By Marion McParland
Nestled on 25 acres in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, PHS Meadowbrook Farm is a work of art originally designed and created by J. Liddon Pennock, Jr., and his wife Alice, over the five decades they called it home. Bequeathed to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society in 2003, the meticulously manicured English Cotswold-style home and gardens are curated and cared for by PHS staff to preserve and share its beauty with everyone. With the green light from the State of Pennsylvania, and safety guidelines in place, the garden has opened once again beginning with PHS members by reservation, between July 15 and August 1 and then, free to the public starting on Wednesday, August 5, by reservation.
The Perfect Day Trip
Liddon and Alice received the land as a wedding gift from her family and built their home on it in 1936. Over the years, Liddon designed 15 intimate formal gardens featuring topiary, pavilions, statues, fountains, and reflecting pools. The trees, plants, and shrubs he selected remain as his gift to visitors today. Along the way, changes have taken place on the grounds to both enhance the Pennocks' taste and introduce new plants. The result is a hidden gem in the Greater Philadelphia area that is a must see! The gardens change every year — with new colors, textures, and designs — to recreate and refresh this one-of-a-kind local treasure.
“A perfect day trip, or escape from the city, Meadowbrook Farm is a getaway close to home,” says Julie Bare, PHS Meadowbrook Farm Senior Estate Gardener. “Every morning when I park and walk in through the display garden, it’s amazing to see the changes week to week as plants go out of bloom and others come into bloom — it’s wonderful to take in all the colors, the blooms, and the fragrances.”
Making an Entrance
A new display on Washington Lane greets visitors as they enter the garden. Flanking the entrance are three large containers planted with annuals and tropicals by Bare and intern Natasha Vadas. The containers feature angel’s trumpets, Brugmansia, Aeonium arboreum ‘Jolly Green’, the coral stems of the succulent, Euphorbia ‘Sticks of Fire’, and palms. The fiery red flowers of Salvia ‘Bonfire’ combined with the purple foliage of Alternanthera ‘Purple Knight’ create a colorful display.
Even the Xeric (low-water, drought tolerant) Garden in the middle of the parking lot is filled with detail. “You can walk by it a hundred times and see something different each time,” says Bare. Designed by Glenn Ashton, PHS Meadowbrook Farm Head Gardener, this garden is filled with water-wise plants that thrive in drought and can tolerate the heat. “I added big boulders and gravel to create a well-drained area for unusual plant material that needs sharp drainage to flourish,” he says.
A New Design Every Year
“Every year, I start with a blank canvas for the formal gardens and watch it come to life,” says Bare. “I pick a different color design for the sunny and shady parts of the gardens.” She uses J. Liddon Pennock, Jr.’s design intent as her guide, picking 4,000 annuals every opening season, including begonias, which were one of Pennock’s favorites. Bare’s sun-loving combination this year is the vivid blue flowers of Salvia ‘Mystic Spires Blue’ with Petunia ‘Easy Wave Silver’ and Persian shield, Strobilanthes dyerianus, with a diffusion of pink, purple, and silver in its leaves. Shaded areas are planted with pink, purple, and white this season.
“This year we went heavy on salvias,” says Bare. These pollinator-friendly plants are attracting ruby-throated hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees into the gardens. The hummingbirds are especially fond of salvias, particularly the ‘Mystic Spires Blue’. Visitors should keep an eye out for all the pollinators, as well as other wildlife in the gardens. “It’s been amazing this year,” says Bare, who has seen and heard more birds than usual, including cardinals, robins, hawks, Baltimore orioles, and pileated woodpeckers.
Following a one-way route through the garden, visitors will enter the Muse Garden, an area once filled with pachysandra and ivy. “We’ve been slowly and surely replacing it with perennials from the Philadelphia Flower Show,” says Bare. “This shady area is filled with coral bells, ferns, anemones, and Solomon’s seal, with an overall theme of hydrangeas.” She has planted the herbaceous false hydrangea Deinanthe caerulea, as well as other members of the hydrangea family including yellow wax bells Kirengeshoma palmata. “This garden is a quiet, shaded space — perfect for pausing a moment and taking it all in. I especially love it later in the day when the sun starts to set through the trees,” says Bare.
Leaving the Muse Garden, you’ll enter the Lower Terrace planted with annuals and tropicals. In addition to the Petunia and Salvia, Bare has added silvery highlights from Cynara cardunculus, cardoon and airy pops of bubble gum pink with Gomphrena Truffula Pink®. “One of my favorites in this area is the ruby grass, Melinus nerviglumis, which has soft pink tassle-like flower heads that move with the softest breeze,” says Andrew Bunting, PHS Vice President of Public Landscapes. Another showstopper in the design is Canna x ehemanii, with pendant rose-pink flowers reaching seven feet in height. “I have incorporated some element of annuals used elsewhere in the gardens,” says Bare. “Salvia and Petunia, both overwintered here in the greenhouses, tie the multiple garden beds on the grounds together, like a cohesive thread running throughout the tapestry of the garden.”
See a Working Vegetable Garden
This year, Alice’s Garden — historically a children’s cut flower garden — has been converted into a full production display vegetable garden to support Harvest 2020, PHS’s Summer 2020 initiative created to mobilize people in the Greater Philadelphia area to grow and share produce with local food banks. Working with the Jenkintown United Methodist Church Food Cupboard, Meadowbrook Farm is supplying an assortment of fresh produce to this food cupboard, which serves 165 families per week. Asian and mustard greens are thriving, with upcoming crops including zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, several cultivars of peppers including sweet, bell, and hot peppers, okra, cucumbers, and a super sweet white corn. “While this is a production vegetable garden, it is also meant to be educational for our visitors,” says Ashton, who has labeled all the crops. He plans to continue planting throughout the summer and transition the garden into cooler weather plants for a fall harvest.
Plan Your Visit
Meadowbrook is now accepting guests on a limited basis --- please check our website for the most current information. For a timed entry, please make a reservation for your timed entry here. Select the morning window between 9 and 11:30 a.m., or come after lunch between 1 and 3:30 p.m. Stroll at your own pace, and be sure to stop by the Meadowbrook Farm Plant Shop for an assortment of Meadowbrook-grown plants before you leave. PHS Members receive a discount in the shop.
More PHS Public Landscapes to See!
PHS manages hundreds of acres of public landscapes and gardens in the region, all free and open to the public for their enjoyment. Visit phsonline.org and look in our "Gardens to Visit" section.