Greater Philadelphia’s horticultural history took root just after Quaker pioneer William Penn founded Pennsylvania. Inspired by the promise of the region’s religious tolerance, Quakers followed their spiritual leader to the newfound city. There, they sought to know God through nature. Their gardening tradition thrives still today. Greater Philadelphia claims North America’s oldest botanic garden (Bartram’s Garden), the oldest garden in its original plan in America (at Wyck), the site of its first Japanese garden (Shofuso) and other botanical beauties that wow researchers, home gardeners and nature lovers. With more than 30 gardens within 30 miles of the city—many of which began pre-Revolution—Philadelphia earns its heavyweight horticultural reputation as the cradle of horticulture and America’s garden capital.
- Awbury Arboretum: Germantown, the site of British encampment and an integral 1777 battle in American Revolutionary War, had become quiet farmland by 1852, when the Quaker Cope family purchased land there for a summer residence. The Copes named the parcel after their English hometown of Avebury and hired famed horticulturalist William Saunders to assist with the design of the estate in traditional English style. As Germantown continued to develop throughout the latter half of the 19th century, concern for the preservation of this unusual landscape led to the establishment of the 55-acre property as a free and open public arboretum in 1916 by several Cope family members. Visitors come for the meadows, wetlands, trails, beautiful trees, birds, greenhouses, community garden and farm, which produces food for area markets and hunger organizations. Free. 1 Awbury Road, (215) 849-2855, awbury.org
- Bartram’s Garden: Founded in 1728, North America’s oldest botanical garden belonged to Quaker John Bartram, Sr., botanist to King George III from 1765 until the Pennsylvanian’s death in 1777. Self-taught, Bartram collected and cultivated plant specimens from the colonies and England, selling seeds to Europeans and to Thomas Jefferson, for his Monticello home. Bartram’s knowledge attracted the friendship of fellow scientist Benjamin Franklin—with whom he co-founded the American Philosophical Society—and the attention of President George Washington, who, in 1787, described Bartram’s landscaping as “not laid off with much taste.” Modern-day visitors come to tour the 1730 Bartram House and its surrounding 45 acres, which feature a colonial-era greenhouse, a cider press, the oldest gingko tree in North America as well as a rare, circa 1777 Franklinia alatamaha, named for Franklin. Boats and kayaks are available to borrow on Saturdays from spring to late autumn. Free. (Guided tours available for a small fee.) 5400 Lindbergh Boulevard, (215) 729-5281, bartramsgarden.org
- Historic District Gardens: Before and during colonial times, gardens took the form of planted spaces and kitchen gardens alongside Philadelphia homes and full-fledged farms on the outskirts of the original city. Today, Philadelphia’s Historic District offers pocket and large parks, including the 50-year-old green expanse that is Independence Mall. There are also five nearly hidden gardens, landscaped in the style of the day. The geometric 18th-Century Garden grew from a site that contained a larger garden from 1750 to 1783. An example of a formal English landscaping popular during the Revolutionary era, the current configuration features raised flowerbeds, rows of walkways and a pergola. The Daughters of the Revolution donated garden beds and planted 96 varieties of Old Roses in the Rose Garden, located on the site of a circa 1796 horse stable, to honor signers of the Declaration of Independence. The Magnolia Garden, inspired by George Washington’s fondness for the plant, contains 13 different magnolia trees that represent the 13 colonies. The Rush Garden was built on the site of the Benjamin Rush House and features a symmetric, 18th-century style garden of four beds surrounded by brick walls and wrought iron. Designed by Benjamin Franklin and updated in 1975 by Robert Venturi, Franklin Court has a pergola, formal raised flower and tree beds and an espalier of crabapple trees. Free. 18th-Century, Walnut Street between 3rd & 4th Streets; Rose, Locust Street between 4th & 5th Streets; Magnolia, Locust Street between 4th & 5th Streets; Rush, 3rd & Walnut Streets; Franklin Court, between Chestnut & Market Streets and 3rd & 4th Streets, (215) 965-2305, nps.gov/inde
- Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania: The official Arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania consists of 92 rolling acres in Chestnut Hill. When Quaker siblings John and Lydia Morris purchased the site in 1887, they transformed a barren summer estate into a landscape dedicated to natural beauty and knowledge. In 1932, the family gifted the arboretum to its current owner, the University of Pennsylvania. Visitors spend the day luxuriating and learning in Morris’ gardens, meadows, sculptures, Swan Pond and Tree Adventure exhibit. 100 E. Northwestern Avenue, (215) 247-5777, morrisarboretum.org
- Shofuso Japanese House and Garden: Shofuso, site of the continent’s first Japanese garden as created for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, today includes a traditional 17th century-style house—a 1953 postwar gift from Japan to the U.S.—and a 1.2 acre Japanese pond and garden by landscape designer Tansai Sano. Wednesday through Sunday from April through October, guests explore pond side, feed koi, roam the house and tearoom (no shoes, yes socks) and partake in monthly tea ceremony. Lansdowne & Horticultural Drives, (215) 878-5097, japanesehouse.org
- Wyck: This National Historic Landmark in Germantown comprises a house, garden and farm owned for nine generations (1690-1973) by the Quaker Wistar/Haines family. In 1777, during the Battle of Germantown, despite its owners’ pacifism, the household served as a field hospital for British troops. Today, the 2.5-acre estate remains vital to the urban neighborhood, via horticulture, educational programs, sustainability, innovation, a weekly farmers’ market and community festivals. The site includes the oldest garden in its original plan in America; perennial, vegetable and herb gardens; and a woodlot. William Strickland, architect of the Second Bank of the United States and the Merchants Exchange, redesigned the interior of the Wyck house, whose front parlor displays a chair that belonged to Benjamin Franklin. Open Thursday through Saturday, April through November. 6026 Germantown Avenue, (215) 848-1690, wyck.org
Allure Outside The City:
- Chanticleer: April through October, this pleasure garden inspires artists, home gardeners—and seekers of relaxation. The former summer home of the Rosengarten family, 35-acre Chanticleer, opened to the public in 1993 and is known for imaginative plantings. The evolving, whimsical landscape features 5,000 plants, themed gardens, two original buildings, a creek and pond and a nearly mile-long trail. Painters work in the garden Wednesdays through Fridays. 786 Church Road, Wayne, (610) 687-4163, chanticleergarden.org
- Longwood Gardens: Quaker George Pierce purchased 402 rolling acres in the Brandywine Valley to farm in 1700. A century later, Pierce’s great-grandsons turned the parcel into an arboretum that, in the mid-1800s, became a destination for Americans embracing the get-outdoors trend. By 1906, the refuge had fallen into disrepair, and businessman philanthropist Pierre S. du Pont came to its rescue. Drawing inspiration from his visits to Italian and French gardens and world’s fairs, du Pont began the transformation of his “Longwood” into an international destination. The vast, living masterpiece is at the forefront of horticultural entertainment, using technology and du Pont’s beloved fountains and incorporating woodlands, meadows, conservatories, special events and performances that draw people from all over the world. 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, (610) 388-1000, longwoodgardens.org
- Tyler Arboretum: Deeded by William Penn to Thomas Minshall in 1681, Tyler has transformed from wilderness to working farm to public garden over eight generations. The 650-acre site includes 17 miles of hiking trails, spectacular plant collections, beautiful gardens—including 13 acres of rhododendrons and azaleas—in addition to woodlands, wetlands, meadows, historic buildings and tree houses that are open in season. The National Audubon Society recognizes Tyler as an IBA (Important Bird Area). 515 Painter Road, Media, (610) 566-9134, tylerarboretum.org
- Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College: Those strolling through the Scott Arboretum may hear, “I could do that,” and that’s the point. The gardens of the Quaker-founded liberal arts college are purposely delightful, accessible and educational. Regional gardeners who visit observe ways to cultivate mostly native species. Established in 1929, Scott honors Arthur Hoyt Scott of the class of 1895 and has helped its surrounding 350-acre college on lists of most beautiful campuses, time and time again. Garden lovers can take self-guided or regularly scheduled guided tours or simply wander at their leisure through the rose garden, holly collection, woodlands and pinetum (arboretum for conifers). Free. 500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, (610) 328-8025, scottarboretum.org
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