Pennsylvania’s peak garden visitation season is springtime. And summer. And fall. And winter! Our vast and varied collection of garden destinations across the state makes it possible to connect with the beauty of Mother Nature throughout the entire year.
Take A Gardening Class
Darkest winter is when you most need thoughts of spring, so get the gardening juices flowing by taking a class at your local horticultural center or public garden. At Bowman Wildflower Preserve, a rotating slate of instructors will teach you all about native plants. There is both a virtual option and an in-person iteration featuring a guided walk. Attend a single class or sign up for the full docket and enter the planting season as an official Native Plant Ambassador.
Explore A Greenhouse
After months of cold temperatures and biting winds, walking into a humid greenhouse feels like a warm hug. Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park Horticulture Center is a modern exhibition hall and greenhouse built on the site of the 1876 Centennial Exposition building. The greenhouses, which boast tropical plants and succulents, are open daily.
Spend the First Warm Day in a Sculpture Garden
It might be a false promise, but there’s always that first day in March when the mercury hits 50 and it seems like the cold is behind us. (It’s not.) Take advantage of the spring tease by heading to one of the state’s stunning sculpture gardens — there’s a stark beauty even while plants remain dormant. Rhoneymeade Arboretum and Sculpture Garden in Centre County boasts walking paths through farmland, forest, gardens, and meadows. Even better: It’s free to access during daylight hours.
Find Some Tulips
Brown Hill Farms near Scranton boasts Pennsylvania’s largest tulip field. Get your camera ready as you stroll through five acres and 400,000 tulips. You can take home more than just pictures. Brown Hill Farms offers “u-pick” bouquets — it’s just the dose of color your home needs as the spring season kicks into gear. And make a note to come back in August for the sunflowers.
Stroll Among the Wildflowers
Part of the Lancaster Conservancy, Shenks Ferry Wildflower Preserve is a beautiful spot of wilderness on the banks of the Susquehanna River. Known for its spring wildflowers, including Virginia waterleaf, woodland phlox, and wild geranium, this is also a bird watcher’s paradise, with owls, hawks, indigo buntings and pileated woodpeckers commonly spotted in the trees. A leisurely stroll along the 1.7 mile trail offers plenty of opportunity to smell the flowers.
Celebrate the Summer Solstice
This is one worth traveling for. The Susquehanna Solstice Fest, hosted at the French Azilum historic site in Bradford County, is a weekend filled with plein air painting, live music, open jams and lessons, dance instruction and social dancing, river kayaking and canoeing, children’s art activities, presentations by historians and environmental experts, and tours of the historic home and gardens.
Pick Your Own Flowers
A bouquet on the kitchen table lights up any afternoon. Terra Farms in York County opens up their U-Pick Field every Friday through Sunday, July through October. It’s a marvelous way to get out in the sunshine and soak in some local color. As an added bonus, the farm offers a tabled area where you arrange your blooms — with their professionals on hand to offer advice.
You might not have the energy for your own homestead, but fortunately you can still enjoy a meal amidst the gardens which supply the produce on your plate. Luna Wine & Table is a marvel — a tiny vegan restaurant and microwinery in rural Susquehanna County near the New York state line. Nestled in the woods, the property is home to native birds, free-range chickens, a small vineyard, and organic vegetable gardens.
Hit the Hiking Trails
There is no better time to be outdoors than on a perfect September day — we’re talking pants and a light sweatshirt. Maximize your seasonal bliss by exploring the walking trails at your local state park or public garden. If you’re near Erie, head to Asbury Woods, a remarkable site comprising 216 acres of old-growth forests, landscaped gardens, wetlands, boardwalk trails, and dirt paths. Dogs are welcome. And while we prefer September sunshine, this is also an enticing spot for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Hit Up a Hayride
Autumn is the perfect time to experience an authentic Amish farm. At Old Windmill Farm in rural Lancaster County, you can walk the gardens and sample what’s in season, meet the animals, and take a hayride around the property. During the fall and winter months, opt for the “Farmhouse Experience,” which includes the opportunity to press cider from local apples, churn butter using cream from their cows, and bake fresh bread.
Shop for Bulbs
Once those 60 degree days are firmly in the rearview mirror, it’s time to buy and plant bulbs. They’re a gift you give your future self — the daffodils and irises are sure to spur a smile when they peak out in late March or early April. Keep an eye out for pop-up bulb sales at local shops and institutions, or head to a garden center like Tilley’s Nursery, a small business that has been brightening up Lehigh Valley lawns for over 40 years.
Follow the Lights
There are some world class holiday light displays in Pennsylvania that you should certainly add to your itinerary, but there are also some smaller celebrations sure to lift the spirits. At the Jenkins Arboretum and Gardens in Chester County, you can sip hot chocolate — or craft beer — grab some snacks, and take a nighttime stroll along their meandering paths which will be lit by thousands of luminary lights. It’s a low-tech experience high on winter magic.
Lee Stabert is a writer and podcaster with an expertise on all things Pennsylvania. For over a decade, she has served as chief editor of Keystone Edge, an online magazine about what’s next and best in PA, while also creating content about local wine, gardening, culture, and community development. In addition, she knows where to find the best tacos in Philly. Just ask.