Century-old Rutgers Gardens, originally a horticultural research site the evolved into public gardens with blooming perennials, is getting a $70 million makeover.

James M. O’Neill/NorthJersey.com

Rutgers Gardens is getting a makeover.

The 180-acre site, just down the road from Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus, started out a century ago as a learning space for local farmers, but over the years it transitioned into a lush green getaway spot where people can wander among blooming perennials and stately hollies.

Now a new master plan lays out major changes for the gardens. The $70 million in upgrades will include a 1.5-mile educational path designed to teach visitors about the evolution of plants, trees and grasses over 400 million years of the Earth’s history.

The proposed path would take visitors on an interactive, educational journey, said Bruce Crawford, who has been Rutgers Gardens’ director since 2005.

It would start with stone, water and soil, then proceed to mosses and ferns, and move along to some early tree species, such as pines, cycads, gingkos, cypresses and magnolias.

Later, visitors would come upon flowering plants, a water lily display and, finally, a lawn, since grasses appeared more than 60 million years after water lilies. At the end, there would be a 3- or 4-acre farm.

“A new type of public garden will tell the story of how geologic, geographic and climatologic changes, and the development of insect and animal life over 400 million years, helped shape the plants we now see around…