My name is Julie Bare, and I work at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Meadowbrook Farm in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. I studied horticulture at Temple University Ambler and have been working as the estate gardener at Meadowbrook for the last six years. I absolutely love what I do! It is truly a blessing to be able to come to work every day and put my hands in the dirt. I love watching the seasons come and go, along with the insects, wildlife, and blooms. I live in Philadelphia and have a very small backyard garden, so I really think of the garden at Meadowbrook as “my” garden.
Meadowbrook Farm is a 25-acre garden with a plant shop as well as a wholesale growing operation (we grow lots of the plants for the Philadelphia Flower Show). The estate was the home of J. Liddon Pennock and Alice Herkness Pennock. They built the house in 1936 and immediately started planting the garden, starting off of the back of the house. The part of the garden at Meadowbrook that I take care of is the formal bit that surrounds the house. It is laid out on two terraces and consists of garden rooms, each with its own theme, that are separated by hedges or stone walls. The garden is designed on linear axes with gazebos, fountains, or structures at the terminus meant to direct your eye. We have a number of water features, so wherever you are in the garden you can hear the sound of running water.
The garden bones are a variety of evergreen woody plants (rhododendron, aucuba, pieris, cherry laurel, hollies, and more) that we accent each season by planting hundreds of annuals and containers. Spring is a particularly beautiful time in the garden, with the dogwoods, azaleas, and daffodils blooming.
This is a view of the Eagle Garden from the second-floor balcony. The Eagle Garden is off the back of the house and was the first garden created. It features an eagle statue flanked by two cloud-pruned hemlock trees that take my coworker and me two days to prune every year in March. They are beautiful specimens! Their bark and branch structure is gorgeous. This garden also has four beds we plant seasonally with annuals. This spring we planted snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus, annual). On the right, you can see an evergreen border of rhododendron, pieris, and hollies. On the left we have aucuba (Aucuba japonica, Zones 7–9) and two espaliered copper beech trees (Fagus sylvatica, Zones 4–7). Mr. Pennock was a big fan of unusual pruning, and so am I!
Here is a view of the back of the house. We are still in the Eagle Garden, but we are facing away from the hemlock trees. We call this the Eagle Garden patio. It is a wonderful microclimate because the stone of the house and patio retains a lot of heat and it has a direct southern exposure. On the wall we have an espaliered Magnolia grandiflora (Southern magnolia, Zones 7–10) on the right and a camellia on the left. On the right there are also two Viburnum carlesii (Korean spice viburnum, Zones 4–7) that we train as topiary. When they are in bloom the fragrance is lovely!
This is the herb garden. It contains many perennial herbs such as thyme, sage, lavender, and oregano. It also contains more unusual medicinal plants such as Asarum europaeum (European ginger, Zones 4–7), Hydrastis canadensis (goldenseal, Zones 3–8), Teucrium chamaedrys ‘Nana’ (dwarf germander, Zones 5–9), Cardamine diphylla (two-leaved toothwort, Zones 3–7), and Satureja montana (winter savory, Zones 6–11). In the spring we plant it with calendula while we wait for the perennials to emerge. This year the calendula we chose was a variety called ‘Flashback Mix’ that had beautiful shades of yellow, orange, and white—and the flowers are edible!
The dipping pool garden is one of my favorite spots in the garden. I love the texture from the Japanese maple (Acer palmatum, Zones 5–9) and the arching branches from the weeping blue atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica ‘Glauca’, Zones 6–9). In this garden I planted Fritillaria persica (Persian lily, Zones 5–8), a really neat bulb that has wonderful glaucous foliage and a dark purple, almost black, flower. In addition to the fritillaria, we have two unusual varieties of Osmanthus, ‘Hariyama’ and ‘Kaori Hime’ (Zones 7–9) both of which seem to be very slow growing. There are also a number of troughs planted with alpine and rock-garden plants in this garden.
The Queen’s Garden is an area that I am very proud of. We have been making lots of renovations to this garden over the past few years. This was somewhat of a forgotten space when I started gardening here, but it continues to improve every year. Two years ago we swapped ugly white gravel for an irregular bluestone patio planted with plants that tolerate light foot traffic. This garden historically had a boxwood hedge around the patio area, but shade from nearby white pines caused it to die out in some places, which ultimately led to it being removed. Last year we began the process of planting a new hedge. I selected Ilex ‘Hoogendorn’, a variety of evergreen holly that gets about 3 feet tall and wide. I have 26 plants waiting to go in the ground this season to finish the hedge off on the left side.
