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Amish farms, art museums and estate gardens in Philadelphia’s countryside
“It’s Pennsylvania Bluestone,” a local resident explains after I inquire. While out for a scenic drive in the pretty Pennsylvania countryside, I’m charmed by the immaculate farmhouses adorned with stylish slabs of bluish-grey stone. The rock is predominately quarried in Pennsylvania so it’s part of the landscape.
I’m in Delaware and Chester County, a region traditionally referred to as Pennsylvania Dutch because of Dutch- and German-speaking immigrants who settled in the area. The pastoral Amish farms and congenial small towns are less than an hour’s drive or train trip from Philadelphia. If the allure of gardens, galleries and culinary treasures makes your heart skip a beat, it’s time to explore the calm of the Philadelphia countryside.
The vacation and residential town of Wayne evokes an old-world charm. There’s the Wayne Art Center (413 Maplewood Avenue; tel: 610-688-3553; wayneart.org), established in 1930 as the first art centre on the Main Line, and the Anthony Wayne Theatre (109 West Lancaster Avenue; tel: 610-225-2442; reelcinemaspa.com), a first-run art deco cinema circa 1928. There’s also the Wayne Hotel (139 East Lancaster Avenue; tel: 610-687-5000; waynehotel.com), an elegant Tudor Revival-style property that dates from around 1906, and plenty of vintage and contemporary boutiques for browsing along the main street.
With more than 30 public gardens within 48 kilometres of Philadelphia, it's no wonder the city's moniker is America's Garden Capital and no trip to Wayne is complete without a visit to the lush landscapes and ornate gardens of Chanticleer (786 Church Road; tel: 610-687-4163; chanticleergarden.org; ages 10 and up US$10; April through October). The 14-hectare garden sits on the grounds of the old estate once owned by the head of the pharmaceutical company Rosengarten and Sons. Guided tours are available (US$15).
After smelling the roses at Chanticleer, why not house hunt for a property in Wayne with Hollywood connections? Director George Cukor’s Oscar-winning film The Philadelphia Story, starring Katharine Hepburn, Carey Grant and Jimmy Stewart, was inspired by socialite Helen Hope Montgomery, who lived in the Montgomery-Scott Ardrossan manor. Over the years, much of the 300-hectare cattle farm has been sold off, most recently to an upscale housing development.
Longwood Gardens (1001 Longwood Road; tel: 610-388-1000; longwoodgardens.org; adults US$20) in Kennett Square’s cherished Brandywine Valley is open year round with a hectare of plants from around the world inside the enchanting glass conservatory. The outdoor gardens occupy over 400 hectares of meadows, woodlands, cascading waterfalls, trails and ponds, and more fountains than any garden in the United States. The Italian Water Garden was inspired by the Villa Gamberaia in Florence. The property was an arboretum when purchased by businessman Pierre S. du Pont (of the du Pont chemical company empire) in 1906. The open-air theatre hosts concerts and plays, and the conservatory is home to an Aeolian pipe organ, not to mention America’s best-loved bathrooms. Longwood recently won top prize for its restroom facilities (bestrestroom.com). The doors to the 17 private fern-draped lavatories morph seamlessly into the living wall landscape.
The historic town of Kennett Square imbues a sophistication and foodie distinction that comes with being labeled the “Mushroom Capital of the World.” The local farms produce close to 60 percent of the country’s fungi. The Mushroom Cap shop and museum (114 West State Street; tel: 610-444-8484; themushroomcap.com), located on the main street, is a mushroom lover’s delight and boasts everything from porcini to portobello.
Next door at Talula’s Table (102 West State Street; tel: 610-444-8255; talulastable.com, dinner guests lock in their reservation to dine at the farm table up to one year in advance. We’re talking fresh from the farmer’s garden to your mouth, serving up comfort food dishes like macaroni and cheese, baked chicken, grilled salmon, and tender tomatoes and asparagus prepared to perfection. No need to despair if you can’t dine at the table; takeout is an option.
Lastly, a visit to the Kennett Underground Railroad Center (tel: 484-544-5070; undergroundrr.kennett.net) to learn the story of slavery and their road to freedom should make your to-see list. The Kennett Square area reportedly has the largest concentration of secret safe houses in the nation.
Chadds Ford to West Chester
From the second floor of the Brandywine River Museum of Art (1 Hoffman's Mill Road; tel: 610-388-2700; brandywinemuseum.org; adults US$15), a restored 19th-century gristmill in Chadds Ford, one can watch passersby in kayaks and tubes happily floating along the Brandywine River. The museum’s galleries house a sizable collection of works by the acclaimed Wyeth family. Tours of N.C. Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth’s homes and spacious art studios offer a glimpse into their creative surroundings. Tours of the historic Kuerner Farm are available April through November 22.
A short drive away, the award-winning father-daughter winemaking duo at Penns Woods Winery (124 Beaver Valley Road; tel: 610-459-0808; pennswoodswinery.com) knows how to host a good party. Themed pairing events are held in the tasting room inside a darling century-old clapboard farmhouse. Outside, enjoy picnics, concerts, movie screenings on the barn, yoga in the vineyard, and special culinary events. This is a place where you can walk barefoot in the grass with a superb glass of Pinot Grigio and simply enjoy the vineyard with a view.
The historic town of West Chester in the heart of the Brandywine Valley is home to West Chester University, which hosts the Kennett Symphony and the Brandywine Ballet.
Heritage enthusiasts should note there is a staggering 4200 West Chester structures listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Some date back as early as the 18th century. The Dower House estate began as a two-room stone house occupied by George Washington’s parents in 1712. And there’s Hotel Warner, a 1930s art deco theatre turned hotel. The original façade is intact as is the lobby and elegant staircase leading to the second-floor eating area. It’s easy to imagine the movie reels spinning. There’s even buttered popcorn in the lobby!
For a taste of history and a few ghost stories, enjoy a candlelit dinner at The Dilworthtown Inn (1390 Old Wilmington Pike; dilworthtown.com), once a private home built in 1754. The Avalon Restaurant serves fresh Italian cuisine by fireside, and there are trendy vintage clothiers as well as chocolatiers and bakeries to peruse. There’s a cat hospital too.
In Glen Mills, Terrain (914 Baltimore Pike; tel: 610-459-2400; shopterrain.com/glen-mills) is the botanical jackpot of gardening centres. It’s a nursery, lifestyle- and home-décor boutique, and artisanal farm-to-table dishes are served in the antique greenhouse cafe. After brunch, you’ll find everything from fire pits to hydrangea petal earrings in the shop. Certainly after experiencing the inspiring ornamental gardens in the Pennsylvania countryside, you won’t be able to resist the treasures at Terrain.
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