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The Grandeur of the Gardens


Just on the outskirts of the bustling city, Philadelphia gardens provide an opportunity to unplug.

Warm air rushes through lush grasslands, vibrant colors dance in fields of opulent tulips, and the faint aromas of delicate flora fill a sun-drenched day; these gardens assume personalities of their own. Each serves as a reminder of simpler pleasures.

In 1682, William Penn planted the seed for a vision of a “greene countrie towne.” What grew from from this vision during the next three centuries were more than 30 thriving public gardens within the greater Philadelphia area. In 1981, a collaborative of horticultural leaders and garden historians decided to cultivate Penn’s idea and formed what became Greater Philadelphia Gardens.

Nemours Mansion & Gardens

Nemours Mansion & Gardens

The founding members of the GPG shared a common idea: nature and sustainability are critical to our quality of life, and our humanity.

“Beautiful gardens are  important to our enjoyment and our planet,” says Louise Eliason, coordinator of GPG. “Studies have shown that the sustainability of the earth is wholly dependent upon green space and how we manage these resources. Sustainability makes us live a little better.”

Today, Greater Philadelphia Gardens consists of 30 member public gardens led by a “dream team” of directors from the top public gardens in the Philadelphia area. This executive committee of marquee public garden leaders funded GPG in 2007, creating a not-for-profit collaborative to promote  the diverse public gardens, special events, and horticulture educational programs in this area. These horticultural leaders include Executive Directors R. William Thomas of Chanticleer Gardens, Paul Redman of Longwood Gardens, Paul Meyer of Morris Arboretum, Claire Sawyers of the Scott Arboretum, Rick Lewandowski of Mt. Cuba, Howard Holden of Cabrini College, Drew Becher of Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Louise Turan of Bartrams Garden, Jacob Thomas, Ph.D., of The Arboretum of the Barnes Foundation, and Chris Strand of Winterthur.

Greater Philadelphia Gardens now exists to educate and increase public awareness about the importance of green space and public gardens globally. The GPC also wants to let individuals know what is so special about these spaces locally by touting the bountiful gardens within America’s garden capital.

Cabrini Campus Arboretum

“Greater Philadelphia Gardens has more public gardens and more arboreta in the greater Philadelphia area than anywhere else on the continent,” says GPG chairman R. William Thomas.

The mid-Atlantic region is blessed with the perfect environment for gardens, with a diverse range of growing conditions. Eliason suggests picking three gardens to visit in a trip: one you know well, one that is nearby, and one that you have never heard of. Each garden has a distinct personality as they transition with the season. With green and flowering trees, shrubs and plant collections changing weekly, it is rare to visit the same garden twice.

“I am continually surprised and delighted by the unique character of each garden,” says Eliason. “The beauty of nature is one of the most magnificent ways of inspiring your creativity and filling your soul.”

Gardens connect us to nature. They also provide ideas for one’s own garden. Whether you are exploring the feeling of Versailles at Nemours Mansion and Gardens, complemented with Italian architecture in sunken gardens, or enjoying the lilies, tulips, and celestial wisteria at Longwood Gardens, or America’s horticultural roots at Bartrams Garden and Morris Arboretum at the University of Pennsylvania, there is something for everyone within each garden.

With more than 100 summer events for children, gardens are also a wonderful place for your tiny treasures to grow.

Dean Bond Rose Garden at Swarthmore

Dean Bond Rose Garden at Swarthmore

“Even if you are someone who is not passionate about gardens, public gardens still provide a gorgeous place to go for an event, concert, or to enjoy conversations among friends,” says Eliason. “Gardens are inspirational, and we could all use a little of that.”

Most of the gardens within GPG are open from spring to autumn, and some have winter hours. If you are interested in learning more about events, gardens, or sustainability in the Philadelphia area, visit Greater Philadelphia Gardens on the web at www.greaterphiladelphiagardens.org.