City Seedling: Day Trip: Cross Estate Gardens

Ah, summer in Jersey City: Coco helado, farmer’s markets, Groove on Grove, films in Van Vorst Park. Standing outside Torico’s waiting and waiting for the renovations to be finished so I can get my cinnamon ice cream fix.

Let’s not forget the power outages, drunk people yelling outside your open window at 2 in the morning, and the spike in crime.

I love Jersey City, but sometimes I just need to get the hell out of Dodge. Luckily, we have a car and my husband loves to drive. And I enjoy spacing out in the passenger seat.

This weekend we took a drive out to Bernardsville in Morris County to visit Cross Estate, a small botanical garden. It’s a 40 minute drive, but well worth it.

Cross Estate Garden is the kind of place you read about in old novels when you were a kid. It feels out of another era. It is a relatively unknown garden, so there were very few people when we were there. At first it seemed quiet and still, but after a few moments, I became aware of the abundance of life around me. Several types of bees, dozens of butterflies and even hummingbirds, all making noise and moving around and living their lives. I wondered how often, if ever, these animals left Cross Estate. It was a little pollinator utopia.

There are a few different areas of planting. There is a beautiful shade garden, shade kindly provided by a gorgeous redwood.

Pass through the shade garden, and under the wisteria (not in bloom right now) to enter the English style garden.

Just beyond the first garden is a slightly more formal perennial garden, with poppies and other beauties.

As you exit the formal gardens, you will walk through a rhododendron orchard, which is beautiful and spooky.

Beyond the gardens are some woods with short trails to spend a few minutes exploring. There are a few ruins to keep an eye out for.

There are benches located throughout the gardens, and it is a wonderful place to bring a picnic and relax for a couple of hours. Well-behaved, leashed dogs are allowed. If you are looking for other activities in the area, check out the Great Swamp or Washington’s Headquarters in Morristown. For a snack, visit Stewart’s in nearby Gillette for root beer floats. Bernardsville is a great area to drive around and gawk at mansions, if you’re into that sort of thing. Or stop in at a pub and perhaps you’ll see local residents Bill Moyers and Mark Ecko throwing back a few. Yeah, it’s that kind of town.

Cross Estate is the kind of place you should visit multiple times during the season to catch all the perennials and flowering shrubs. In the spring, Cross Estate has a plant sale which I hope to get to next year.

Happy growing,


Do you have a gardening question/comment/angry rant you’d like to share with Emily? Post it in the comments!

Emily Helck

a lifelong New Jersey resident who moved to Jersey City in 2006. She earned an MA in English and writing from Fordham University. In addition to blogging about gardening in the city, her personal blog RTONJ is about being a young adult with cancer. She lives downtown with a dog, two cats, and her husband.