HomeBensalem TimesAndalusia is the only Partner Garden of the RHS in America

Andalusia is the only Partner Garden of the RHS in America

Thanks to this prestigious designation, RHS members can visit for free on select weekdays this season

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This spring season is a particularly special one for Andalusia Historic House, Gardens & Arboretum. When guests visit the scenic and historic space at 1237 State Road beginning April 1, they’ll be entering the only Partner Garden of the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society in the United States.

“We are honored, thrilled and absolutely see it as an opportunity to give back to an unbelievable organization that does so much for so many, really on a global level,” said Kristin Biddle, chair of Andalusia’s Horticultural Committee. “It’s tremendous, the work that they do.”

Founded in 1804, the RHS is the UK’s leading gardening charity, boasting over 600,000 members worldwide. It supports gardening for everyone, from the newcomer who just purchased their first houseplant to renowned professionals, through education, workshops, a monthly magazine and other initiatives. The RHS also addresses issues, such as plastic waste in the plant industry and the use of peat in soil mixes. 

Public gardens can apply to become an RHS Partner Garden, with RHS approving only a select few through a rigorous year-long process. Applicants must showcase “horticultural excellence,” with high standards in design, planting and maintenance. Only nine new Partner Gardens were chosen for 2024, and there are 220 in total internationally. 

For Andalusia and the garden-lovers who plan to visit this season, having this new status means more access. 

“While it’s a tremendous honor for sure, what it entails is, and where it’s our opportunity to give back is, we are open Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, and six Saturdays during our growing season. So what we are doing for RHS is, we are providing free entry to the gardens any weekday that we’re open. So you get a nice perk with your RHS membership,” said Biddle.

Additionally, this status puts Andalusia on the radar of RHS’ 600,000 members. 

“So if you’re planning a trip somewhere, you can look in your Partner Garden guide and you can see what Partner Gardens are in the area,” said Biddle, adding that all 220 must maintain high standards of horticultural excellence, giving visitors a sense of peace knowing they’ll have a good experience. 

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It was during COVID-19 that Biddle really took an interest in having Andalusia become a Partner Garden. In May 2020, when most of the world remained in lockdown, RHS pivoted its annual Chelsea Flower Show to a virtual format, allowing the usual attendees and more to experience nature’s beauty during a dark time. 

Biddle said, “It was such a source of joy to so many who were stuck inside.” 

Once the pandemic passed, she reached out to the RHS, expressing interest in becoming a Partner Garden and starting a dialogue with the gardening charity. One woman from RHS, who was in town for the Philadelphia Flower Show, even stopped by Andalusia to see the space and report back to her team. 

According to Biddle, Andalusia stood out in the lengthy application process thanks to a recent redesign of a large portion of the gardens by Lady Arabella Lennox-Boyd, one of England’s premier landscape architects. 

As long as Andalusia adheres to RHS’ standards, it will remain a Partner Garden for years to come. But Biddle doesn’t see that being a difficult feat.

“It hasn’t changed how we garden. We’ve always gardened in the way that we do. Our mission for the garden is really creating an exceptional experience for our visitors, and we pride ourselves on the ornamental value of the gardens and the trees that we have on site,” she said. “We continue to do the same thing. We have high standards that we set for ourselves. We’re just thrilled to share them with RHS members.”

The “exceptional experience” mentioned by Biddle includes an old growth forest, a river walk by the Delaware, an arboretum with a curated collection of more than 1,000 trees representing over 250 different species, gardens and a tapestry designed by Lady Lennox-Boyd, and, of course, deep-rooted history. 

Established more than 225 years ago, the site is a natural paradise of preserved native woodlands and gardens, as well as a museum with a collection of paintings, sculptures, decorative art, and rare books and manuscripts.

Andalusia’s mansion, built in 1797 and later expanded, is a National Historic Landmark and considered one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the U.S. Opened to the public in 1980, thousands of visitors explore its rooms each year during tours and events, discovering the nation’s past through the eyes of the influential Biddle family that lived there. 

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Biddle is a relation of that family through marriage — her husband James Biddle is the seventh generation to move Andalusia into the future. Shortly after they tied the knot, she decided to change careers and went back to school for horticulture, wanting to take part in this long-standing family tradition. 

“My father-in-law was so happy. It’s been wonderful to be able to devote my time and energy to this garden now,” she said. “Each generation has left a different mark on the garden in a really interesting way. Gardening has evolved and Andalusia certainly has, too.”

After being closed for the winter, Andalusia’s gardens are reopening to the public on April 1. Admission to the gardens is free for RHS members on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays, and $15 on Saturdays. Visitors can also tour the historic house for an additional $15 (tours should be booked in advance). Visit andalusiapa.org for tickets and more information about upcoming events, including a Garden Symposium on May 3.

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com

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