Philadelphia may be more synonymous with garbage can fires than gorgeous gardens, but the truth is that our region has some amazing open green spaces, many of which are worthy of a day trip with the kids. Here, a round-up of the places that will become instant favorites.
For the kids: This garden is one of the East Coast’s most stunning, and it should be on every Philadelphian’s Bucket List. (Christmas time is especially lovely.) You’ll not only marvel at the beauty, but at the amount of meticulous care the gardeners put in here. Once you make your way to the conservatory, head to the right towards the new(ish) Children’s Garden, where kids get hands-on. They can climb up and down through child-sized caves and stairs, smell the flowers, look for hidden animals, and play in the many water fountains and springs.
Tips: 1. Bring the stroller. The grounds are huge. 2. Hit up the gift shop, you can buy live plants as well as adorable garden-themed kids’ gear and toys. 3. The cafeteria, next to the conservatory is tasty.
For the kids: This UPenn-owned haven in Chestnut Hill isn’t your typical tree museum: There are wide-open gardens, sculptures, wetlands, and plenty of things for kids to do. The fun for the tikes begins right at the entrance, there’s a huge treehouse structure with a vast, climb-in net that swings the kids over the grounds below. If you can drag them out of there, follow the path and don’t miss the historic miniature garden railroad, the swan pond, the sculpture garden, and the new hut-like structures built by artist Patrick Dougherty that are made entirely of locally found goods.
Tips: 1. You can do this arboretum in an hour or spend a few. 2. There are open green areas, so feel free to bring a ball or even bubbles. 3. Make an afternoon of it and head into Chestnut Hill for lunch at Iron Hill Brewery, sandwiches at Top of the Hill, or ice cream at Bredenbeck’s.
For the kids: This is one of our favorites because it’s so varied, so hands-on, and doable in an hour or so. There’s a circular path that loops you through different areas of this former Main Line estate, like a ruin garden where kids can climb through a half-built house, run down a huge hill, look for koi in the pond, run alongside a brook, and more. The staff here are very interactive, so you’ll find the gardeners floating around ready to answer any questions.
Tips: 1. On Friday nights in the late spring and summer, you can picnic in the gardens. 2. Each staff member here is required to contribute something crafty to the garden, and many of them have made beautiful benches and chairs. Play a game and see if the kids can find and sit in each of them.
For the kids: Like Longwood, this estate comes courtesy of the du Pont family, and the grounds are huge. There’s an indoor museum, as well as the vast outdoor garden. It’s so big, in fact, that they have a tram to take you around, where you’ll get a quick history of the family and the land. It would take you hours to see everything, so we suggest a plan of attack. Outside, there’s a whimsical Enchanted Woods area with lots of places for kids to run, climb, hide and look for fairies; a reflecting pool; a koi pond and more. Inside the museum/house, there’s a Touch-It Room with a general store and dress-up clothes, and a free preschool pack which will guide the kids through activities in the gallery.
Tips: 1. You can picnic in the park all year. 2. Bring the stroller, as there is a lot to cover. 3. Check out the website for activity days, they have a tractor festival, the Point-to-Point pony race, enchanted summer day, and more. 4. If you want to grab some food, Kennett Square is 15 minutes away. Head to Talula’s Table for a quick snack or La Michoacana for some awesome homemade Mexican ice cream and ice pops.
For the kids: For city dwellers, the best part of this garden is the location, which is along the Schuylkill on the southern edge of the city. The kids will love getting near the river (there are free canoes and kayaks to use this summer), walking on the boardwalk through the wetlands, and exploring the historic barn, houses and gardens.
Tips: 1. There’s a fun boat cruise tour of the garden, which launches from Walnut Street, takes you on the river, deposits you at the garden for two hours of exploration and a tour, and brings you back. 2. Check out the website for the many DIY classes and programming for kids, like the monthly Little Explorers Workshops and family artistic series.
Grounds for Sculpture
For the kids: This 42-acre parcel of NJ land was the creation of Seward Johnson, an artists and part of the Johnson & Johnson family, who wanted to bring together beautiful grounds with beautiful sculpture. It’s a pretty special place: Kids will discover something new around every corner, and learn to see art in a different way. We especially love Johnson’s own work, which depicts life-like humans doing everyday things (his sculptures are placed all over the world); make sure to seek out Djeuner Deja Vu, a life size recreation of a Manet painting.
Tip: There’s a beautiful, French-evoking restaurant on the grounds, Rat’s Restaurant, which is run by Starr Restaurants, and has a nice brunch service. If the kids are too keyed up, there are other casual eatery options on site, including the Van Gogh Cafe, which will pack up your lunch to-go, so you can picnic in the park.