.
GFS is located on the former New Jersey Fairgrounds, built in the Robert Moses style of architecture in the tri-state areas’ public buildings and spaces from beaches to zoos and parks. Johnson envisioned a place to exhibit sculpture in nature; GFS features nearly 300 contemporary sculptures by renowned and up-and-coming artists. I liked SinJin by Zero Higashida.
The wondrous gardens include the Bamboo Observation Tower, the Water Garden, Red Maple Allée, Wisteria Pergola, and Lotus Pond Gazebo. It now provides a fertile home for thousands of trees, flowering shrubs, and diverse plants. Jersey’s wildlife appeared throughout our tour, including bumble bees, mallards, peacocks, cardinals, rabbits, crows, and other birds.
Open all year round, and there are programs for families and something for everyone. Late nights in summer and weekends are open until 9 pm. They have wellness programs for seniors, meditation classes, art-making, and more.