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The Secret Gardens of Independence Park

Posted on Tuesday, May 27, 2014

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A respite from the crowds in Independence National Historical Park

The History
The creation of Independence National Historical Park in 1948 led to the construction of many sites in Old City and the restoration of even more.  Most of those projects such as the creation of Independence Mall, the Liberty Bell Center or the restoration of Independence Hall are sites that just about every visitor to Philadelphia sees.  There are however, some secrets hidden within the 55 acres that make up Independence National Historical Park. 
Rose Garden - Independence National Historical Park
Among those secrets are a series of little known gardens.  Just above Walnut Street between 3rd and 4th streets sit two classic recreations of 18th Century Gardens.  The gardens were created by the National Park Service and their style is meant to demonstrate what a garden in Philadelphia would have looked like in the 18th century. 
Further south along Locust street, between 4th and 5th streets, there are two more gardens.  The northernmost garden is known as the Rose Garden and was originally donated by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1971 to honor those who signed The Declaration of Independence.  Just south of the Rose Garden is the Magnolia Garden, a garden donated back in 1959 by the Garden Club of America in honor of the founders of our nation.    
18th Century Garden - Independence National Historical Park
What to See
The gardens themselves are beautiful, but perhaps the best way to enjoy them is by having a picnic! All throughout Independence National Park, lunch carts line the streets offering some of the best street food in America.  While the food at the street carts can be top notch, the dining accommodations often leave something to be desired.  Standing roadside breathing in exhaust fumes is no way to enjoy a meal and venturing to the open space of Independence Mall is not much better.  The Mall and its directly adjacent parks can get very crowded and extremely hot during the busiest stretch of the summer tourist season.
Walking an extra few blocks to these gardens can provide an opportunity to escape the crowds and enjoy a meal in comfort.  The Magnolia and Rose Gardens provide the most open space and seating to enjoy a meal.
Bishop White Garden - Independence National Historical Park
Here's a little info on each garden:
  • Locust Street between 4th & 5th Streets. 
    George Washington was quite interested in horticulture and particularly liked Magnolia trees, and this garden pays tribute to the magnolias that President Washington hoped to grow one day. 
  • Bounded by Locust and Walnut Street and 4th and 5th Streets
    The Rose Garden in the center of a landscaped area bounded by was donated by the Daughters of the American Revolution in honor of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, and dedicated in May 1971. This delightful garden showcases antique roses, which are at their peak in June. At the garden entrance, notice the cobblestone paving, which was once the courtyard of a stable; it dates from about 1796. The Garden includes some 250 roses consisting of 96 varieties. Among these are the “Old Blush” rose (“Chinese Monthly Perpetual”) and the green flowered rose (Rosa chinensis viridiflora). Unlike the modern hybrid roses, the majority of these roses flower only once a year. 
  • Off Walnut Street between 3rd and 4th Streets
    Colonial gardening design closely followed that of Europe. When the earliest settlers arrived in America they brought with them a geometric style of gardening that harkened back to ancient times. On the north side of Walnut Street between 3rd and 4th Streets is a representation of an 18th century formal English garden. A handsome, vine-covered pergola anchors the formal landscape next to the Todd House. Neat, raised beds are filled with flowering plants in season and bordered by paths. Rows of small fruit trees complete the period scene. No other location in the city proper provides such a unique landscape feature. This garden maintained by Independence National Historical Park, best illustrates a formal style of gardening for the contemporary period by its walks, geometrically patterned flower beds, the small orchard, and the pergola. The species of trees, shrubs, and flowers exhibited in the garden are typical of those grown in this city prior to 1800. From 1750 to 1783 this site was occupied by a garden larger in area and scale than the present one. 
  • Corner of 3rd and Walnut Streets
    A restful green oasis on the site of Benjamin Rush’s home and next to Bishop William White's, this classic 18th century style garden features symmetrical planting beds bordered by low boxwood hedges. In summer, leafy green shrubs and groundcovers soften the brick walls.
Insider Tips
If you wish to see the Magnolia Garden, the best time to see it is when all of the magnolia trees are in full bloom.  The trees bloom in early spring so a visit in mid-March to the beginning of May represents your best bet at seeing this garden at its finest.  
Magnolia Garden - Independence National Historical Park
How to Get There
Guests of The Constitutional Walking Tour and The Constitutional Bus Tour of Philadelphia can easily access any of these parks by walking just a few blocks south of the National Constitution Center where both tours both begin and end. 
The parks are also within short walking distance of multiple Septa bus routes and Market Frankford Subway Line.
Street parking is also available near all of the parks (just remember to pay the parking kiosks).
National Park Rangers generally open each park at daylight and most are closed by nightfall.
Additional Information
Locust Street between 4th and 5th Streets

Walnut Street between 4th and 5th Streets

Walnut Street between 3rd and 4th Streets

Corner of 3rd and Walnut Streets
Philadelphia, PA 19106

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