By Melissa O'Brien
Searching for something to do outside that is free, fun, and benefits your physical and mental health? Look no further than this easy, self-guided walking tour of five beautiful outdoor landscapes and gardens maintained by PHS.
Our flat, picturesque walking tour will take you to some of the most historic and lush landscapes in the city, and only takes about 60 - 90 minutes to complete. Lace up your best walking shoes and grab a friend, family member, or furry companion to join you!
Logan Square (or Logan Circle) is the perfect location to kick off your tour. Located along the Ben Franklin Parkway, this well-known landmark is one of the five original planned squares laid out in William Penn’s 1684 city grid. The large water feature at the center is surrounded by a lush mix of annual, perennial, and shrub plantings.
The large tropical displays are in their prime in the fall, such as Canna X ehemanii with its rich scarlet flowers that hang in a pendulous manner. Large swathes of Celosia ‘Sylphid Lime’, an ivory inflorescence, are highlighted with dramatic specimens of Leonotis leourus, known as lion’s ear. This tall plant is covered in whorls of orange flowers, up to ten feet in the air. As you walk the circle, you will notice that each entrance is unique. One of the most exciting fall flowers is in the triangle towards City Hall, Amaranthus ‘Hopi Red’, a self-sown annual species is topped with enormous clusters of burgundy heads.
20-minute walk from Logan Square
Next, head North towards Fairmount Ave and the Eastern State Penitentiary. This former prison is a National Historic Landmark that is open to the public for tours and events year-round. While you’re there, keep an eye out for PHS’s beautiful horticultural displays, which border the prison along the prison’s front stone wall, and feature a mix of perennials, ornamental grasses, and shrubs.
Over the last decade, the entire woody layer of Viburnum trilobum, Viburnum dentatum, and Viburnum prunifolium was edited to expand the herbaceous layer. Pockets of tough urban tolerant perennials and ornamental grasses dot the border throughout the season. Large drifts of native grasses such as Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans ‘Indian Steel’) and little blue stem (Schizachyrium ‘Standing Ovation’) are carrying the seasonal changes. Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ is situated along the edge of the wall and a backdrop of the upright Aster ‘Jindai’ punctuates the naturalistic plantings. Many of the woodies are about to culminate the season with gorgeous red and orange tones, and Lezpedeza ‘Gibraltar’ is emerging with dark lilac flowers.
15-minute walk from Penitentiary
Once you’ve been properly spooked, head West to the Azalea Garden, a hidden gem located between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Boathouse Row. This four-acre public garden is open year-round and features dozens of species of cultivars planted in kidney-shaped planting beds adorned with colorful perennials in the summer and fall, and irises, daffodils, crocuses, and tulips during the spring.
A wide range of azaleas and rhododendrons bloom throughout the spring into the summer. During the growing season, beebalm (Monarda bradburiana) and hyssops (Agastache ‘Blue Fortune’) can be seen throughout the sunny edges. Recent grant plantings have also contributed to the understory with various Heucheras and native sedges. Large drifts of perennials such as Eupatorium ‘Phantom’ and Aster laevis ‘Bluebird’ are winding down the season.
10-minute walk from Azalea Garden
After your stroll in the garden, walk along the Schuylkill River to the front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which faces the Parkway and includes the Museum’s iconic large steps. Take photos of the amazing views from the steps, and take note of the seasonal plantings surrounding the museum.
The recently renovated north entrance sits among old stands of witch-hazels and old weeping beech trees. Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae runs along the entire northern property, and an assortment of Helleborus X orientalis have naturalized throughout the beds. Supplemental planting is planned for the spring of 2022, with Acteae ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Allium ‘Medusa’, and Sesleria autumnalis alternating along the foundation.
13-minute walk from Art Museum
Next, walk down the Parkway towards the Rodin Museum. The outside of this world-renowned sculptural museum is a work of art itself. Enjoy the fountain out front, take a seat on one of the benches, and admire the seasonal plantings including tulips and daffodils in the spring.
The interior annuals are slowing down for the season, but the large drifts of Cleome ‘Rosalita’ and Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ are still providing a great display. The fountain is enveloped with a formal boxwood hedge, which changes thematically each year. Cool season annual displays are rotated each year, complete with peach and magenta foxgloves. Next season, burgundy perennials such as Sanguisorba ‘Blackthorne’ will be surrounded by the orange highlights of tassel flower, Emilia javanica.
PHS is committed to maintaining and improving public landscapes and gardens such as the ones mentioned above. Interested in visiting more local gardens and green spaces? Check out our full list of 17 PHS Gardens and Landscapes in the Philly-Area.