Historical, modern, and downright beautiful, the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania is a must for anyone living in or visiting the Greater Philadelphia area. Between the amazing gardens, imaginative artwork, and fun exhibits, the only difficult part about visiting is deciding what to see first.
The Morris Arboretum was originally known as "Compton", the summer home of siblings John and Lydia Morris, heirs to an iron-manufacturing corporation. Founded in 1887, the Morris' would be yet another wealthy family to leave their mark on the beautiful Philadelphia neighborhood of Chestnut Hill. Active members of the community in civic affairs, historic preservation, and the creation of public parks, they slowly transformed the land around their home from barren soil to a flourishing center of horticulture. They transplanted different plant species from their travels around the globe - a practice that still goes on today throughout the gardens. Upon Lydia's death in 1937, Compton became the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania: the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Walking around the gardens, one can see the Victorian influences in the layout of certain pathways and gardens. There are traces of historic Philadelphia throughout the Arboretum, from the old carriage house that now serves as the Widener Visitor Center to the gazebo at Swan Pond. You can't help but imagine a tea party taking place in the Rose Garden or a pack of hounds walking along side you in the English Park. Some of our most favorite places to explore were the Pennock Flower Walk (seriously, as soon as you see it, you have to head through the gates) and the F. Otto Haas Oak Allée (a majestic tree-lined pathway that feels just so European).
With all its amazing history, the Morris Arboretum is in no way stuck in the past. A center of horticulture, it incorporates hands on learning and modern botany to continue to grow, change, and pass on its core message: "People depend on plants to survive." The Living Collection is made up of 12,000 labeled plants from all over the world that are used for educational purposes as well as recreational viewing. Demonstrations, tours, and volunteer involvement keep the Arboretum a community and national asset.
Visitors come to explore the gardens and vegetation, but they also come to admire the art collection located all over the grounds of the Morris Arboretum. Boasting pieces from centuries past as well as the contemporary, each sculpture is unique and fascinating in its own way. From Mercury to the Cotswold Sheep, we loved all of it! We couldn't help but get excited to see the Sugarman Sculptures after discovering them during our Dino Week this past winter, however our absolute favorite pieces are the statues of John and Lydia Morris. You can't help but feel a bond with the siblings as you stand with them and gaze over the Azalea Meadow (they aren't on the map, so be careful not to miss them!).
The Arboretum is not just pretty and educational, it's also a lot of fun. The Out on a Limb Tree Adventure was definitely one of the coolest things we've ever experienced at an Arboretum. Visitors get the chance to walk right out into the tree tops to see a different view of the woods below. A giant nest complete with huge blue robin's eggs is both inviting and surprisingly roomy. And, if heights aren't a problem for you, we highly recommend not missing the chance to step out onto the expansive nets to see life as squirrels experience it - way up high! Visitors of all ages will love the Garden Railway running from May to October and again during the Holidays. Numerous trains race their way through villages and towns made of tiny fanciful houses and structures. The Garden Railway has its own special events during the season with Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends Weekends and Circus Weeks.
The Morris Arboretum hosts a busy schedule with something for everyone from yoga and lectures to festivals and family fun (stand outs include Arbor Day, the Fall Festival, and the Cherry Blossom Festival). They also host groups and rent spaces for meetings and private functions. Make sure you take advantage of the free guided tours on the weekends. As always with places that we really love, Daily Vacationer recommends becoming a member of the Arboretum. Believe us - you're going to want to come back again and again!
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