Sister Mary Grace Burns Arboretum of Georgian Court University

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Go to clickable image map of arboretum

Italian Garden
Japanese Garden
Sunken Garden
Formal Garden
Sunken Garden


Georgian Court University was formerly the winter home of George Jay Gould, millionaire son of railroad tycoon Jay Gould. The architect Bruce Price was hired to transform the land, purchased in 1896, into a lavish country estate resembling an English estate of the Georgian period; therefore, it was named Georgian Court. In addition to designing the buildings, Bruce Price designed three of the four historic gardens: the Classic or Italian Gardens, the Sunken Garden or Lagoon, and the Formal Garden. The garden designer Takeo Shiota designed the Japanese Garden.

The sandy soils of the New Jersey Pine Barrens were not conducive to the cultivation of the exotic plants the Goulds wanted to grow. To provide rich topsoil, fine loam was brought to Georgian Court from neighboring Monmouth County. George Gould died in 1923. The Sisters of Mercy bought the estate in 1924, moving their College of Mount Saint Mary to the site. The Gould family requested that the name of the estate be retained, so the college became Georgian Court University.

The arboretum, established in 1989, is named after Sister Mary Grace Burns, a professor of biology from 1927 to 1968. It comprises the cultivated parts of the campus (approx. 100 acres). In addition to a large number of exotic plant species, the arboretum features a good collection of native plants of the New Jersey Pine Barrens (New Jersey Pinelands). Most of the pinelands plants are scattered throughout the arboretum. Most notably, we have a number of very large and old oaks (mostly chestnut, black and white) and pines (mostly shortleaf but also pitch). These species are well adapted to our climate and soils, and are found on most parts of the campus. The densest concentration of oaks is on oak knoll, the highest elevation on campus just past the university's entrance gate. The largest white oak in Ocean County is located behind our Sister Mary Joseph Cunningham Library -- we have a total of 16 trees that are the biggest of their species in Ocean County.

Mission Statement

The S. Mary Grace Burns Arboretum of Georgian Court University, acting in harmony and interdependence with all creation through sustainable landscaping practices, has the mission of preserving and enhancing the unique botanical heritage of the former Georgian Court estate and its gardens, while promoting its use for education, research, enjoyment and inspiration. Species added to the four historic gardens augment the gardens' authenticity. The New Jersey Pinelands flora is maintained and expanded. Additions to the arboretum include species that provide interesting colors, textures and fragrances throughout the year. Collections are developed that build upon the historic botanical strengths of the grounds.

More About the Arboretum

The arboretum is an ongoing project of the biology faculty and staff. The director of the arboretum is Dr. Michael Gross. The assistant director is Sister Mary Bilderback.

For information about the tree collection, call 732.987.2373 or 732.987.2203, or e-mail Dr. Gross, or go to our list of woody plants and their location on campus.

If you are interested in donating a woody plant, want to know how we map and keep track of our trees, or want to know why many of our trees and shrubs are fenced, click here. For photographs of some of the fountains, statues and urns not shown in other sections of the Web site, click here.

For a list of some of the many non-plant species on campus, visit our All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory!

We welcome visitors! The arboretum is open from 8 AM until dusk daily, year-round with the exception of spring Commencement and other major event days (posted here two weeks ahead of time). We suggest printing a copy of the campus map so that you can more easily enjoy your self-guided tour of our plants and gardens (you will probably be asked to park in lot A or B). Our campus is a national historic landmark, and we hope you enjoy our statuary and historic building exteriors during your visit. To ensure the safety and security of you and our students, guests are not permitted in any of the university buildings (except the library). You may also be interested in driving directions. If you are interested in bringing a group (i.e., more than one personal car full of people) onto the campus, please call 732.987.2285 (Office of Special Events and Conferences). The campus as a whole is handicapped accessible, but the sunken garden is not, and most paths through the formal, Italian and Japanese gardens are pebble-covered and narrow. The 32-page color 2012 edition of the arboretum booklet is available in pdf (click here). The self-guided tour begins in front of Farley Center. It is sometimes possible to arrange a group tour. We also have a native New Jersey Pine Barrens Woody Plant Species tour handout and a guide to our collection of Famous and Historic Trees purchased from American Forests

