Although Hershey Gardens bears the name of the most famous chocolate in the world, and overlooks an entire theme park celebrating the same confection company, the only similarity is their namesake, Milton Hershey. Originally established as a public rose garden for the enjoyment of the people of Mr. Hershey’s home state, the property grew in response to its popularity. There are countless floral and arboreal delights to be found across its bountiful 23 acres, but the roses are still a speciality, placed front and center.
As my previous visit was during the late fall months, I was not prepared for the colorful spectacle that greeted me when I exited the Conservatory and encountered the vast rose garden in its full bloom. Over 3,000 roses fill row after row of flower beds and crawl over arbors, and surround a grand fountain, and all of it is overlooked by a handsome gazebo. I could have happily spent most of my afternoon in this one section of the garden alone, and because of the location by the entrance and the soaring temperatures, I think some people might have done just that. Sweating my way through a garden in the summer heat is nothing new to me, so I eagerly passed between tall hedges into the next section.
The Seasonal Display Garden looked like it had been freshly replanted, with rows of colorful annuals in appealing designs stretching out in all directions. There was a pleasant openness to this section of the garden, with breathing room between flowerbeds and plenty of space to walk around and through the flowers. I was especially drawn to the interplay of oranges and reds in a lively combination of canna lilies, marigolds, and celosia. The Bill Bowman Garden had a nice mix of grasses, with bright yellow lilies and soft purple irises adding pops of color. I also remember a dazzling display of chrysanthemums from my past visit in the autumn months that was a garden photographer’s dream!
Not to be upstaged by the floral competition, the trees add plenty of quirky personality and regal sensibility to every corner of the gardens. To one side of the tribute garden to Mr. Hershey himself, a weeping blue atlas cedar protectively arches over both a bench and a path, with its beautiful braid-like branches hanging down. At another point, the path passes through a “cave” created by the canopy of a weeping beech tree, which had a strange subterranean feel from the dappled light within. Hershey Gardens is known for its collection of massive Japanese maple trees, which are gathered like a herd of elephants on one side of a grassy clearing. They’re beautiful and sculptural, and they turn a brassy orange-red in the autumn that does not disappoint. Don’t even get me started on the sequoia trees and dawn redwoods towering above the Japanese Garden…because I can’t even. I just can’t.
Final Rating: Having now visited Hershey Gardens twice, I am only left wanting to visit again in yet another season to experience everything it has to offer. The semi-formal garden layouts have a looseness to them that transitions nicely into the arboretum and other rustic areas. There is a sense of whimsical positivity throughout the garden, which is most evident in the “tree cave” or the playful Ornamental Grasses section. There is also a nice overall flow in the design of the garden from one area into the next with plenty of hidden nooks and areas worth closer inspection. The only section I felt slightly underwhelmed by was the arboretum, and that was only due to the fact that the most impressive trees can be found elsewhere throughout the gardens. The overall experience of Hershey Gardens is not unlike the thrills and attractions of the adjacent theme park, and the constant echoing screams of rollercoaster riders in the distance really add an amusing ambiance. FOUR BLOOM RATING