Jenkins Arboretum and Longwood Gardens in Eastern PennsylvaniaGARDENS & PARKS, STAFF — By Catherine Nichols on December 2, 2016 at 23:23
Text & photos © Catherine Nichols
WHAT I ORIGINALLY THOUGHT OF as a one-time, frivolous trip to the East Coast has become a necessary part of my year. The trees in all their colorful glory call my name. By the time October rolls around, the whispers become shouts, and I find myself packing my suitcase early—unusual for this proud procrastinator.
On my recent trip to Pennsylvania to see my beloved trees, one of my first outings was pure serendipity. Lost on a beautiful road in Devon, Pennsylvania (a bit of trivia: my first-born daughter was named after Devon because of its beauty), I drove past a sign indicating that Jenkins Arboretum was nearby and I made a mental note to put it on my list of places to visit.
On a brisk day in early November, I made the short drive from the most perfect AirBnb I’ve ever stayed in to the arboretum.
Jenkins Arboretum was very quiet the day I showed up. I nearly had the place to myself. I’m sure it was because it was really cold and windy—but to this West Coaster it was a perfect day to walk around under the umbrella of trees and listen to the birds sing their “winter is coming” song.
The sun was shining and the sky was the blue of a fine porcelain tea cup so I grabbed a map and began my descent down Jenkins Road to check out the areas known as Azalea Hill, Elisabeth’s Walk (named after the owner’s wife), and Pond Walk. The Arboretum is 46 acres in total but some areas have private residences and are off-limits.
One thing to note is that the walk down is rather steep so Jenkins Arboretum is probably not for those with weak legs or hearts. For those who have no health issues, the walk all the way down to the pond and the lovely path around the pond is worth the long walk back up the hill.
The sun was warm and the beauty of the pond along the backdrop of the trees ready for fall was stunning. I stopped to watch a squirrel crack open an acorn; he didn’t seem to mind the company.
Even though it was early November, some azaleas were still in bloom, peeping out from under brown leaves that had fallen from their host trees. I saw a few other flowering plants and trees thrown in with the native trees and shrubs.
What I loved about Jenkins Arboretum was the beauty, the solitude, the thoughtful plantings, identification of the variety of flower/tree/shrub located on or near the plant, and numerous benches located throughout the forest to stop and take in the tranquil beauty.
I didn’t stop and sit because, truth-be-told, I was freezing. Never again after the day at the arboretum was I without my coat.
In order to make the most of your trip to Jenkins Arboretum, I recommend printing out this map. The map located on the trail is nearly undecipherable. Information about the history of Jenkins Arboretum and their programs and art shows can be found on their website.
Two days later, I visited Longwood Gardens. Longwood Gardens is far more manicured than Jenkins Arboretum and much larger. Longwood Gardens is on more than a thousand acres, compared to the Jenkins’ 46. The Arboretum is like a path you’d find out in nature in the middle of nowhere, whereas Longwood Gardens is more akin to something you’d see while visiting a king’s palace in England.
Be prepared with appropriate walking shoes and outerwear, water, a camera, and maybe a few snacks. Though Longwood Gardens does have food options, in a cafeteria-style restaurant called The Cafe. I ate in The Cafe and not only was it really tasty, it also has far healthier options than I’ve seen in most tourist areas.
In addition to The Cafe, there is also a fine dining option called 1906, but it does require reservations (which can be had online through OpenTable).
You’ll need more than one day to experience everything Longwood Gardens has to offer—but if you do only have one day, you’ll want to make the most of whatever is important to you. Planning your trip is paramount to seeing as much as you can.
In addition to the daytime viewing of plants and the Peirce-du Pont House, there are many nighttime options as well, depending on the season. Also, it’s best to check their website before heading out because there are times of the year when the garden is sold out. Christmas is a very popular time to see the gardens. They go all-out with the decorations, the lights, the music, and they turn the charm way up!
Longwood Gardens is perfect for any age. There are numerous walking paths and outside of the Conservatory the slope is mostly gentle. Inside the Conservatory is a children’s garden that is not to be believed. The attention to detail is astonishing and will tickle anyone’s imagination. A child who is left to run on the paths will soon be tuckered out and asleep in their stroller so that mom and dad can visit the other exciting wings of the Conservatory.
The Conservatory (see map) has an enormous collection of plants that range from whatever is appropriate for the season—for my visit, it was mums—to ancient bonsai trees, palms and tropical plants, cacti and succulents. Some of the bonsai trees were first trained starting in 1909! There’s also an amazing collection of orchids, and water lilies that are bigger than I’ve ever seen anywhere.
An insider’s tip is to get to the Conservatory early. No matter which day I’ve been to Longwood Gardens, portions of the enormous building were closed off due to private parties.
Nighttime at Longwood Gardens is not to be missed during the holidays. The light shows are spectacular and the water features pulse in time to the music. I was mesmerized by the displays.
Fall is a fantastic time to stop in and see what Longwood Gardens is up to because it’s an ever-changing and evolving garden. The groundskeepers and staff do everything they can to keep things fresh and new. I’ve been there three times so far and no two times have been the same.
Another insider’s tip: Go see the Wyeth Museum which is part of the Brandywine River Museum of Art just down the street from Longwood Gardens in Chadds Ford. It’s worth it to see this well-known American painter’s work as well as his extended family’s art.
Longwood Gardens and Jenkins Arboretum are two of my favorite places to visit to see trees, second only to Valley Forge Park . . . but that’s a post for another time.
Originally from the East Coast, Catherine Nichols has spent the last 29 years in San Diego, and stays in the area because of its extraordinary beauty and a lovely lack of humidity. Accused by her three children of looking at too many rocks while visiting Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and the deserts of Nevada, she continues to marvel at the ever-changing southwest landscape. With trips to Washington DC, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Portland, and Europe planned, Catherine plans to reawaken her desire to see the world, and leave no stone unturned. Catherine writes in her blog at iBloggoneit.com and tweets as @bloggoneit.