by Alexandra Hay
I am a supporter of the British concept of the mini-break. Every weekend should be treated like a vacation, a time to do something a little bit special, even if you’re not going very far. For a spring break this year, I didn’t venture too far from my usual environs—I live in Washington, DC, and made a jaunt over to Delaware—but made the most of it with visits to three gardens nearby.
Northern Delaware and the outskirts of Philadelphia are home to a surprising number of gardens and horticultural destinations, from Longwood Gardens to the Mt. Cuba Center to the elaborately designed landscapes surrounding the mansions of various duPonts. This area is within relatively short drives from Wilmington, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, DC, and is well worth a visit. If you attended the ASLA Conference on Landscape Architecture in Philadelphia back in 2018, many of these spots may be familiar from the field sessions that year. Even if you attended one of these sessions, that was October—these same places in spring are just as extraordinary, and I’d revisit them all in every season and am sure I’d find just as much to look at.
While the three spots highlighted here are all different in scale and scope, I’d recommend any of them if you need a day out to recharge in nature and to bask outdoors while surrounded by aesthetically astonishing plantings. It was a beautiful way to welcome World Landscape Architecture Month.
Natural Lands oversees this public garden and nature preserve, with grounds designed by Olmsted Brothers that have been reimagined as a landscape that “celebrates the beauty of native plants and the importance of biodiversity.”
I happened to visit Chanticleer on the first day of the season. At other spots around the same time of year, I’ve gotten the sense that things were very much still warming up for the main show later in the spring. Chanticleer, however, was in absolutely top form for opening day in late March. The grounds were stunning; the range of landscapes, from a ruin garden to a riparian garden and much, much more, was incredible. Chanticleer is a place that rewards your attention to detail. The entire setting is characterized by a super-abundance of beauty and visual interest at seemingly every point. From benches to railings to boxes for plant lists, the level of craft, artistry, and expertise in different materials in every feature was a joy to explore.
Tuckahoe State Park, Ridgely, Maryland
Though a bit to the south of the Brandywine Valley, this spot on the Delmarva Peninsula isn’t far from the Bay Bridge over the Chesapeake—a familiar area for the many Washington, DC, residents who take off for the Delaware beaches come summer. While much of the arboretum was still dressed primarily in the ochers and grays of winter, there were pops of brilliant green where skunk cabbage and mayapple had already sprung up—and colorful art installations, too.