Philadelphia’s Newest Public Garden – Stoneleigh

I have always felt privileged to live in the Philadelphia area, known as America’s Garden Capital due to the presence of 30+ public gardens within 30 miles of the city. The time has come to prepare for a new addition. Stoneleigh, the former estate of the Haas family of Rohm & Haas fame, is about to open in Villanova as the region’s newest public garden.

The stately mansion sits among majestic trees 

The Haas family lovingly cared for the estate and its 42 acre, park-like landscape for over 80 years. Many landscape designers, including the Olmsted Brothers of Massachusetts, who were affiliated with the most prestigious landscape architecture firm at the time, were engaged to shape the property into the spectacular place it is today.

Now the responsibility lies with Natural Lands, entrusted with ownership of Stoneleigh in April of 2016. I recently had the opportunity to tour Stoneleigh and visit with Ethan Kauffman, Director, and Mae Axelrod, Media Relations, whose enthusiasm could understandably, barely be contained. 

The enthusiastic Ethan and Mae

A self-described “plant geek extraordinaire,” Ethan pruned trees and shrubs as we talked and meandered through the estate on its newly installed winding pathways. After all, there is a lot to do when your garden is making its grand reveal to the public in just a few weeks. The vision for Stoneleigh is to show how native plants can be used formally in a landscape, enhancing the beauty of a property while providing ecological benefits. A mission I strongly support. 

Ethan pruning one of the new trees as we talked

Ethan believes that garden magic lies in the imperfections as evidenced by the many organic and gnarled shapes found in the property’s state champion trees and other specimens. There is even a tree that looks multi-stemmed, but is actually a Tulip tree and an Ash tree that have merged themselves together in a perfect marriage. Ethan explained that he is seeking out imperfect shapes in new plant material being added to the property to keep that spirit alive. 250 new trees and shrubs have been added thus far with more lined up by the carriage house ready to be installed.

Some of the native plants to be installed before the opening
The Ash and Tulip Poplar perfectly merged into what looks like a single tree

I couldn’t help but feel that the perfectly placed plants, both new and old, were guardians of the property welcoming visitors with open arms and guiding their visit to the estate. It’s as if they were saying, “Come this way, there’s more for you to see over here.” 

The perfectly imperfect trees guide your visit with arms outstretched

Stoneleigh’s six Natural Lands’ staff members have worked tirelessly alongside many volunteers and 50-70 contractors to ensure the infrastructure is in place to comfortably accommodate guests and make visits meaningful and relaxing. New structures were built with extreme attention to detail, making it virtually impossible to tell if they were recently constructed or original to the property. Additions include a picnic pavilion and a patio for events that creatively echoes the original footprint of the estate’s swimming pool.

Contractors continued to work just weeks before the opening
The new picnic pavilion
The patio addition located where the pool once stood
The beautifully restored arbor

Natural Lands Members will have access to a garden preview from 4 to 8 PM on May 12. On May 13, the public is invited to ‘stroll about’ the garden from 10 AM to 5 PM. Going forward, the garden will be open free of charge from 10 AM – 5 PM Tuesday through Sunday. I highly encourage you to visit during the opening weekend and often thereafter. 

Can’t you picture yourself sitting here relaxing?

Recently, I watched the movie ‘Dare to be Wild’ based the life of Mary Reynolds, Irish landscape designer and youngest winner of the Chelsea Flower Show. In her Chelsea Flower Show application Mary said, “People travel the world over to visit untouched places of natural beauty, yet modern gardens pay little heed to the simplicity and beauty of these environments….those special places we all must preserve and protect, each in his own way, before they are lost forever.”

Kudos to the Haas family and Natural Lands for doing just that – preserving a special place of beauty and sharing it with us all. Welcome to America’s Garden Capital Stoneleigh. We are excited to have you and look forward to supporting your stewardship and helping to ensure your success! 

The Haas Family and Natural Lands welcome you – plan your visit now!

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