Wildflowers and Wandering at New Jersey's Duke Farms
This summer is becoming the summer of fields and flowers. First, it was a visit to Peace Valley Lavender Farm and, this past Saturday, we ventured to Duke Farms. I'm not sure why I haven't been there before now. Duke Farms is located in Hillsborough, right on route 206 for you Central Jersey people. It is the former estate of businessman James Buchanan Duke that encompasses 2,700 acres of land with various farm buildings and plantings. There is a greenhouse for orchids, a great meadow teaming with wildflowers, and bike paths running all over the property. After extensive renovations, it opened up in 2012 to visitors and it is completely FREE. I'm not going to lie that it was a bit hot and sticky for our Saturday visit, but that didn't diminish its beauty at all. Plus there are plenty of shady paths to wander and a café that has everything from water to iced coffee to smoothies. Or you could just wait to go when the weather is cooler since it's open year round.
When you first arrive and park
you'll head into what is the former main house. It is now the orientation center and here you'll find the information desk with maps, interactive exhibits, and the farm café. The exhibits have so much information about the various plants and animals that call this Hunterdon County estate home. It also details all the conservation efforts and how you can play a part. I'm also going to casually mention that the café is actually pretty sweet for a nature center. While my sweaty self settled for a bottle of cold water, they also have smoothies and coffee and even frozen hot chocolate. There's food too, but I was more focused on replenishing all the liquid in my body on that sweaty hot day.
What I wish we had done
when planning our trip to Duke Farms is bring our bikes with us. The trails are extensive and run throughout the park. Even if you don't have a bike with you, there are so many hiking trails. At one point, I dragged Nick on a little side trail, straying from the main paved pathway known as Sycamore Avenue. This led to a little ten minute stroll by brush and wildflowers and tangled bushes. Of course, I was wearing my favorite summer slides. At least the path was gravel and not mud! If you are like me and regularly make poor (but cute) shoe decisions, there are plenty of paved paths. Or pack a pair of sneakers.
Now let's talk about my favorite part of Duke Farms
The Great Meadow. My preferred type of garden is anything out of control. I'm not going to turn up my nose at a well-manicured garden but I love when nature is allowed to just do its thing. The Great Meadow is teaming with grasses and wildflowers and vines. There are bees and monarch butterflies and all sorts of animals that can be heard but not seen. There's a path cut through the middle that makes you feel like you're escaping into nature.
Another favorite is Orchid Range, a large greenhouse used for housing and propagating Duke Farms' orchid and subtropical plant collection. When you're wandering through the fields and trails the building rises out of the trees, all shining glass and bright white iron. It's tiny inside but packed with the most beautiful bright flowers.
Duke Farms is a great spot for an adventure in New Jersey. It's free, full of everything beautiful and wild, and did I mention it's completely free?!? It's open every day except for Wednesday, 8:30-6. The only reason to wait before visiting Duke Farms is for that pesky New Jersey humidity to calm down...so what are you waiting for?!?