Philadelphia is home to the oldest and one of the largest urban park systems in the United States. But also, it is known as “America’s Garden Capital.” In addition to all that public space, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) has designated 38 of the best botanical gardens, arboreta, and historic landscapes near Philadelphia as must-see garden destinations.
PHS has compiled a list of public gardens and arboreta in Philadelphia within 30 miles of Center City, including the Brandywine Valley, Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties, the Main Line, and New Jersey to create a Garden’s Capital Passport. These fun passports, like the National Parks Passport, can be obtained at participating sites. As you visit each garden and arboreta, request a stamp, until you have filled the book.
But even without prioritizing a visit to one of these spectacular public gardens, with more than one hundred parks encompassing some ten thousand acres spread throughout the city, it is nearly impossible to avoid the city’s beautiful urban parks, squares, and gardens.
Let’s look at some of the best botanical gardens and arboretums to visit near Philly.
Chanticleer, a pleasure garden
The full name for this garden is “Chanticleer, a pleasure garden” (786 Church Road, Wayne, PA), and for good reason. Everything about it is pleasing.
This garden may be my favorite because it offers a bit of everything. There are natural gardens, woodland gardens, formal gardens, and even a vegetable garden. Set on just 35 acres and having over 5000 species of plants, this bite-sized garden really packs a punch.
To fully enjoy this garden, you should allow about two hours. This is plenty of time to wander the property at a leisurely pace and still have time for bathroom visits.
If you are short of time then I would suggest visiting the gardens around the house, the Serpentine, and the Pond Garden. If time allows, then hit the Ruins and Gravel Gardens.
Located less than 30 minutes from Center City you can easily grab a carshare or take the train from 30th Street Station on the Paoli/Thorndale Line 9525 to St. Davis. From here you will need to walk approximately 1.4 miles to get to the garden or take a cab or carshare service.
Chanticleer is open Wednesday – Sunday from 10 am – 5 pm from the end of March through late October. General admission tickets cost $12. Parking reservations are required. Home and Garden tours are held every Friday and Saturday at 11 am. There is also a Garden Highlight tour held every Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm.
Attracting visitors from around the world, Longwood Gardens (1001 Longwood Road, Kennett Square, PA) is surely the Crown Jewel of the Brandywine Valley. It is also massive and requires a bit of time to do it justice.
It is a bit further away from Center City than some of the properties listed but it is worth the drive. And because Longwood is open later in the evening most of the gardens you could easily make a day of it and include one of the other estates.
At this point, it won’t surprise you to learn that this property was also once owned by a du Pont. In this case, it was Pierre du Pont.
In 1906, Pierre du Pont purchased the Pierce farm primarily to preserve a large stand of trees planted by the property owners and heirs Samuel and Joshua Pierce. Inspired by his travels duPont set about planting floral gardens with no plan in mind. Later he added fountains and Italian-inspired formal gardens as well as built the conservatory. When du Pont began planting, he had no idea that Longwood would one day become one of the world’s premier gardens.
Open year-round and having both indoor and outdoor spaces, Longwood Gardens is less seasonal than some of the others listed here. You can enjoy this amazing property even in the dead of winter. The holiday season is simply spectacular and one of my favorite times to visit.
This 1000+ acre garden is broken into “Districts” including the Conservatory, the Main Fountain Gardens, the Lakes District, the House and Theatre District, the Chimes Tower District, and the Meadow and Forest District. Each district is distinctive and deserves to be seen.
But if your time is limited or if someone in your party has mobility issues then you may want to focus on the Conservatory, the Main Fountain Gardens, and the Chimes Tower Districts. These three districts are closest to the visitor center and are the grandest.
There are daily fountain shows accompanied by music every 15 minutes. During the summer months though Longwood holds its Festival of Fountains. You’ll be delighted watching illuminated fountains dance upon the water and soar into the air. Take in a nighttime fountain show and really be dazzled.
The Conservatory is a must-visit no matter what time of year you visit. It is simply splendid. du Pont loved to entertain and would hold grand events in the conservatory which houses the largest Aeolian organ ever constructed in a residential setting. The organ was refurbished in 2004, and visitors can see and hear this magnificent instrument during their visit.
