Stoneleigh native-plant estate garden and Flingers Leave a comment

November 02, 2023

Our banquet dinner at the Philadelphia Area Fling was held in the grand old Tudor Revival mansion at Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden, located in Villanova, Pennsylvania. Before dinner, we were set loose in the garden to explore for an hour.

Let’s start with the house garden, where a big dead London planetree, cabled for safety, has been left standing as a snag for wildlife. In the drizzle of a gray September afternoon, it added a gothic touch.

House garden

Stoneleigh has recently transitioned from private ownership to a public garden. The quick backstory: in 2016, the children of the late owners, John and Chara Haas, donated the 42-acre estate to Natural Lands, a land conservation nonprofit based in Media, PA. Stoneleigh opened to visitors in May 2018, free of charge, a park-like oasis that joins the many grand estate gardens in the Philadelphia region.

“Once a family home, now a public garden, Stoneleigh celebrates the beauty of native plants and the importance of biodiversity. We hope to inspire our guests to think about how gardening in concert with nature is essential to improving the health of our planet.”

A weeping tree with purplish leaves harmonizes with the gray stone of the house.

A wine-red chair continues the color scheme.

Majestic trees tower around the house, adding a sense of history.

This may be another 150-year-old planetree?

A ‘Morioka Weeping’ katsura tree gracefully spreads its lower branches on the lawn like the hem of a green gown.

Behind the house, goldenrod sizzles under ‘Kintzley’s Ghost’ honeysuckle vine.

Another look

A mown meadow path leads toward more beautiful trees, but I didn’t explore very far, mindful of dinner starting soon.

Bog garden terrace

A stone terrace near the house flows around island beds, surprisingly planted with carnivorous pitcher plants. In back, a swooping clipped hedge encloses the space.

These are pocket rain gardens, sopping up runoff from the patio.

Colorful pitchers — like organ pipes!

Near the parking lot: sword-leaved yuccas under a tree with frilly, banana-like foliage

A mossy limb

A wider view

The trees really are something here.

One big trunk bears a deep carving of a heart and the initials M & N. I wish I knew what the story is here.

Pergola garden

A stone pergola swagged with vines backs a pretty border of shrubs and flowers.

And inside, the long view

Outer view

Long straight paths and axis views contrast with…

…casual, winding paths and naturalistic plantings.

Catalpa Court pond

One of the grandest trees at Stoneleigh is this ancient catalpa in the Catalpa Court garden.

It overlooks what once was a tennis court. Today there’s a contemporary pond with a waterfall edge and biofiltration through plants in the center.

Blocks of gray stone are staggered along the infinity edge of the pool — a striking design that harmonizes with a chunky stone arbor.

From another angle

Strawberry bush (Euonymous americanus) caught my eye with its clusters of red berries.

Raindrops on strawberry-esque seedpods


As we wandered the gardens and awaited dinner, the Flingers had fun visiting with each other, including Barbara Wise (@crescentgarden) and Jean McWeeney (Dig, Grow, Compost, Blog).

Layanee DeMerchant (Ledge and Gardens) told a funny story that gathered a crowd.

Here she is reenacting a key part of the story with Jean. I’m cracking up just remembering her hang-gliding adventure!

After a nice dinner we heard an interesting presentation about Stoneleigh…

…and got a preview of next year’s Fling, which will be held in Puget Sound near Seattle!

Detour to Swarthmore College

The next morning, we made a stop at The Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College for our group photo.

I hung out on a Swarthmore porch for a while to stay dry and found David Stacey, Jim Charlier (Art of Gardening), Kimberley Protzman (Cosmos and Cleome), and Andy Young (CobraHead) doing the same.

Natasha Nicholes of We Sow We Grow braved the drizzle in her cute patterned overalls — one of many pairs of Duluth Trading Co. overalls in her collection, she told us.

And here we all are — at least those of us still hanging in there on the last day of a wet, chilly Fling. Still smiling! Hats off to our host, Karl Gercens, who’s crouched in front. I’m in the yellow raincoat, on the steps at middle-back. Onward!

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Digging Deeper

Tour several Austin gardens on Saturday, November 4, on the Garden Conservancy’s Open Day tour for Travis County. Tickets must be purchased online in advance and will be available beginning September 1st.

Come learn about garden design from the experts at Garden Spark! I organize in-person talks by inspiring designers, landscape architects, and authors a few times a year in Austin. These are limited-attendance events that sell out quickly, so join the Garden Spark email list to be notified in advance; simply click this link and ask to be added. The Season 7 lineup can be found here.

All material © 2023 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

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