Azaleas at Winterthur

Azaleas at Winterthur (©Jeannette Lindvig)

Garden-Inspired Exhibits Around Philadelphia

By JoAnn Greco on 03/02/17, updated 03/03/17

Being the Garden Capital of the United States, it's fitting that Philadelphia is full of gardens and parks. But even Philly's museums and attractions have taken note. Here are some garden-inspired attractions in and around the city.

The Dream Garden

Not everyone who visits the historical attractions of Independence Mall knows to detour to the lobby of the nearby office building where a stunning mosaic by artist Maxfield Parrish resides. Those who do are amply rewarded. Sitting on the stone bench before Parrish’s depiction of a luminous Eden—crafted from 100,000 pieces of Tiffany glass—and listening to the gurgle of the accompanying fountain offers as serene a respite from the rigors of sightseeing as any “real” garden. 699 Walnut St., Philadelphia

Dream Garden

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

For a different mosaic experience—and one that is anything but tranquil—consider a tour of Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Garden. Walking around town, you’re bound to encounter the distinctive work of this artistic genius, but here at his South Street home and studio, the artist reaches an apex in an outdoor jumble of mirrors and tiles and bottles and wheels and, well, we challenge you to find your own favorites. The fun continues inside, too. 1020 South St., Philadelphia

Magic Gardens

Garden of Delight

Even more pervasive than Zagar’s wacky wonders are those of Mural Arts, which has turned thousands of empty walls throughout the city into vibrant canvases. Frequent contributor David Guinn is fond of mellow urban scenes, and for this commission he returned to the Washington Square neighborhood where he grew up. Under a painted blue sky, the artist’s exuberant swirls and vivid fauna bring to life a two-dimensional oasis that enhances the well-tended community garden that the mural watches over. 23 S. Sartain St., Philadelphia

Garden of Delight

The Village of Arts and Humanities

Combining murals and mosaics, meditation spaces and musical performances, this 30-year-old project was started by artist Lily Yeh as an ongoing attempt at revitalizing—vacant lot by vacant lot—a sliver of North Philadelphia. Visitors can meander through a series of parks, alleys, courtyards and gardens adorned with design motifs borrowed from Chinese, African and Islamic cultures. It’s a brilliantly-hued cornucopia of frolicking children, fluttering butterflies, fantastical animals and blossoming flora that somehow all connects as one unifying vision. 

Winterthur Garden

The magnificent Brandywine Valley estate of Henry Francis du Pont is treasured as a house museum and decorative arts gallery. But the 60-acre garden that he personally envisioned with landscape architect Marian Coffin and cared for—with an army of helpers—is an excellent example of an exotic, non-native landscape expertly designed to look natural. 

“Color is the thing that really counts more than any other,” du Pont said of his choices, which include rhododendron, dogwoods, lilies, peonies and irises.  5105 Kennett Pike, Winterthur, Del.

Winterthur Garden

Sunkaraku, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Dating to 1917, this ceremonial Japanese tea house incorporates traditional design elements from the 15th- and 18th-centuries. Architect Ogi Rodou built it for his own Tokyo residence, then sold it to the museum, where it’s been installed in the Asian Galleries since 1957. Its brightly lit setting evokes that of a sun-dappled walk through the woods, and as you stroll stone paths lined with bamboo fences and overgrown with evergreen shrubs, it’s easy to imagine that a cup of green tea and a kimono-clad hostess are waiting right around the corner. Of course, many of the museum’s artworks also bring the garden indoors—in keeping with the Flower Show’s “Holland” theme, one to seek out is Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy, Philadelphia

Sunkaraku, Philadelphia Museum of Art

The Arboretum of the Barnes Foundation

Just because its magnificent art museum has relocated to Center City doesn’t mean there’s no reason to visit the original Barnes complex in Merion, Pennsylvania, about eight miles away. Cultivated by Dr. Barnes’ wife, Laura, this 12-acre treasure acts both as a teaching tool and a pleasure garden. Highlights include a rare monkey puzzle tree, a honey locust tree from the late 19th-century and an astounding redwood. Elsewhere are impressive collections of hostas and ferns, in addition to large masses of lushly-scented lilies, peonies and magnolia blossoms. 300 N. Latches Lane, Merion Station, Pa.

The Arboretum of the Barnes Foundation

Corinthian Gardens, Eastern State Penitentiary

Before touring this celebrated attraction—where you’ll learn the details of its innovative layout and philosophy and see Al Capone’s nicely appointed cell—explore its forbidding exterior. For two decades, a neighborhood group has softened the massive stone walls by planting the grounds that rise up from the sidewalk and around the building’s perimeter with an abundant assemblage of native perennials, vines, grasses and flowering shrubs. Who says crime doesn’t pay? 2027 Fairmount Ave., Philadelphia