City Cast

The Origin Story of West Philadelphia’s Bartram’s Garden

Brittany Valentine
Brittany Valentine
Posted on September 5   |   Updated on September 6
Two lily pads in a turtle pond in Bartram’s Garden. (Angelica Grant/Getty Images)

Two lily pads in a turtle pond in Bartram’s Garden. (Angelica Grant/Getty Images)

Bartram’s Garden, the nearly 50-acre public park and historical landmark in Southwest Philly, is considered one of the oldest surviving botanical gardens in North America. Here’s a brief background into how this oasis came to be.

It all started with John Bartram, a third-generation Pennsylvania Quaker and self-taught botanist. In 1728, Bartram bought a plot of land to farm in what was then Kingsessing Township.

Bartam threw himself into botanical studies, traveling widely around North America and trading plants with other naturalists of his day.

Bringing back new seeds and knowledge from his travels, he revamped the garden, building ponds and swamps for aquatic plants, sections for nursery seeds, grassland and forest areas, and greenhouses for tropical plants.

By the 1750s, Bartram was a well-respected authority in the field. In 1765, former King George III appointed him Royal Botanist for North America.

Bartram died in September 1777, and his two sons carried on his enterprise.

Today, Bartram’s Garden is a National Historical Landmark, and operates as both a garden and a city park.

You can go bird-watching, take guided boat tours on the Schuylkill River, visit the oldest living gingko tree in North America, or attend a workshop or special event. What’s coming up? Unwind with a mindfulness meditation in the garden next week 🪷

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