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Head for the Hills: Philly’s Best Parks, Arboretums & Gardens


July 26, 2021

Want to cool off without fighting traffic and crowds? Grab your water bottle, a picnic lunch, and head to one of Greater Philadelphia’s lush arboretums, gardens, and parks. You’ll find inviting shaded pathways, picnic tables, bike trails, activities for kids, and – best of all – temperatures that are ten to fifteen degrees lower than the rest of the City.

FDR Park

One of the largest park projects of the Victorian Era, FDR Park, at 1500 Pattison Avenue in South Philly, is now being rediscovered thanks to recent upgrades. The setting for the 2021 Flower Show had been a marshland in the 18th and 19th centuries. In 1913, it was converted into an elegant park by the same landscape architects who designed New York’s, Central Park. Originally named League Island Park, it was renamed FDR Park in the 1940s. 

Today, the park contains 40 acres of lakes for fishing, canoeing, and kayaking; a Skater’s Park; extensive bike trails and bike rentals; 15 tennis courts; 8 softball fields; a soccer field; 21 picnic groves; and the American-Swedish Museum.  On weekends, the park becomes a vibrant Asian Market with vendors selling street food, bubble teas and iced coffees, clothing, and produce. With 900 free parking spaces, massive shade trees, and lakes, FDR Park offers a stress-free getaway from City heat.

Cambodian Food Vendor at FDR Park. Image: FDRparkphilly.org

Chanticleer Garden

Chanticleer has been called the most romantic, imaginative, and exciting public garden in America. Located just thirty minutes outside of Philly, this expansive “pleasure garden” of over 5,000 plants covering 35 acres was originally the country retreat of the founder of the Merk pharmaceutical company. Built in the 1920s, the garden opened to the public in 1993. 

A one-mile path leads through a variety of magical gardens, including shade plants from  China, Korea, and Japan. The blooms are so spectacular that a Botanical Illustration class is held on the property by the Philadelphia Society of Botanical Illustrators.

Chanticleer Garden. Image: chanticleergarden.com

Garden Tours are available every Wednesday and Saturday at 2 pm. Admission $10; Tours $5. Reservations are required.

Wissahickon Woods

This deeply forested wedge of Fairmount Park in Northwest Philadelphia goes by many different names. Officially, the 1,800-acres of biking, hiking, and horse trails are known as Wissahickon Valley Park. Its five-mile main path is known as Forbidden Drive and locals call the area Valley Green, referring to the historic inn nestled at the foot of one of the park’s entrances. The Inn offers fine dining and has a takeout window for snacks and beverages. 

Wissahickon Valley Park. Image: FOW.org

Wissahickon Creek, which follows the main path, is stocked with trout for fishermen of all ages and abilities. If you own a mountain bike, there are a myriad of challenging trails. Many visitors are accompanied by four-footed friends who frolic in the shallow Creek. 

At the head of the trail off of Northwestern Avenue is Cedars House, a delightful café serving classic breakfasts, sandwiches, soups, salads, and homemade treats with indoor and outdoor seating, Wed-Sun, 10 am-3 pm. 

Highlights include the Thomas Mill Covered Bridge, a wooden bridge dating back to 1855, gurgling waterfalls, and the statue at Council Rock of Tedyuscung, a Lenape warrior. Public restrooms are located next to the Valley Green Inn and at Cedars House. Parking is free but crowded on weekends. 

Morris Arboretum

Owned and operated by the University of Pennsylvania, Morris Arboretum, located at 100 E. Northwestern Avenue in Chestnut Hill, was founded in 1932. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this magnificent public garden focuses on education, research, and horticultural display.  

More than 13,000 labeled plants of approximately 2,600 types grow in the Arboretum’s collection. Many of the Delaware Valley’s largest trees of their kind are found in the Arboretum. 

 Admission fees are $20 for adults; $18 for seniors; children $10; Penn students and faculty free. Sorry, no pets are allowed.

Awbury Arboretum

Located in Germantown in Northwest Philadelphia, Awbury Arboretum is a hidden gem. The main entrance is on Chew Ave., between Washington Lane and Haines Street. The 56-acre property includes walking trails, historic homes, and an agricultural village dating back to 1849. This is a place that encourages exploring its pond. Wildflower meadow and a walled garden called the Secret Garden. 

Philly Goat Project. Image: awbury.org

The 16-acre Farm at Awbury is the home of the Philly Goat Project, a community project that includes – yes – goat yoga! The Project hosts Sunday Fun Days, through October 31st, 2021, from 1:00-4:00 pm. This weekly family event features baby goats, live concerts, and activities for children. The Farm has two entrances, at 6336 Ardleigh St. and at 901 E. Washington Lane. 

PHS Pop Up Garden at South Street

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention our perennial favorite, the PHS Pop Up Garden at South Street. The PHS Pop Up Gardens started in 2010 with the goal of transforming vacant lots into gardens that serve as a valuable community resource. The Pop Up Garden offers a beautiful and lively space in the middle of the city in which you can enjoy great food and drink from local vendors. The garden is also thoughtfully landscaped with pollinator plants with the goal of providing sufficient food (nectar and pollen) to reverse the decline of bees and monarch butterflies in our City.

Solo is proud to be sponsoring the PHS Pop Up Garden on South Street for the 4th consecutive year and supporting the great work that PHS does in the community. Starting this month, the PHS Pop Up Garden will be hosting monthly plant swaps at the garden where plant enthusiasts can bring a plant, cutting or gardening supplies to swap and socialize. Have a plant that isn’t sparking joy? Join us for the next PHS plant swap on Tuesday, August 3rd!

PHS Pop Up Garden on South Street

PHS South Street Pop Up is wheelchair accessible and pet-friendly. Open Monday-Thursday, 5-10 pm; Friday-Sunday, Noon-10pm.

These precious green areas are more than recreational. They are vital to Philadelphia’s ecology and sustainability. By supporting them, you ensure their existence for future generations and help our City meet its environmental goals.