Currently, the conservatory and the surrounding area are being expanded and redesigned in what is being called “Longwood Reimagined.” This massive project is slated to be completed in the Fall of 2024. But don’t worry, most of the Conservatory remains open during the reimagining process. However, some of the exhibits have been put on hold or are in locations different from where they usually reside.
Onsite you will find multiple dining options ranging from beer gardens and cafes to a full sit-down meal at 1906, Longwood’s full-service dining experience. The Kennett Square Mushroom Soup is a staple of 1906’s menu and is a must-try. Reservations are recommended.
Admission to Longwood Gardens is based on timed ticketing. If you plan to visit you should purchase tickets online to be certain that you get the timeslot you need. Otherwise, you may end up with a later entry than anticipated thus cutting into your already limited time to visit. Don’t short-change yourself.
If you visit during the holiday or busy summer weekends you will want to secure your entry in advance as many timeslots sell out. Pricing can vary so for full pricing information visit Longwood Garden’s website.
January through March Garden hours are Wednesday–Monday: 10:00 am–5:00 pm and closed on Tuesday. From April 1 to Mother’s Day, the gardens are open Wednesday–Monday: 10:00 am–6:00 pm and closed on Tuesday, Summer hours are as follows: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday and Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 11 p.m., Thursday through Sunday. For a full listing of hours look here.
Morris Arboretum, The Official Arboretum of the Commonwealth
Located in nearby Chestnut Hill, Morris Arboretum is undeniably one of the most delightful places to enjoy spring blooms. Situated on 92 wooded acres, the arboretum was once the summer home of siblings, John and Lydia Morris, heirs to the I.P. Morris Company, an iron-manufacturing firm. The Morris’s landscaped and built an impressive plant collection including both indigenous species and botanicals they gathered from around the world.
In addition, the siblings, through their travels brought art from the Americas, Asia, and Europe to Compton, as it was known, and sculpture became part of the landscape. Morris Arboretum is listed both on the National Registry of Historic Places and is the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Additionally, Morris Arboretum ranks among the 50 Most Stunning University Gardens and Arboretums.
Beginning in March, Morris Arboretum offers a lineup of classes and special events. The roster typically includes a Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival the first two weekends in April. Thus, there is no need to go all the way to Washington DC to enjoy the perennial blooms of the cherry tree.
In keeping with Morris’s tradition of making art part of the landscape, each season the arboretum brings in an exhibition of artist work. Past exhibits have included wind art, stick art, and even a crochet artist who “yarn bombed” the property in 2015.
In addition to seasonal and annual exhibits, you will not want to miss the many unique features and collections the gardens offer. One characteristic unique to Morris Arboretum is the many varieties of trees found on the premises, some of the oldest in the area. After all, Pennsylvania literally means “Penn’s Woods,” after the famous Philadelphian, William Penn. However, the tree varieties go beyond those indigenous to the region to include the Japanese Zelkova, Cilician Fir, Chinese Elm, and more.
Be sure to look for the many unusual, Japanese garden elements as well as the property’s traditional Victorian gardens, and note the unique varieties of trees. Stop at Swan Pond and enjoy its tranquility. If you are interested in a more in-depth appreciation of the many elements found throughout the gardens, Morris Arboretum offers several tour options.
Spend the day in Philadelphia’s Garden District with my guide to visiting Chestnut Hill.
If you have kids, you will want to visit Out on a Limb. Here you can experience the forest from high above. Scramble across a huge, netted area like a squirrel moving from tree to tree. Sit in a giant bird’s nest complete with Robin’s eggs. This fun learning exhibit for adults and kids is fully accessible.
Kids can also let their imaginations run wild in the Fairy Woods in the Sculpture Garden. Here kids can learn about plants and gather pinecones, acorns, bark, and lichen to build fairy houses.
Morris Arboretum and Gardens is open Weekdays: 10 am – 5 pm and Weekends: 9 am – 5 pm from April through October. Off-season hours between November and March are 10 am – 4 pm daily.
Admission is FREE for Members and Kids under 3, Adults are $20, Seniors (65+ years) are $18, and Youth (3-17 years) are $10. You may be eligible for other discounts. Check the website for details and to purchase tickets.
Mt. Cuba Center
The Mt. Cuba Center (3120 Barley Mill Road Hockessin, DE 19707) is located roughly 35 minutes from Center City. The estate was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lammot du Pont Copeland. Situated on over 1000 acres of natural land, the colonial revival-style mansion overlooks vast meadows and rolling hills.
