Wildflower Gardens


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The Brandywine Conservancy's Wildflower and Native Plant Gardens at the Brandywine River Museum of Art are a living representation of the Conservancy's mission to preserve, protect and share American artistic, natural and historical resources, principally of the Brandywine region.

Photo by Michael Kahn
Designed by horticulturist F.M. Mooberry and begun in 1974, the gardens feature indigenous and some naturalized plants of the greater Brandywine region displayed in natural settings. In 1979, Lady Bird Johnson dedicated the gardens to Ford B. Draper and Henry A. Thouron, two individuals who played important roles in the establishment of the Brandywine Conservancy. Today, the gardens are maintained in memory of Mary Sharp.

Originally intended to screen parking areas and provide borders around the museum, these demonstration gardens use wildflowers, trees and shrubs in landscaped areas. Plants are selected to provide a succession of bloom from early spring through the first killing frost. Each is located in a setting similar to its natural habitat: woodland, wetland, flood plain or meadow. A unique feature of the gardens is the rainwater detention basin located between the two paved parking areas just in front of the museum. It provides a wetland habitat for several species of wildflower and serves as a model for controlling river pollution from parking lot runoff.

Volunteers play a major role in planting and maintenance. Seed collected by the volunteers is made available to research laboratories, highway beautification and habitat restoration projects, public and private gardens, universities, and commercial nurseries, as well as to the public through the Brandywine River Museum Shop. Seed is also used for the Conservancy's wildflower and native plant propagation program.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
(Photo by Mark R. Gormel)


Spring comes in early April with Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), one of the earliest displays. Buds rise from clasping leaves and develop into white, star-like flowers which open only on sunny days. The roots contain an orange-red sap, once used as an insect repellent, sore throat remedy, cough syrup and red dye.

In April and into May, the Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica) blooms, first visible as dark purple leaves emerging from the soil. Its clusters of bell-like flowers start as pink buds which transform as they open and mature into pale blue blossoms.

Several varieties of phlox, including the shade-loving Blue Phlox (Phloxdivaricata), Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera) and the sun-loving Downy Phlox (Phlox glaberrima) bloom from April through early June, bringing highlights of white, blue, violet and pink to the gardens. Also

Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and Wood Poppy (Stylophorum dipyllum)
(Photo by Mark R. Gormel)
blooming in April and May are the airy white spikes of the Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) and sunny-yellow Wood Poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum).

Irises that show their colors in May and June, include the Larger Blue Flag (Iris versicolor) which prefer sunny wet areas, while the Crested Dwarf Iris (Iris cristata) is happier in the shady moist area found in the gardens along the museum's riverside. 

Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly sipping nectar from Butterfly Weed
(Asclepias tuberosa).
(Photo by Mark R. Gormel)

Summer is heralded by Sundrops (Oenothera fruticosa), showy yellow flowers that open for the Memorial Day visitor and bloom for more than a month. Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), with clusters of small orange, red or yellow flowers, is seen blooming in hot sunny areas from early June into September. As with other members of the milkweed family, it is an exclusive food source for the larvae of the Monarch butterfly, while flowers provide nectar for adult butterflies of all kinds.

Crimson-Eyed Rose Mallow
(Hibiscus palustris forma peckii).
(Photo by Mark R. Gormel)
July brings orange Turk's Cap Lilies (Lilium superbum) and orange-yellow Canada Lilies (Lilium canadense) once used by Indians as a thickening agent for meat soups. Several varieties of coneflower, including Thin-Leaved Coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba), Showy Coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida variety speciosa), and Green-Headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) bring butterflies to the gardens from July through September.

The intense red spikes of Cardinal Flowers (Lobelia cardinalis), with intense red spikes, are a favorite of both butterflies and hummingbirds. Hummingbirds also play a major role in pollinating the orange-red flowers of the Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans) found vigorously climbing lamp poles in the parking areas

In the parking area's wetland habitat is Crimson-Eyed Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos) whose red-throated white blooms each last only one day, and Joe Pye Weed (Eupatoriadelphus fistulous), which never fails to attract large and small butterflies like the Eastern Swallow Tigertail and Silver Spotted Skipper.

