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Ivy League

By Linda Tancs

When author and former Princetonian F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in This Side of Paradise that Princeton, New Jersey is good-looking, he must have been inspired by a stroll through its public parks and gardens. Boasting a range of heirloom plants, bulbs, wildflowers, mature trees, peeking peonies and exploding irises, the springtime blooms of the town’s greenways await you.  Start your tour at Morven, the official governor’s residence from 1945 to 1981.  As you walk the rolling back lawn of this estate named after a mythical Gaelic kingdom, you’ll spot towering trees that are at least as old as our country.  This Georgian-style mansion was, after all, the ancestral home of Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Step gingerly around the beds of heirloom annuals from the 18th and 19th centuries and onwards to a re-creation of a Colonial Revival-style garden of the early 20th century.

For a less antique perspective, roam through Princeton’s nature preserves, parks and refuges. In the northeastern section of town, you’ll find Herrontown Woods, a completely wooded park best noted for its color-coded, three-mile hiking trails ringed with oaks, red maples, flowering dogwoods and Japanese honeysuckle.  Claiming six of its 35-mile tract in Princeton in a north to south stretch, the Delaware & Raritan Canal evokes images of the Irish immigrants who forged the waterway with pickaxes and shovels to create a passageway for coal transport.  The tree canopies, some extending up to 50 feet in height, provide lush cover for several species of warblers that predominate in the spring from the Charles H. Rogers Wildlife Refuge nearby.  A noted ornithologist, Rogers played a key role in establishing the sanctuary, where springtime blooms amidst its 39 acres include trout lilies, violets and irises.  At the steepest southern ridge in town, Woodfield Reservation greets visitors with a full understory of wildflowers and a convergence of spring leaves in the park’s center that locals say is not to be missed. You’ll find convergence of another kind—wetlands and meadows—at Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve, a Y-shaped valley originally granted to colonist William Penn from England’s King James II.  Particularly stunning are the “seven sister” cluster of red oaks at the northern boundary, flowering daisies and buttercups in the meadows, and an array of spring beauties in the wetlands.  Finally, in the western area of town lies Marquand Park, host to an arboretum including eleven trees that are the largest of their kind in the state.  And that’s not the park’s only distinction.  It also sports two record-setting fir trees from North Syria and Greece.  Thankfully, most of the 200 species of trees found here are mapped and tagged.

Beauty may rest in the eye of the beholder, but Fitzgerald certainly was on to something.

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