Mt. Cuba Center offers both botanical gardens and natural habitats. The center is committed to the protection of native species. Additionally, the Mt. Cuba Center is a research facility including a trial garden where species are tested for their suitability and the best conditions for introduction into the landscape.
When you arrive, purchase your tickets at the Visitor Center located near the main parking lot. Then head to Copeland House, the estate’s main residence. Here you will watch a short film about the Copelands, their vision for Mt Cuba, and more. Be sure to look around and step into the Conservatory. It’s small but in my opinion, it is stunning. The patio overlooking the Main Lawn is a perfect spot to enjoy your lunch if you’ve brought one.
From here head out to explore the gardens. Because the primary garden area is only 50 acres you should be able to view all the gardens in a short time. Once you’ve viewed the South Garden and the Round Garden, take a stroll into the wooded area. Enjoy the Trillium Garden or take a seat on a bench beside the pond and beneath the tree canopy. This is a lovely spot for a picnic or to relax and enjoy the solitude.
Despite Mt. Cuba’s large size, you can easily explore the formal gardens and the wooded area in around two hours. If time permits and the heat isn’t too oppressive, you may want to head across the bridge to the meadows, a natural area with native species, a pond, and approximately a mile of walking trails.
Throughout Mt. Cuba, you will find friendly and informative staff and volunteers who are happy to answer questions. Additionally, Mt. Cuba offers a number of educational programs as well as consultations to encourage the use of native species in your own garden spaces.
Mt. Cuba Center is open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am-6 pm from April through October, and November from Wednesday through Sunday, 10 am-4 pm. Select Summer Fridays the property has extended hours from 10 am-8 pm. General Admission tickets are $15 for adults and $8 for kids 6-17, and children 5 and under are free. For full pricing information and tours look here.
The Nemours Estate (1600 Rockland Road, Wilmington, DE.) in Delaware’s Brandywine Valley is a breath of fresh air. Just a 45-minute drive from Center City Philadelphia this wonderful estate situated just outside Wilmington Delaware is a little slice of Europe in the mid-Atlantic region.
Nemours is my favorite of the Brandywine Valleys estates and gardens. Here’s why. When it comes to US estates and gardens, I often find them to be dark, heavy, and even a bit claustrophobic despite their massive size and high ceilings. Unlike many of the mansions of the time, Nemours based on the aesthetic of French design is light, bright, and airy making it truly unique.
When you arrive take the short tour of the 200-acre grounds on the shuttle. The tour is informative and provides context. You will learn a bit about the estate’s original owner Alfred I. duPont. Plus, it is an efficient way to see the property and gardens. The mansion is the final destination of the shuttle tour.
Looking for more to explore near Wilmington? Check out these Outstanding Things to Do in Wilmington Delaware.
Take a self-guided tour of the 77-room mansion, designed by Carrere and Hastings, in the French style of the late 1800s. The estate, originally situated on over 3000 acres, was a gift to Alfred’s second wife Alicia.
If you don’t have time to explore all the gardens, then at least stroll the “Long Walk.” This is the estate’s primary garden which leads from the mansion down to the reflecting pool. The pool features fountains and Art Nouveau sculptures that make up the “Four Seasons” by the French-American sculptor, Henri Crenier.
Finally, visit the chauffeur’s garage. Here you will find an impressive collection of vintage luxury automobiles and your male travel companions will appreciate the change in scenery.
Both the mansion and Chauffer’s Garage have trained interpretive staff ready and able to answer questions and provide further information about the property.
It’s recommended that you allow 3 hours to thoroughly enjoy this estate including touring the home, gardens, and chauffeur’s garage. If time is limited, take the property tour on the shuttle, view the lower level of the home, and the “Long Walk.” This can be done in approximately 1.5 hours.
General Admission tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, active military, and students with ID, and $10 for kids 6-16, and children 5 and under are FREE. For full pricing information and tours look here.
The gardens, mansion, and chauffer’s garage are open Tuesday-Sunday, April 1st to Dec. 30th, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Last entry is at 4 p.m. Mansion & Garage closes at 4:30 p.m.)
Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center
The Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center, located in West Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, features a traditional Shoin-zukuri Japanese house and gardens.
