by Len Lear
The Garden Conservancy is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Cold Spring, New York, dedicated to preserving exceptional gardens and landscapes throughout the U.S. Founded in 1989 by Frank Cabot, the Conservancy has since helped a number of American gardens to develop preservation strategies, organizational structures, and funding plans. In some cases, the Conservancy takes the lead in transitioning the garden to a sustainable, nonprofit status.
Since 1995 the Conservancy has sponsored annual “open days” at hundreds of private gardens across the United States, offering the public an opportunity to visit private gardens not generally open for viewing. Conservancy members receive a copy of Open Days Directory, an annual regional guide to open garden days across the United States. The directory is a soft-cover book that includes detailed driving directions and vivid descriptions of each property, written by their owners.
The Conservancy’s upcoming Open Days private garden tour in the Philadelphia area will take place on Sunday, May 5, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nationwide, the 2013 season features more than 300 gardens in 18 states. A $5 admission fee at each garden supports the expansion of the Open Days Program around the country and helps build awareness of the Garden Conservancy’s work of preserving exceptional American gardens.
The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days Program in the Philadelphia area includes 15 private gardens on the Main Line and in the Chestnut Hill area. All are open to the public for self-guided tours. No reservations required; rain or shine. Features of the properties include rose gardens, water features, themed garden rooms, specimen trees, sculpture, and many historic homes.
Visitors may begin the self-guided tour at any of the following locations:
• The Garden of Charles & Gene Dilks, 215 W. Willow Grove Ave.: The Dilks have lived and worked together on the same nine-10s of an acre for 40 years. They have different color preferences with great affection for auditioning different woody plants. Gene’s grandchildren enjoy the playhouse and the woodland path she has created, spotted with 11 “frogs and toads,” one “dancing stump,” a praying mantis and Mortimer the turtle. The entire effect is breathtaking, especially in the spring.
• The Garden of Jay & Nanie Flaherty, 401 W. Springfield Ave. The Flahertys designed their garden, which sits on a one-acre lot surrounding their house at the corner of a busy intersection. The location is close to the Valley Green entrance of Fairmount Park. The couple has lived in the house for over 25 years, so they now have good “garden bones” created by the dozens of hollies planted by the original owners and by a canopy of mature oak, hickory and beech trees.
• The Garden at Krisheim, 700 W. Mermaid Lane: “Krisheim” is German for “Christ’s home.” Named for a village on the Rhine River, William Penn also used the name for one of four boroughs into which he divided land in this area. Dr. and Mrs. George Woodward made this their home after Mrs. Woodward’s father gifted them 40 acres upon their marriage. The Woodwards spent almost 15 years designing and planting the grounds prior to completion of the house in 1910.
• The Garden of Nancy Newman & Jonathan Morley, 400 W. Springfield Ave.: This lush, contemporary garden was created at the entrance to an estate that at one time occupied the entire block. In the front yard remain the columns that once marked the entry drive, and in the back are a set of steps which once led into the garden surrounded by some rather ancient boxwood and azaleas.
• Guildford Manor, 8500 Flourtown Ave., Wyndmoor: Guildford is a unique and magnificent manor house built in 1925 and purchased by its present owner in 2005. It sits on 18 acres and is protected in perpetuity by a land conservancy. The owner, Martha McGeary Snider, retained landscape designer Robert Nonemaker to help create a master plan to open the view and improve and update the property around the house. The original owner, Allethaire Elkins Rotan, selected specimen trees for the estate, many of which remain.
• The Stable Garden, 8470 Flourtown Ave., Wyndmoor: This delightful small garden was at one time the stable yard and greenhouses for what is now called “Guildford.” Owner Charles Ingersoll is gradually modifying the gardens to encourage birds, butterflies and insects among the lovely meadows surrounding the house.
• Alice & Richard Farley, 606 St. Andrews Rd.: Richard is the architect of this lovely house, which he and Alice built in 1978. She is the landscape architect. Alice first planted 1,000 daffodils even before breaking ground on the house, which occurred the same day their first child was born. Then, terraces and steps were added by the new mom, who also planted the garden and continues to maintain it.
For more information about the directory, the Open Days program or the Conservancy, visit www.opendaysprogram.org or call 1-888-842-2442.