30 must-see gardens in ‘America’s Garden Capital’

Written by Travel Guide, Travel Tips

Quaker farmer John Bartram laid roots in Philadelphia’s first botanical garden in 1728 on the banks of the Schuylkill River. Known as ‘botanist to the king’, Bartram himself could not have predicted the impact his gardens would have on the city, and what it would mean for his own legacy.

The story of gardening in the American colonies can be traced back to Bartram and his son William. Dedicated botanist’, the father and son duo dedicated their lives to the study of horticulture, introducing more than 200 plants into cultivation.

Wanting to introduce the brilliant hues of North America’s autumn foliage to the United Kingdom, seeds were sent back for planting in select parks and gardens – a gift that can still be enjoyed today.

FUN FACT: Known as ‘Bartram’s Boxes’ seeds were sent to Earls, Dukes and prominant estates across the UK countryside annually

US Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were frequent visitors to Bartram’s Gardens, as was Bartram’s close friend, Benjamin Franklin. A signature of Bartram’s Garden is the Franklinia Alatamaha, a native tree that was saved from extinction and named in honour of the famed inventor himself, Benjamin Franklin.

Longwood Gardens bulb display - Image credit Albee Larry

Longwood Gardens bulb display – Image credit Albee Larry

Bartram and his family were Quakers, a Christian religion that had deep attachments to nature and their surroundings. With their love of nature, Quakers set about establishing gardens around the Philadelphia area.

Outside of the city in Kennett Square, fellow Quakers and twin brothers Joshua and Samuel Peirce planted an arboretum (a botanical garden devoted to trees) around their home in 1798. The arboretum wasn’t fully matured until the 1880s, but by the 20th century, the property was in disrepair; that is, until industrialist Pierre S. du Pont purchased the land, saving the trees and grounds in 1906.

Longwood Gardens spring blooms - Image credit Albee Larry

Longwood Gardens spring blooms – Image credit Albee Larry

Over the next several years, Du Pont was to gentrify the area by adding fountains, water gardens and conservatories, all in an effort to restore the estate back to its former glory. Renamed Longwood Gardens, it’s one of the most famous horticultural displays in America today.

FUN FACT: Du Pont became GM’s president in 1920, and served on GM’s board of directors until 1928

Within 30-miles of downtown Philadelphia, you will find over 35 gardens to enjoy, giving Philadelphia its nickname – ‘America’s Garden Capital.’

Enjoy these other popular gardens on your next visit to the Philadelphia area:

Ambler Arboretum
The Ambler Arboretum of Temple University is a 187-acre-site that encompasses the Ambler Campus. The diverse grounds include many different gardens and trees.
Address: 580 Meetinghouse Road, Ambler
Open: Dawn to dusk

Guided house tours and self-guided garden tours available Mondays and Tuesdays 10am and 1pm between April and October from $20 per person. Advance reservations recommended as space is limited.
Address: 1237 State Road Andalusia

Arboretum of the Barnes Foundation
Barnes Arboretum is home to a living collection and horticulture school. From May to September, visitors are invited to explore the grounds and learn about rare plants and breathtaking blooms.
Address: 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia
Open: Wednesday through Monday 11am-5pm
Admission: Self donation – guided tours $10

Awbury Arboretum
The Arboretum grounds are open dawn to dusk year-round. Weekends some buildings may be closed and during special events.
Address: 1 Awbury Rd, Philadelphia
Admission: Free

Bartram’s Garden
Bartram’s Garden is a 45-acre National Historic Landmark, operated by the John Bartram Association in cooperation with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. It is a destination and an outdoor classroom and living laboratory.
Address: 5400 Lindbergh Blvd, Philadelphia
Admission: Free – open dawn to dusk except for City Holidays

Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve
Located in Bucks County’s historic Pidcock Creek Valley, the Preserve is recognized for its ecologically diverse landscapes and features over 700 native plant species. Explore 4.5 miles of trails that wind through forest and meadows, and along streams and ponds.
Address: 5400 Lindbergh Blvd, Philadelphia
Admission: $8 adults, $6 seniors, $4 children – Open April to June 9am-5pm, July to march Tuesday to Sunday 9am-5pm

Once the Rosengarten estate, today’s Chanticleer is a colorful, contemporary garden within an historic setting.
Address: 786 Church Road Wayne
Admission: $10 Adults, under 12-years free – Open April to November 10am to 5pm Wednesday through Sunday. Friday evenings until 8pm from May through Labor Day.

The Gardens of Mill Fleurs
A grist mill and a sawmill side by side on the banks of the sometimes raging Tohickon Creek is almost an impossible garden on an impossible site.
Address: 27 Cafferty Rd, Point Pleasant
Admission: Open garden tours $25 Adults including refreshments, Reserved Tours $40 including refreshments.

Haverford College Arboretum
The mission of Haverford College Arboretum is to steward the College’s historic tree collection while fostering a connection between the 216-acre campus and those who work, visit, study, and reside there.
Address: 370 Lancaster Avenue, Haverford, PA

And more gardens of worthy note.

  • Henry Botanic Garden
  • Henry Schmieder Arboretum
  • The Highlands Mansions and Garden
  • Hortulus Farm Garden and Nursery
  • James G. Kaskey Memorial Park
  • Jenkins Arboretum and Gardens
  • Laurel Hill and West Laurel Hill Cemeteries
  • Longwood Gardens
  • Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania
  • Cuba Centre
  • Nemours Estate
  • PHS Meadowbrook Farm
  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College
  • Shofuso Japanese House and Garden
  • Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden
  • Tyler Arboretum
  • Tyler Formal Gardens at Bucks County Community College
  • Welkinweir
  • Winterthur
  • The Woodlands
  • Wyck



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