Philadelphia Botanical Gardens

Genie Davis October 30, 2011 No Comments

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I love flowers. I can’t grow them myself – my thumb is more brown than green – and I can’t keep bouquets in the house or my cat will consume them. But I love to tour gardens, whether it’s the enclosed National Botanical Garden near the Nation’s Capitol or a tropical paradise on Maui. I’d heard of but never seen the public gardens in the Philadelphia area, but on my family’s recent summer trip, my children and I explored several beautiful oases in and around the city.

Botanical Garden Flowers

Flowers and gardens - the classic combination - just add children to enjoy them.

Longwood Gardens

Longwood Gardens may be the most famous and certainly one of the largest, but it’s also one of the busiest in the summer months and boasts a fairly steep price tag of $16 admission.  Longwood Gardens is located at: 1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348. On this trip we were budgeting closely and didn’t include Longwood.

Bartram’s Gardens

Opened to the public in 1728, Bartram’s Garden is described as the oldest Botanical Garden in the United States (54th St. and Lindbergh Blvd., Philadelphia, PA 19143).  Founder John Bartram traversed the eastern seaboard to find plants, flowers, trees, and shrubs for this garden, which leads from his home, built in the seventeen hundreds down to the Schuylkill River banks. An easy, pleasant trail meanders down to the waters edge, although the peaceful scene is slightly marred by industrial buildings and high rises on the skyline. Ignore them if you can and enjoy the well laid out gardens with orange and ash trees, wild ginger and cypress. Closest to the house are the most floral offerings from iris to geraniums. Shady and child friendly, we spent an hour enjoying these gardens. Both George Washington and Philadelphia’s most lauded historic figure, Ben Franklin, visited here.

Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia

Bartram's Gardens in Philadelphia are both charming and historic.

Highlands Mansion and Gardens

About a half hour north of Philadelphia, you’ll find the Highlands (7001 Sheaff Lane, Fort Washington, PA 19034). This is primarily a mansion tour stop, and if your children are interested in such things, the home is quite beautiful, an example of a an eighteenth century home in Georgian style. There is a small two acre garden near the home, designed, I am told (I’m not a garden expert, just a garden enjoyer), in the Country Place style, that respects the land on which it is planted. Regardless of the historic style, the kids loved the vine covered walks and finding, in the late afternoon sun, an ethereal looking classical statue at the far end of the garden.

We also loved the tactile sensations of small garden of culinary, scented, and medicinal plants in four neat sections. What small child won’t enjoy sniffing golden lemon thyme or fresh mint, fennel, or chives? And of course my personal favorite, lavender.

Jenkins Arboretum  & Gardens

We left Philadelphia proper for Devon, and the Jenkins Arboretum (631 Berwyn Baptist Road, Devon, PA 19333). We’d missed the peak bloom of azaleas and rhododendrons but there were still many blossoms in bloom. The trees grow tall and thick here, and we were mostly alone on the paved trail that winds around forty six acres of flowers and trees. Here we found ferns, mountain laurels, and oaks, and a flower I hadn’t seen since my grandmother’s Pennsylvania garden years and years ago, phlox. The children were most drawn to low to the ground blossoms unusual to California natives such as violets and jack in the pulpit.

We had a picnic here, and the spacious, well-thought out grounds kept us busy for several hours. The paved trails are wide enough – just – to accommodate a stroller.

Chanticleer Garden

Older children will love the Chanticleer Garden in Wayne (786 Church Road, Wayne, PA 19087-4713). A large, grassy hill is perfect for rolling down, running down, and just lying down on and taking in the late afternoon sunshine. My kids loved the water garden with its splashing fountains, and the Asian woodland section. We found two brilliantly green Adirondack chairs in the water garden, a very pleasant spot to relax and watch the water lillies and irises.

I found myself lost in nostalgia for my grandmother’s garden again with the selection of rich purple grape hyacinths here.

Trees Philadelphia Botanical Gardens

Strolling a shady garden path is a wonderful family treat.

Scott Arboretum – Swarthmore College

Our last stop was the next day, on the way out of the state I took a detour to Swarthmore College (500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, PA 19081). The campus itself is a garden with over three thousand plants and flowers. Here too, azaleas are most prominent in the spring, but were still blooming our summer afternoon. Roses were in full throttle, and the kids enjoyed exploring several intimate gardens set up in a court-yard style.

Near Swarthmore, we found a truly lovely Japanese restaurant, Azie. From the friendly service to the peaceful decor, it was a great place to dine. Kids were treated to special fish- patterned plates to hold their veggie sushi; adults will love the contrast of tastes and textures in the rock shrimp tempura and spicy aioli. Usually I tend to stick to certain fairly bland sushi choices, this was suggested to me by our server, and I was glad to enjoy this experience – herbs in the aioli were so fresh, they could’ve come from one of the gardens we visited.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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