Now that azaleas and lilacs are blooming and temperatures are growing higher, it's the perfect time to check out some of the area's gardens. Of course you'll want to start with Longwood Gardens, the horticultural showplace in Kennett Square. But don't stop there, Philadelphia is America's Garden Capital with more than 30 gardens within 30 miles. Here's a sampling (or you could say, sapling) of lesser-known gardens including many outside of the city limits.
PHS Meadowbrook Farm in Jenkintown
Meadowbrook Farm was bequeathed to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) and opened to the public in 2004. The 25-acre garden has a series of intimate spaces it calls “garden rooms” including a succulent garden, a rock garden, a rain garden, and a vegetable garden. The garden staff changes up Meadowbrook each year. This year, the garden will feature a bold and vibrant palette, plants that attract pollinators (think hummingbirds and bees) and vertical design elements such as columns, vines, and hanging baskets. Admission and parking are free, but timed and reserved tickets are needed.
Tip: PHS members get a discount at the plant shop, which offers a variety of succulents, perennials, pots, and specialty plants.
Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania in Northwestern Philadelphia
The winding paths in this 92-acre garden take visitors past beautiful mature trees, streams, a pond populated with swans, formal rose gardens, and a family-oriented activity called “Out on A Limb,” that encourages visitors to experience trees in a whole new way - in a giant tree-level hammock-ish net, on a 450-foot canopy walk, and in a giant bird’s nest. Picnicking is permitted in designated areas. Advanced tickets and masks are required.
Tip: The beloved Garden Railroad, with its quarter-mile track, will re-open on May 29.
Chanticleer in Wayne
This 35-acre botanical garden was once the estate of Adolph Rosengarten, whose family founded a pharmaceutical firm that became part of Merck. After his death, the property was opened to the public. Now visitors can walk around the gardens, along the meandering trails, through orchards and wildflower meadows, and past stone ruins and sculptures. Picnicking, bird watching, and painting are welcome. The garden is open on Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Friday evenings until 8 p.m. and once a month opens at 8 a.m. on Saturdays. The house is currently closed. Guests are asked to don masks when near others. Parking is free but limited, so reservations are required.
Tip: Visit on a weekday or weekends before 11 a.m. for fewer people and more parking.
Tyler Arboretum in Media
Tyler Arboretum sits on land that Thomas Minshall bought from William Penn back in 1681. It was passed down through many generations before becoming an arboretum and opening its doors to the public in 1944. The 650-acres include 17 miles of hiking trails, scenic woodlands, wetlands, meadows, and several historic buildings dating back to the 18th century.
Tip: This time of year the lilac collection and Wister Rhododendron Gardens are “must-see” destinations.
Andalusia Historic Home, Gardens and Arboretum in Bensalem
Visitors can once again tour the grounds of Andalusia Historic Home, Gardens and Arboretum, the former residence of the Biddle family overlooking the Delaware River. The picturesque 65-acre estate is home to native woodlands, spectacular formal gardens, and an early 19th-century Greek Revival mansion (which is currently closed due to the pandemic). The gardens are open for self-guided tours on Mondays through Wednesdays from 10 am to noon or 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and on select Saturdays (about once a month) through October. Advanced tickets are needed.
Tip: Private tours are available for parties of 6 or more.
Silver Lake Nature Center in Bristol
This 468-acre park has 4.5 miles of nature trails that are open from sunrise until sunset. It also has several playgrounds, a butterfly garden, and areas for boating and fishing. Silver Lake Nature Center is home to the Earthship Education Center, a fully-sustainable biostructure made of recycled products. Tours of the Education Center have resumed and visitors can learn how this carbon zero building heats and cools itself, gathers its own water, recycles its own waste and produces its own food.
Tip: Free nature walks are offered on Sundays.
Stoneleigh in Villanova
The former home of the Haas family is now a 42-acre garden with stately trees, lush gardens, and a mile-long paved walking path. Stoneleigh: a natural garden is free and open to the public. The Tudor Revival Mansion is used for programs and houses the Organ Historical Society, an organization that studies pipe organs in America, including one in the house (which is currently closed). Masks are required when visitors are unable to maintain 6 feet from people outside their household.
Tip: Yoga classes are offered on Sunday mornings.
Welkinwer in Pottstown
Welkinwer is a living laboratory for those interested in ecological issues, sustainability and land stewardship. Visitors will find 224 acres dotted with unusual plants and trees, as well as wetlands, meadows, woodland habitats, and seven ponds (some man-made). The historic estate house is now closed to the public, except for group tours of 10 or more.
Tip: Make a day of it, Northern Chester County is full of small, picturesque villages and other hidden gems.
John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove in Audubon
John James Audubon’s first home in America is once again open, as is his 200-acre estate. The beauty of the birds along Perkiomen Creek inspired John James Audobon’s lifelong passion. The John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove preserves his first home in America and the 200-acre estate. The museum focuses on Audubon’s artwork and the nature of birds and the bird trails around the property are open. There are all types of habitats along the 5 miles of trails to attract all kinds of birds.
Tip: The early bird gets the worm. The earlier you visit, the more birds you’ll see.
The Scott Arboretum in Swarthmore
The 425-acre arboretum, which makes up the Swarthmore College campus, has rolling hills, flowering trees and hiking trails. The campus, just 11 miles from Philadephia, is frequently ranked among the most beautiful campuses in the world. Scott Arboretum will re-open on Monday, June 7.
Keep in mind that although the gardens are mainly outdoor destinations, many still require masks and social distancing. Check websites for whether indoor spaces have re-opened, updated health protocol, hours, whether advanced tickets are needed and admission prices.
by Irene Levy Baker, author, 100 Things To Do In Philadelphia and Unique Eats & Eateries of Philadelphia. Both books are full of tips. For even more tips, visit www.100ThingsToDoInPhiladelphia.com. Planning a staycation? Need gifts? Go to the website for signed copies of books. For free shipping, use promo code TheCityPulse.
Click here for more blog postings by Irene Levy Baker including where to find outside exercise classes, pop-up gardens serving food and drink, the new Neon Museum of Philadelphia and more.