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Best Native Plant Gardens To Visit: Stoneleigh, A Natural Garden

A transition well underway!

Stoneleigh, A Natural Garden catalpa court cascading edge water garden
Stoneleigh, A Natural Garden

Stoneleigh, near Villanova University outside of Philadelphia, was everywhere this summer. The New York Times and the well known gardening podcast, A Way to Garden, to name just a few places. When Baltimore garden friends told me they loved it, I knew I had to go.


The Haas family donated the property to Natural Lands, a non-profit saving open space, caring for nature and connecting people to the outdoors in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, in 2016. Natural Lands' stewardship is beginning to take hold and people are noticing!


The focus on showing gardens with native plants can be formal, informal and in-between makes it one of the best native plant gardens to visit. Native plants are more than meadow style plantings. They can be so much more: English style borders, a modern water garden, formal circles, and all sorts of straight and meandering paths. The property features a grand house as so many Philadelphia gardens do. This one houses the Organ Historical Society and is open for tours at specified times. The gardens are open free of charge every day throughout the year except for Mondays, Thanksgiving and Christmas.


Modern

native bog garden at stoneleigh gardens best native gardens to visit
Bog Garden

Modern bog gardens replaced the swimming pool. Captivating insect eating native plants fill the new bogs. Worth the trip alone!

native pitcher plants at stoneleigh garden
Pitcher Plants

Mature Grandeur

mature evergreen tree with draping branches at stoneleigh garden

With age comes beauty. The older trees at Stoneleigh, some native, some ornamental, exude a gracefulness only bestowed by nature. Branches bending to the ground and soaring overhead inspire.

fallne moss covered logs at stoneleigh garden


Snags

Yew Tree Snag
Yew Tree Snag

Leaving sections of dead trees, often described as insect havens, is increasingly common. Naturalists advise leaving as much of a dead tree as is safe. The decaying wood is a feast for insects, which scientists remind us are, for the most part, enormously beneficial to our gardens. Stoneleigh has taken this to heart with striking examples.


Paths

beaux arts style circle garden stoneleigh
Circle Garden

Should you be thinking about a path, or plantings along a path, Stoneleigh has oodles of examples. From the very formal to the meandering, with a variety of planting styles, there is something for every gardener's style.


Keeping It Real

Once past the visitors welcome area, paths wind among those stunningly large ornamental and native trees planted among beds of English ivy (Hedera helix) and Japanese pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis). You can literally see the efforts to transition to natives – a trio of native shrubs planted among the ivy here and a mass of a native perennials there. For those of us facing challenges with invasive English ivy and vinca (Vinca minor), Stoneleigh is somehow reassuring. We all start somewhere!


And Just Because

atlantic white cedar 'yankee blue' native tree

The contrast of an evergreen Atlantic white cedar 'Yankee Blue' (Chamaecyparis thyoides 'Yankee Blue') in front of darker evergreens is serene.

This path flanked by punctuation points of Sweet Gum 'Slender Silhouette' (Liquidambar styraciflua) invites you in. This deciduous tree grows 50 to 60 feet tall and 5 to 6 feet wide. Spectacular.

Fall Bees & native Goldenrod stoneleigh
Fall Bees & Goldenrod

This post barely scratches the surface of this native garden treasure. The doors being open year round is icing on the cake or, maybe we should say just a layer of compost on fallen leaves.


I hope you are able to visit Stoneleigh, whether through reading, listening or visiting. There is also an upcoming opportunity to hear from Ethan Kauffman, the Director of Stoneleigh Garden. He is the featured speaker at the 2024 GreenScapes Symposium, an on-line event held by Brookside Gardens in Montgomery County, Maryland. You can find more information here. No matter how you learn more, I so hope you enjoy it!



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We want you to be as excited about planting Chesapeake natives as we are. “Plant This or That” gives you a native alternative to popular plants. Other posts highlight really fabulous fauna native to the Chesapeake.

Nuts for Natives, avid gardener, Baltimore City admirer, Chesapeake Bay Watershed restoration enthusiast, and public service fan.

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