Weddings cannot be held outdoors. Indoor weddings in the Chapel are permitted for alumni and current students and employees (contact Office of Campus Ministry --732-987-2691-- for policy and information). Wedding photos are permitted for people with an affiliation to GCU (contact 732-987-2285 Conferences and Special Events for more information). Regarding photographs of the campus/grounds (NOT wedding photos): Professional photographs are permitted ($250/hr fee first hr, then $50/hr; contact 732-987-2285 for permit), and personal photographs are permitted if not sold or used for commercial purposes (complete this waiver). Please contact 732-987-2285 Conf. and Special Events with any questions about the photography policy.

In keeping with the historic nature of the former George Gould estate, our gardens feature woody plants, statues, fountains, Japanese teahouses/stone lanterns, bridges, etc., with very few showy annuals or perennials. Many of the new additions to the arboretum are seedlings of their parents to ensure the continued presence of genotypes adapted to our landscape. Most of the annuals are in urns in the Italian Gardens and the periphery of the Formal Garden. Beds of the formal garden contain dianthus, irises, and some other species, and the garden itself is ringed by peonies. Please also enjoy the many flowering plants in the two gardens in front of the library. Do not let the fence prevent you from entering the Wellness Garden (click here for plant list) between the bookstore and the Wellness Center. A new deer-resistant garden is located between the dance studios and the athletic department at the Wellness Center.

Georgian Court University has signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment. To reduce our carbon footprint and live in a sustainable manner with minimal adverse effects on our environment, our gardens are not irrigated, and we minimize our use of fertilizers and pesticides. We no longer regularly mow some less-trafficked areas to reduce noise and chemical pollution from mowing, reduce stormwater runoff, moderate temperatures, and promote the growth of natural vegetation. We thank you for appreciating the more natural appearance these practices give our historic landscape and the enhanced wildlife habitat we are providing.

If you are a student in need of leaves/twigs for a school project, please help yourself to a leaf/small twig from any tree having more than 50 leaves.

Color/Fragrance, July 26-Aug 2:  

  • Green, blue and yellow conifer foliage -- Four Historic Grdns and Founders' Grove
  • Geraniums in urns -- Formal and Italian Gardens
  • Chicory, bee balm, black-eyed Susan, St John's wort, echinacea, butterfly weed, yarrow, Clethra, cardinal flower -- Wellness Garden 
  • Assorted annuals and perennials -- east side of Mercedes, north of McAuley, courtyard at McAuley
  • Purple flowers of chaste tree -- formal garden circle, front of wellness center, wellness garden, front of Jeffries Hall
  • White flowers of sourwood -- between Ital Grdn and Raymond Hall, and south of Jpn Garden
  • Pink and purple flowers of crape myrtle -- front of Jeffries Hall, pergola at Sunken Garden, front of Casino, front of Lake House, Front of St Catherine's Hall
  • White and pink fragrant flowers of Clethra -- Apollo Fountain
  • White flowers of scholar tree -- North of Marron Chapel
  • White flowers of bottlebrush buckeye -- between Farley and Mercedes and south of Japanese Grdn
  • Roses, ageratum, hibiscus -- 7th Street Gate
  • Pink, red, purple, white dianthus, purple Russian sage -- Formal Garden flower beds

We are proud to have Cooperator Status in the Plant Conservation Alliance and are supporting Plants for the Planet.  

The Biology Department houses an herbarium that includes over 400 specimens, about 300 of which were collected in Lakewood.  Click here for a listing of specimens.  Contact Dr. Gross for access.

We are members of the Garden State Gardens Consortium -- click here for a copy of the Garden State Gardens Flyer listing all member gardens. Click here for the handout we provided for a GSG Native Knowledge event. The university is also a member of the:


American Public Gardens Association (formerly known as the Association of
Botanical Gardens and Arboreta).
We participate in APGA's YOUtopia program, in which we have pledged to reduce our arboretum's climate impact and educate our visitors about climate solutions.

© Georgian Court University • 900 Lakewood Ave, Lakewood, NJ 08701 (Best address for GPS is 517 Ninth Street, Lakewood, NJ 08701) • 800·458·8422