Shining Sumac (Rhus copallina).
(Photo by Mark R. Gormel)

One of the earliest fall foliage displays, and one of the showiest, is the Black Gum or Tupelo (Nyssa sylvatica), whose leaves change from yellow to orange to scarlet to purple-sometimes bearing all four colors at the same time. Shining Sumac (Rhus copallina) is distinguished by crimson to deep purple foliage and

New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) and Tickseed Sunflowers (Bidens polylepis).
(Photo by Mark R. Gormel)
clusters of dark red fruit. The Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is a plant for all seasons with apple blossom-like flowers in spring, clusters of berries which turn deep purple in summer, brilliant red and yellow foliage in fall, and smooth grey bark with vertical stripes in winter.

Many wildflowers bloom in September and October, adding to the already vivid display of leaves. New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae) is named for the star-like shape of the pink or purple flowers which close their petals at night. Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) related to the Cardinal Flower, but somewhat smaller and blue, brings color to the garden until frost.

Yellow Tickseed Sunflowers (Bidens polylepis) provide a favorite food for goldfinches which feast on their seeds. Blue-Stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia) and Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) provide a colorful show in late August and September (even into October). Pink Turtleheads (Chelone lyonii) bear rose-colored flowers, shaped like heads of turtles with their mouths gaping.

American holly (Ilex opaca).
(Photo by Mark R. Gormel)

Although the gardens are more subtle in the winter, they are by no means colorless. Less obvious plants become fascinating. This season is highlighted by evergreens and berry-bearing plants common to the region. In addition to providing seasonal greens traditionally used to decorate homes, American Holly (Ilex opaca), with bright red fruit, and Yellow Fruited American Holly (Ilex opaca `Xanthocarpa'), are sources of food for many species of birds. These hollies and the dark-blue berried Inkberry Holly (Ilex glabra) are either male or female, though only the female plants bear fruit.

Museum entrance dusted with snow.
(Photo by Mark R. Gormel)

Sycamore or Buttonwood Trees (Platanus occidentalis) are remarkable for their smooth bark, which peels to different shades of white, brown, green, and grey. One of the region's most massive trees, the Sycamore's exceptionally hard wood is often used in furniture, flooring and butcher blocks. River Birch (Betula nigra) features bark which peels off in irregular layers, exposing inner bark ranging from light reddish-brown to dark cinnamon brown. Northern Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) is deciduous unless planted in a protected site; then it becomes semi-evergreen, keeping some of its leaves throughout the year. Its fragrant berries, a primary source of food for the Tree Swallow and the Ruffed Grouse, bear a waxy coating used in traditional candle making.

Annual Wildflower, Native Plant & Seed Sale

Annual Wildflower, Native Plant and Seed Sale
Photo by Pierre Salle
Every year, on Mother's Day weekend, the Brandywine Conservancy's garden volunteers celebrate spring with the Wildflower, Native Plant and Seed Sale. The volunteers always present a superb selection of carefully cultivated plants for sale. None of the plants are collected from the wild. Most are propagated by the volunteers themselves, and many are difficult to find in retail garden centers. All are ready for immediate transplanting. Click here for a list of available plants.

The sale takes place in the museum's courtyard. Admission is free and all proceeds benefit the Conservancy's Wildflower and Native Plant Gardens. At the sale, Conservancy garden staff members and volunteers can answer questions, give planting instructions, offer horticultural advice, and provide brief tours of the gardens.

Photo by Pierre Salle

Seed Program

When the Brandywine Conservancy was founded in 1967, virtually no information was available on collecting, cleaning and storing native plant seeds. Over the ensuing years, staff members and volunteers documented and refined the many steps required to consistently offer high-quality, clean seed for sale.

Today, the majority of plants grown for the museum's gardens and annual plant sale are propagated from seed that has been collected in the gardens and from meadows in Chadds Ford. Packets of seed for over 100 species may be purchased year round.

Garden volunteer Christian Holweger works with the Clipper seed-cleaning machine.
(Photo by Mark R. Gormel)
Please use these links to see the catalogue and order form. For more information, please call 610.388.8327 or send an email to

Brandywine River Museum of Art, U.S. Route 1, P.O. Box 141
Chadds Ford, PA 19317 • Phone: 610.388.2700

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