It is undoubtedly the chocolate and the amusement park that usually draws visitors to Hershey, Pennsylvania. And who could blame them? But, if you’re looking for more fun things to do in Hershey, Hershey Gardens is a charming and relaxing way to spend several hours. It goes without saying that the gardens are sugar-free and thrilling in a much more low-key way.
The 23-acre botanical garden and arboretum are modest but just the right size to comfortably see in a single visit. And the magic of gardens is that they are always changing: there’s never a bad time of the year to visit as each season brings something special.
A Brief History of This Pennsylvania Garden
Milton S. Hershey planted the seed for the gardens in 1936. Well, it was not so much a seed as much as it was a rose bush. While today the gardens offer a variety of plants, the original focus was just on roses. Horticulturist Harry Erdman planted the first roses for what was then known as the Hershey Rose Garden, a 3.5-acre garden that opened in 1937. Less than a decade later, the garden increased to its current 23-acres.
In 1979 it changed names again, officially becoming known as Hershey Gardens. It was a move that acknowledged that this was more than just your run-of-the-mill rose garden. Today, “the garden” is more than just a single garden. It is actually comprised of about a dozen different gardens, an arboretum, and groves as well as a tropical butterfly atrium. The original inspiration — the roses — still plays a central part in the gardens with more than 3000 rose bushes on display.
Visiting Hershey Gardens
I visited in the middle of spring when bulbs like tulips were just at the end of their run but roses were only just awakening for the season. As you emerge from the conservatory entrance, seasonal flowers and roses are spread out in front of you surrounding Swan Lake, a lake with a fountain.
Hershey Gardens is the kind of botanical garden where you can easily find a bench in a quiet spot under a tree or near a trellis and enjoy the view over the garden and the whole valley.
But first things first: you’ll want to explore the gardens. Hershey Gardens is easy to walk with sidewalks leading you around the grounds past the roses, a Japanese garden, the children’s garden, and an arbor trail, among other spots.
For better or worse, the gardens are situated on a hill. Atop the hill sits The Hotel Hershey, the luxury resort hotel, while below is Hersheypark. It’s worth noting that a stay at Hotel Hershey includes free admission to Hershey Gardens. The hill affords lovely views but means that the paths through the gardens do have an incline.
I especially enjoyed the arbor trail on the eastern edge of the gardens. The trail path is lined with a variety of trees and near a thoughtful rock garden. While Washington, DC is famous for its cherry blossoms in the spring, I found Hershey Gardens to have a really lovely selection of flowering trees with big, beautiful, bright blossoms.
Despite the connection to Hershey, the namesake company surprisingly plays little role in the gardens. Aside from some whimsical giant Hershey Kiss-like water features in the children’s garden and some chocolate bar designs on the sidewalk, there’s little in the way of product placement.
Hershey Gardens is a really manageable size where you can spend the time getting to know it. Or, it’s simply a nice setting for a walk. There are many lovely Pennsylvania gardens, and this is one that’s worth seeing.
Reaching the gardens by car is quite easy and there is plenty of free onsite parking available. Keep in mind that during peak times of the year, traffic will be heavier due to Hersheypark.
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All photos and opinions are my own.