The Muse Garden is another area that I have been working hard on for the past few years. If you turn around from the Queen’s Garden, you are facing the Muse Garden. It used to contain primarily ivy, pachysandra, and a few white pines. I began removing those invasive ground covers little by little and planting perennials. Now we have a nice herbaceous layer of Narcissus ‘Thalia’ (a beautiful white daffodil), Sedum ternatum (woodland stonecrop, Zones 4–8; a shade-tolerant, native sedum), Polygonatum humile (dwarf Solomon seal, Zones 4–8), Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern, Zones 3–9), and Polystichum polyblepharum (tassel fern, Zones 5–8). I also planted Deinanthe caerulea (false hydrangea, Zones 5–7), which is a great herbaceous plant with blue flowers in the Hydrangeaceae family, and the rare evergreen Trochodendron aralioides (wheel tree, Zones 6–7), which gets about 20 feet tall.
This last image is a view of the house that provides the backdrop for most of the garden. The stone used to build the house was sourced locally from a Chestnut Hill quarry, and in the right light it appears to sparkle. The three-tiered container is a nonfunctioning fountain that we decided to use as a planter, and it is the first thing to greet you as you walk up the driveway to head to the garden.
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Good morning, Julie. You are certainly very fortunate to be in an employment situation where you feel blessed and privileged to go work everyday. I absolutely adore the creative effect the artful pruning of the various evergreens gives...the espaliered magnolia is particularly spectacular and so unique. It has been a delight to take the cyber tour of your part of Meadowbrook Farm.
Thank you so much! It is a blessing and always exciting! You never know what you will get with each season!
What a great job to have. Everything is so pretty.
Thank you so much! Luckily the plants do most of the hard work!
From California it is great fun to see East Coast gardens. We traveled, in an rv, for 19 years and I got to see so many wonderful East Coast gardens.
Thank you, Julie, for this wonderful tour.
Traveling in an RV is something I have always wanted to do! It's funny how whenever gardeners travel they have no problem finding a garden, nursery, or something plant related to visit! Glad you enjoyed the post!
You have my dream job! What a beautiful garden.
I feel blessed that I found this line of work. I originally went to school to study film and media arts! You never know where life will take you!
Julie, these gardens are amazing! You have done a wonderful job restoring them to glory. 'Thalia' is one of my favorite narcissus and I'm thrilled to see it in your Muse Garden. Thanks so much for sharing!
Thank you so much! It sure is a labor of love! I also love Thalia! In the future I hope to add bulbs to the garden that are cultivars from the 1930s and 1940s. Thank you for reading!
You really have a lot of plant/garden knowledge, and are doing an amazing job in that garden. It really shows how much you love that garden and treat it as if it were your own. What a dream job! If I ever travel out that way (I'm in Pittsburgh) I will be sure to visit this gorgeous garden! Thanks for posting!
Thank you so much! Those are very kind words. I do love it, but what's not to love! It is a fabulous garden! I hope you make it down sometime. Philadelphia is America's Garden Capital! http://americasgardencapital.org/
If you ever do please ask for me, I will show you around!
Hi, I love your garden! Is it open to visitors everyday? I live in NJ just over the Walt Whitman, so would love to visit someday...
Hi! We would absolutely love for you to visit! We are open Wednesday- Saturday, April- September. You can learn more about visiting at our website, https://meadowbrookfarm.org/.
The garden is always free to walk around. I recommend doing a guided house and garden tour for $20 though. You get all the history and you get to see inside the house! Please find me in the garden and say hi if you do visit.
My hazel eyes are green with envy at your wonderful job. What a beautiful house and gardens and enjoyable description of your plans and changes. Thank you for sharing this lovely garden.
Thank you for reading! There certainly is always something to look forward to with each passing season!
Julie, each of your garden rooms is interesting and beautiful. We are fortunate to live in the Philadelphia area with many lovely gardens; the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society is an important part of this region- not only for the lovely garden we see here and the annual Flower Show but for all the civic-minded projects like helping local residents to create and maintain vegetable and flower gardens in formerly neglected plots, and beautifying the approach to Philly from the airport. We are proud to be ordinary members of PHS.
I love seeing all these gardens! Another one to add to my list- although our east-coast-based son will soon be moving to Chengdu in China, I guess I better amend my list a bit.
Wondering about the camellia in the south-facing garden- I am trying to find one that will thrive in my front yard (also south-facing) here in zone 8 in PNW. Thanks for sharing!
Julie, I love your gardens, your photos, and especially your commentary. I like that you share your future plans and ideas for the gardens. You have inspired a lot of us today with this submission. Thank you!
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