Swiss Pines is a strange name for a place that calls itself a Japanese garden, but here you go - 19 planted acres (out of 200) along Charlestown Road in Malvern, just down the street from the Great Valley corporate wonderland.
It was built by the late Arnold Bartschi, who was of Swiss ancestry and owned five factories in Pennsylvania that made children's orthopaedic shoes. When he bought the former Llewellyn estate in 1957, it came with an English-style garden, four Asian pieces that caught his fancy - one sculpted Chinese lion, 2 Korean dogs and a bench - and 40 Swiss stone pines.
So, according to Carl Shindle, who's taken care of the garden since 1962, Bartschi named the property Swiss Pines, studied up on Japanese design (and at one time hired a Japanese designer), and created this unusual garden. Although purists consider Swiss Pines less a traditional Japanese garden and more a garden with Japanese features, there are enough of those to make this an interesting destination.
The day I visited, Carl was deeply involved in cleanup after some heavy rains. Best to come next spring, in other words, and to call ahead (610 935 8795) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to make sure the place is open. It's an issue. The garden is usually open from mid-May to the end of November, Wednesday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., but the place doesn't open if it's wet, if it's a holiday, etc., etc. (As I said, call ahead.)
Its Japanese features include rock settings, water features, statuary, lanterns, a bamboo grove, Japanese tea house, bridges, more than 200 types of conifers and 28 varieties of ground covers, herb and azalea gardens, and winding paths. No kids under 12, no groups bigger than a dozen, no buses or picnicking or Frisbee allowed. Garden's free but donations are accepted. There are no tours, but Carl will answer questions.
If all this sounds a bit consumer-unfriendly for a garden, I'm told that Swiss Pines' endowment is waaaay down. Money is very tight and except for a trustee on site, Carl's it for staff and there's only so much the place can handle. For all that, Swiss Pines would be a pleasant walk, come spring, so you might put it on your calendar.
"We do the best we can," says Carl, "but it's still nice."