Note: This one is on the Jersey side of the river, just north of Trenton, about 40 minutes from Center City.
As much of a garden as a sculpture park, what really sets Grounds for Sculpture apart is the sense of fun.
After appreciating the large-scale “Scream,” step into the attached “Chamber of Internal Dialogue” for some time on the analyst’s couch… and don’t be shocked if you stumble across Manet’s picnickers in the woods (naked ladies, well dressed gentleman, and all).
The brainchild of sculptor Seward Johnson, his goal for the park was to make contemporary sculpture accessible to people from all different backgrounds. Hundreds of sculptures are located throughout the gardens, in all different styles – from founder Johnson’s hyper realistic 3D portrayals of impressionist master pieces (such as Renior’s boating party located appropriately by the lake) to completely abstract works hidden throughout the garden.
And, the gardens here are truly impressive, with beautiful and unique plantings throughout the 42 acres – with stands of impressive bamboo, the “pain garden” filled with spiky plants, a walled garden with mister, and and other displays both large-scale and intimate.
The garden was developed on land adjacent to Seward’s former atelier, the former site of the NJ State fairgrounds. Although, except for a few buildings, not much remains from those days – except for these great mosaics on the old domestic arts building.
Warning: the gardens are very popular and can get really crowded on pretty summer days. It’s probably best to buy tickets in advance and avoid peak times.
Dining: No outside food allowed, but you can purchase a picnic basket by calling in advance. There are 2 cafes, including the photogenic Starry Night decorated french cafe (outdoor tables by pond) in the visitor’s center and another cafe with outside dining on opposite side of park.
If you want to splurge, make reservations at Rat’s. With outdoor tables in Monet’s garden, the setting hard to beat. Food and service can be hit or miss, but great when the stars align. One meal I ate here was fantastic, one was average, but it’s fun for a lunch time splurge on a pretty day when you can sit outside.
It looks really cool! I love a sculpture park that doesn’t take itself too seriously! My preference will always be for sitting inside rather than going outside, but if I’m going to go for a walk, I at least want something interesting to look at.
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I love places with a sense of humor! That said, I did get hollered at once when the kids were little and I tried to eat a picnic in their parking lot. I get so annoyed at pretentiousness at sculpture parks. I get the whole protect the art thing, but these pieces are outside in all weather with birds pooping on them. And, we were in the parking lot!!
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