By Meisha Johnson

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — On May 13, an estate-turned-public-garden begins its new life as Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden.

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The estate in Villanova was once the private home of John and Chara Haas, one of Philadelphia’s most philanthropic families. They loved it so much, they wanted the public to enjoy it when they were gone.

“This is an absolutely incredible landscape and really has been sort of a secret,” said Ethan Kauffman, who as Stoneleigh director oversees the restoration. “After two years of working on this property, we are thrilled, thrilled, to open it.”

Much of the focus is on native plants and original architecture.

“When you first come in, you walk under this really funky wooden lych gate that more than 100 years old, and we have over one mile of accessible pathways,” Ethan said.

The Circle Garden is surrounded by 80-foot tall trees, many of them among the tallest in the state. “You see all this stonework that is 100 years old and in amazing shape,” Ethan said.

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Stoneleigh’s centerpiece is the main house, built in 1900 with 17,000 square feet.

“You could have date night, the family, the kids,” CBS3’s Meisha Johnson said. “You could have the people that just love architecture and the house.”

“And not only that, we are free to the public,” Ethan said, “which is really incredible.”

Oliver Bass introduced Meisha to the hare sculpture, which is visible from the road.

“This is a chainsaw sculpture that represents John and Chara and their five children,” Oliver said.

For years, the Haas family dressed the hares for special occasions. The Stoneleigh curators are keeping the tradition going with a new set of hares.

“Unfortunately, when we took possession, the sculpture had worn a bit and needed to be replaced,” Oliver said. “And then we were able to hire the original chainsaw artist to reproduce it.”

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Stoneleigh’s grand opening is Sunday, May 13, 2018. They ask people to register an entrance time on their website and prepare to enjoy this no-longer-secret garden.

“Public gardens bring joy to people’s lives, and that’s something we all need and we all want,” Ethan said.

Stoneleigh: A Natural Garden is at 1829 East County Line Road, Villanova, PA 19085. To find out more, call 610-353-5587 or check out their website at https://stoneleighgarden.org.

The garden opens to the public Sunday, May 13. Although there is no charge, timed-entry registration is required in advance for Sunday’s opening. Sign up at

https://natlands.org/event/strollabout-stoneleigh-2018-0513/.

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