Gardens are a great place to walk, and in a well planned garden the season doesn’t matter. I discovered that on Saturday at Jenkins Arboretum and Gardens, a twenty acre hillside on the outskirts of King of Prussia, PA.

My original plans were to head to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, and spend all day wandering the enormous greenhouses and outdoor gardens. Its easy to spend an entire day at Longwood. However, I’m not the only person who has that idea. And Longwood’s Christmas display is so well known that weekends in December are very crowded. A replication of the Black Friday shopping experience wasn’t what I was looking for.

Fortunately a web search for arboretums and gardens brought up Jenkins. And unlike Longwood, Jenkins is free to the public 362 days a year. The trail was shorter than I was looking for, being only a mile long, but I’d work with it.

Unlike the Italianate grandeur of Longwood, Jenkins doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t. The acidic, stony soil of Rocksylvania was perfect for a native plant garden focusing on azaleas, holly, mountain laurel – the state flower of Pennsylvania, and other shrubs and trees that thrive in such conditions. The paved trail took me through a tunnel of mountain laurel. I made a note to come back with its in bloom in late spring.

Mountain Laurel

The hilltop location of the visitor’s center means your visit to the gardens involves going downhill and back. So while Jenkins wasn’t difficult for me, it might be for some people. Fortunately the trail has a switchback in it. And the view of the pond is worth any stress of the climb.

The pond

Winter is supposedly the dead season in the garden, but that’s the plants that are dead, not the interest.

And of course there is still plenty of green around. My favorite Christmas carol is “The Holly and The Ivy” and I couldn’t resist humming it as I walked under Jenkins’ massive specimen. “Of all the trees that are in the woods, the holly bears the crown.”

“Oh the rising of the sun…”

The hike was a mile, but it was work thanks to the cold and the climb. I also spent time in the visitor’s center learning about the history of the gardens, picking up a book in the store, and viewing the art on display in the gallery. I also enjoyed the enormous wreath decorating the front of the building. It was a good afternoon, and I look forward to coming back in the spring.