A Garden Tour: The Natural Lands of Stoneleigh
As a brand deeply rooted in nature, we feel incredibly lucky that the Terrain home office is located in Philadelphia—a city aptly nicknamed America's Garden Capital with over 30 public gardens within 30 miles of the city center. Stoneleigh: a natural garden was only recently added to that list when it was officially donated to Natural Lands by the Hass estate on April 20, 2016. Our creative team recently visited the 42 acre garden in Villanova, PA, and we got to chat with Ethan Kauffman, the director of Stoneleigh, to get his perspective on how he hopes they’re enriching the local public garden experience, what a ‘natural garden’ means to them, and the ways that Stoneleigh is especially unique.
terrain: Hi Ethan! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us about Stoneleigh. How would you define a “natural garden”?
Ethan: A ‘natural garden’ is land managed in concert with nature. We strive to care for the garden through sustainable practices that promote biodiversity, reduce chemical applications, mitigate stormwater, help control erosion, and lower energy inputs into the garden, among other ecological gardening practices. Of the 25,000 plants we’ve planted in the garden since 2017, all are native and provide more than just stunning beauty—they provide critical shelter, food, and habitat for a far greater array of wildlife than non-native species.
terrain: We loved seeing how you’ve integrated different types of gardens throughout Stoneleigh. Can you talk to us about the various gardening philosophies you’ve planted on the grounds?
Ethan: The design work of Olmstead Brothers (the landscape architectural firm) is very evident; with its park-like setting and titanic trees, Stoneleigh feels like a grand old estate at first blush. A deeper dive yields new discoveries, including wild patches of meadow, atmospheric hardscapes, unique plants, and a property in transition from a private estate to a public garden. There is history and an emerging vitality apparent in both the new landscapes and the people who now enjoy them. Towering above all is a remarkable canopy of large trees, including many which are 100 years old or more.
terrain: Stoneleigh has such a rich history—can you talk about how that history informs its present iteration?
Ethan: The Haas’ loved their land and were tremendous stewards of the property for almost 50 years. They favored a natural expression, allowing trees to grow without formal pruning, which has resulted in many twisted, unique, and cool specimens, like the mountain laurel here. The imperfections of these unorthodox forms creates true garden magic. We often seek out imperfect specimens from nurseries, and nurture these qualities in existing trees.
terrain: Can you just tell us a bit about the incredible house on the grounds?
Ethan: The house was constructed in 1900 and is in the Tudor revival style. Believe it or not, we’re a little unsure of the architect! Some sources seem to indicate Frank Miles Day and Brother, while others mention Everett and Meade. The house is utilized for events, tours, administrative space, and also houses the Organ Historical Society (musical instrument not the stuff inside us!). An amazing pipe organ was recently installed in the basement—it was built in 1931 for a mansion in West Orange, New Jersey.
terrain: What do you hope visitors will take away from their experience at Stoneleigh?
Ethan: As new landscapes at Stoneleigh are developed, we hope each one will inspire visitors through creative, ecologically-driven designs that are not only beautiful but also contribute to the well-being of our planet. We design using both fine gardening and informal elements, planting commonly encountered plants in unexpected ways and uncommonly cultivated plants in traditional ways. We hope visitors will take what they’ve learned home and apply it to their own yard, community, garden, or business. Since it will take years for us to fully develop the garden, we’d like to celebrate the process and invite our guests to share in the experience.
Ethan wrapped up his garden tour by saying, "the Hass estate created a community treasure that’s free to enter and will continue to delight and inspire for generations. We’re honored and privileged to continue their legacy of land stewardship, and strive to provide the garden with the highest level of care for all to enjoy.”