Gardening Sites: Five Historic Philadelphia Gardens to Visit

According to the Greater Philadelphia Gardens, a consortium of Philadelphia-area gardens that joined forces to promote their gardens and encourage visitation, Philadelphia’s horticultural history goes back 300 years. Aside from the more than 30 public gardens and historic landscapes, all located within 30 miles of Philadelphia that they actively promote, there are countless community gardens (you can check PHS’ website here to find one near you) and notable historic outdoor spaces to explore in our great city.

Want to get away from it all without leaving town? Pack a lunch and visit five of Philly’s historic gardens to take in the beauty of some of our favorite outdoor places in Philadelphia.

The Physic Garden

Sheltered behind the 9-foot brick walls of Pennsylvania Hospital at 8th and Spruce is a quiet oasis of greenery that brings comfort to patients but, for the most part, is unknown to most City dwellers. Established in 1774 by the Hospital’s physicians, the original purpose of the garden was to provide a ready source of botanical remedies used at the time. However, the Botanical Garden did not officially open until 1976 as a Bicentennial project of the Philadelphia Committee of the Garden Club of America and friends of the Pennsylvania Hospital. 

Here, you will find over 100 plants used for medicinal purposes in the 18th century. Some of these plants are still used today for modern medicines, such as Foxglove (Digitalis Purpurea) which is used as a heart stimulant. Botanical remedies of the day included some common herbs we still consume — chamomile and ginger for calming the stomach, and parsley for freshening the breath. There are also remedies in less common use today, such as lamb’s ears, whose fuzzy leaves made natural bandages for wounds.  

The Physic Garden is a lovely spot to meditate, read a book, enjoy your lunch or simply savor some serenity in the middle of the City. Open daily, from dawn to dusk. Entrance on 8th Street between Spruce and Pine. Free.

Bartram’s Garden

Bartram's Garden

This 50-acre public garden and National Historic Landmark in Southwest Philly is situated on Native American (Lenape) land along the banks of the Schuylkill River. Founded in 1728 by botanist John Bartram, it is the oldest botanical garden in North America. Bartram’s house, garden, and greenhouse are all original.

In 1891, the site was turned over to the City of Philadelphia and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. Today, visitors can go bird watching, hike along the River Trail, stroll through the fragrant flower gardens, or visit the riverside meadow, filled with grasses and wildflowers. It includes a playground, a ball field, and a picnic area. A boathouse offers free row boating, kayaking, and fishing on the Tidal Schuylkill River.  5400 Lindberg Blvd. Open every day. Free.

Shofuso Japanese House & Garden

Shofuso, an authentic 17th Century style Japanese house situated in West Fairmount Park, was built in Japan in 1953 using traditional techniques and materials. It was exhibited in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Art in New York before moving to Philadelphia in 1958. In 2007, International artist Hiroshi Senju donated 20 contemporary murals to Shofuso, which are permanently displayed inside the house. This historic site and museum include a hill and pond garden with a tiered waterfall, island, and koi fish, a tea garden featuring a traditional tea house, and a courtyard garden leading to a bathhouse. 

Prior to the arrival of Shofuso House, the site had been the home of a Japanese pagoda from 1905 until it was destroyed by fire in 1955. Admission is by timed ticket only and capacity is limited. Tickets can be purchased online up to three weeks in advance. 

Morris Arboretum

Located in the Chestnut Hill section of Northwest Philly, Morris Arboretum was originally the lavish summer home of the Morris family. They traveled the world, bringing back plants, crafts, and ideas to their estate. In 1932, the Morris estate became the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania which inspires an understanding of the relationship between plants, people, and place through education, research, and horticultural display. 

Over 11,000 plants grow in the Arboretum, along with a Japanese Garden, Rose Garden, Azalea Meadow, a Garden Railway, and special seasonal exhibitions throughout the year. Free tours with Admission. Cafe on site. $20 – Adults, $10 – ages 3-17, Free – under 3. Penn Card – Free. Advance tickets are available online. Entrance at 100 East Northwestern Avenue, Philadelphia, 19118.

Awbury Arboretum

Imagine 55 landscaped acres of ponds, meadows, rolling hills, and classic English gardens – all within the City limits. Awbury Arboretum is the former estate of a wealthy Quaker family. They hired the designer of the Capital grounds in Washington, DC to lend grandeur to their estate which now includes over 140 species of trees. 

Located off of Washington Lane and Chew Street in the East Oak Lane section of the City, Awbury is divided into two sections, on either side of Washington Lane. One part contains the original mansion built by shipping magnate Henry Cope in 1852 and the Francis Cope House built in 1861 by Henry’s son. Sixteen acres of the Arboretum contain Awbury Farm, which hosts goat walks, workshops, and co-op farming. Got kids? Bring them to Sunday Fun Days to frolic with baby goats, chickens and enjoy live music. Free and open to the public everyday. The entrance to the farm is located at 6336 Ardleigh St. and the estate is located at 1 Awbury Rd.

Looking for more great outdoor places to visit in Philadelphia? Check out our article on Philly’s best parks, arboretums & gardens, or our story on some of Philly’s community gardens.

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