The house at Shofuso was originally designed by architect Junzo Yoshimura for an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The house was a gift from Japan to signify the friendship between Japan and the United States after World War II.
If you find yourself on the West Coast and favor the Japanese-style garden, a visit to San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park is a must.
The house moved to its current location from New York in 1958. There had already been a Japanese garden there since 1876. The garden was created for the 1876 Centennial Exposition and was redesigned by Japanese landscape designer Tansai Sano when the house was moved to Philadelphia.
Visitors to Shofuso can tour the house but must remove their shoes before entering and wear socks or foot coverings inside. If you can’t take off your shoes, they will provide shoe covers.
The gardens at Shofuso are compact but beautiful. The grounds feature 3 types of gardens: a hill and pond garden, a tea garden, and a courtyard garden. Within these gardens, there is a large pond with koi fish, a waterfall, stone lanterns, and a multitude of trees.
The Shofuso Gardens have even been ranked the 3rd best Japanese gardens in the United States several times by the Journal of Japanese Gardening.
The gardens are particularly lovely to visit during cherry blossom season (sometime between late March and April). Each year, Shofuso holds an annual Cherry Blossom Festival, in addition to other Japanese festivals throughout the year.
Shofuso is open Wednesday to Sunday from March to October and on weekends from November to mid-December. Tickets cost $14 for adults and $9 for children.
Shofuso only offers timed tickets, with limited availability for purchase in person. So it’s best to buy them in advance online so it’s more likely you can book at your desired time. Tickets can be bought up to 4 weeks in advance.
Submitted by Ashley from Culture Snapshots
Winterthur Museum, Gardens & Library
The wildly popular Winterthur Museum, Gardens, and Library (5105 Kennett Pike, Wilmington, DE) is located approximately 35 miles from Center City. Most visitors spend around 3-4 hours visiting this 175-room mansion situated on 1000 acres of woodlands, fields, streams, and naturalized gardens.
Garden highlights include the Azalea Woods, the Reflecting Pool and Glade Garden located behind the mansion, the Enchanted Woods, and the Sundial Garden. Each is distinctly different and noteworthy in its own right. If you have kids, then the whimsical Enchanted Woods is a must-visit.
Winterthur is a unique four seasons garden that is the vision of the estate’s founder. Spring is a marvelous time to visit, especially when the azaleas and rhododendron are in full bloom.
When you arrive, walk or take the shuttle from the Visitor Center to the mansion for the House tour. If you choose to walk, you will stroll along a paved walkway flanked by mature native trees and natural beauty. While the surface is paved, and the walk is not more than a couple of city blocks there are a few brief sections with steep inclines. Consider your fitness level when deciding how to get around.
In addition to the shuttle, visitors can opt for a 30-minute guided tour of the gardens by tram. Tram Tours operate Tuesday through Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. They are first come, first served and weather permitting.
Under the ownership of Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) what was originally a 12-room home, built for Jacques-Antoine Bidermann (1790-1865) and his wife Evelina Gabrielle du Pont (1796-1863), Winterthur swelled to what is today, a mansion, museum, and research library. In total, the mansion soars to nine stories and covers more than 96K square feet.
Over the years, additions were built to hold what is today the pre-eminent collection of American Decorative arts. Winterthur possesses more than 90,000 objects made or used in America dating back to 1640. The collection holds everything from Chippendale furniture to simple items found in nature.
The natural elements in the collection and the naturalized gardens may seem odd choices for such an opulent grouping put together by a man of extreme wealth. However, du Pont began collecting as a young boy gathering items such as bird nests, eggs, and feathers from the home’s gardens and woods.
The concept of bringing elements from nature into interior designs was such a significant concept to du Pont that Winterthur has a standing exhibit dedicated to the idea titled “Outside In.” This display is a partnership with the Delaware Museum of Natural History.
Touring the home takes about an hour and timed tickets are required (can be purchased at the Visitor Center) for the tour.
General Admission tickets are $22 for adults, Student admission (12 and older; valid ID required for college students) is $20, and kids 2-11 are $8, with little ones 2 and under free. For full pricing information and tours look here. Tickets can be purchased at the Visitor Center.
Garden and Estate Grounds are open Tuesday–Sunday, 10:00 am–5:00 pm (closed January 9–February 27, 2023).