Additional Images


Eastern Inner Loop

Helianthus decapetalus L. (thin-leaved sunflower) is a native perennial herbaceous plant that blooms from July through September. It typically grows in moist bottomlands, along roads and stream banks, and in fields throughout Pennsylvania.


Narrative Descriptions of Elements in the
H. O. Smith Botanic Gardens


Master Plan Process for the Botanic Gardens - A Brief Chronology

2002 - The firm of Marshall-Tyler-Rausch was hired to develop the Mitchell Tract Master Plan, the original planning document for a 56-acre parcel on Park Avenue that would serve as the front door to the arboretum. This plan concentrated on creating displays and facilities that would serve both as a vibrant educational center about the relationship between humans and plants, and a first-class amenity contributing to the quality of life on the campus and in the community.

2006 - The University hired the firm of MTR (Marshall-Tyler-Rausch) to enhance the botanic gardens' orientation to the new Dickinson School of Law building to be located directly adjacent to the gardens. During that planning process and the planning process for Phase I of the H. O. Smith Botanic Gardens, several of the garden elements were refined, and narrative text was updated.

2007 - In May 2007, the Arboretum was very fortunate to receive $10 million from Charles H. Smith, a 1948 Penn State alumnus, to begin building the Arboretum. Combined with funds from the University, this lead gift has enabled us to build the first phase of the H. O. Smith Botanic Gardens, named in honor of Mr. Smith's late father.

The elements included in Phase I are the initial plantings in the Demonstration Gardens, the Event Lawn, Marsh Meadow, North (Conservatory) Terrace Garden, Oasis Garden, Overlook Pavilion, and Rose and Fragrance Garden (Part I). Phase I of the botanic gardens was completed in 2009.

Demonstration Gardens

The Demonstration Gardens are teaching gardens designed for use by University departments and for the Arboretum’s outreach to the community. They will have rotating exhibits that address particular educational topics and respond to current issues in horticulture. The entrance to these gardens was created in Phase I - a specimen lawn with a forced perspective (the Joan Milius Smith Esplanade) bordered on two sides by flower beds (Annual and Perennial Display Garden). They are enclosed with a tall hedge of mixed plants to create a quilt of colors even in the winter.

Centrally located among the gardens someday will be a learning center, a small structure designed to facilitate hands-on learning, with a lab/kitchen to do cooking demonstrations or show horticultural techniques. The future site of this learning center is marked in today's landscape by a gourd arch that forms an entrance into the gardens from the surrounding landscape and serves as a focal point at the narrow end of the esplanade.

The Demonstration Gardens include several theme gardens that can be used to teach gardening techniques, including the Pollinators' Gardens (with four specialty plantings to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and birds), Home Landscapes, Fruit and Vegetable Garden, and the Turf and Flower Demonstration Plots. The Hummingbird and Butterfly Gardens were planted in Phase I.

Event Lawn

The Event Lawn is a green, sunny, open space surrounded by foliage and flowering shrubs. Surrounding the Event Lawn is the Kathryn Bower Smith Strolling Garden, a wide path running between borders and enclosed by a tall hedge. This space is dedicated to the rose family, particularly all of its ornamental members, such as spiraea, amelanchier, aronia and potentilla, which are renowned for their fall fruit and leaf color. It will be the location for festivals, plant sales, garden shows, and art displays for up to 1,300 attendees. Its central location allows convenient use in conjunction with the Education Center, Conservatory Terrace, or Demonstration Gardens.

North Terrace Garden (Future Conservatory Garden)

Adjacent to the site of the future Conservatory is a terrace with a tropical theme, enclosed with walls and framed with lush plantings, where the Arboretum or clients can host gatherings and events for as many as 250 people. The plants for this garden have been especially selected for their tropical affinities. Just outside the terrace, facing Park Avenue, is a seat wall so that visitors may enjoy watching the sparkling Margery Enes Smith Soaring Waters, a fountain whose series of jets are set in a round pool overlooking the Marsh Meadow. The fountain can be glimpsed from Park Avenue, inviting all to come in and enjoy the gardens.

Oasis Garden

Adjacent to the Rose and Fragrance Garden, the Oasis Garden is enclosed by walls of golden stucco that contain trellises featuring a grass motif. Within the garden is a small, secluded terrace for contemplation or quiet conversation; a path encircles a round, raised "oasis" of plantings that features a lotus pool.

Overlook Pavilion

The Overlook Pavilion serves as the entrance to the gardens that are arrayed on the slope down to Big Hollow. It is a wonderful place to sit in the shade and enjoy sweeping views in both directions. On the side facing the event lawn are two seat walls and a Birch Overlook. The pavilion is designed as a permanent central structure with a portico and a tented event terrace that can be used during the temperate seasons. Seating for approximately 180 people can be set up under the tent and the portico for evening dining in the middle of the garden.

Poplar Court

Immediately adjacent to the North Terrace and marking the "footprint" of the future conservatory are two rectangles (one inside the other) formed by poplar trees. The trees on the inside rectangle will be permitted to grow taller than the trees on the perimenter in order to represent the approximate height of the future conservatory.

The poplar court forms the terminal point of the axis in the East Sub-Campus that runs along the promenade from the court outside the Food Sciences Building, past the East Parking Deck, Forest Resources Building, Agricultural Sciences and Industries Building, and Business Building. Once funds have been donated to build the conservatory, it will serve as a beacon to visitors, especially in winter - a glasshouse sparkling like a jewel in the sun.

Rose and Fragrance Garden (Part I Completed in Phase I)

Over centuries of cultivation, the rose has remained one of the most beloved flowers. The Rose and Fragrance Garden features roses and complementary perennials and herbs. This romantic garden will burst forth with the color and fragrance of over 100 varieties of rose. Located next to the North Terrace Garden and enclosed with walls and climbing roses, this will be the perfect place for a small garden wedding or a romantic stroll.


In the Landscape Surrounding the Smith Botanic Gardens

Marsh Meadow

The Dr. James J. and Lynn D. Ramage Marsh Meadow, filled with tall-growing switchgrass, graces the front section of the Arboretum along Park Avenue. Around the perimeter are edge plantings of baldcypress, weeping willows, and red- and yellow-stemmed dogwoods to provide a pleasing framework that is evocative of the banks of a marsh or pond. (The Marsh Meadow serves the functional purpose of infiltrating stormwater, though it is typically dry for all but a few hours of the year.) Wending its way through the landscape surrounding the meadow is a mown pathway that is open to all to stroll through and enjoy the park-like setting. A pavilion at the center will allow visitors to rest and enjoy the singing of the birds and the beauty of the natural setting.


Future Phases of Garden Development

Children’s Garden

A conceptual design for the Children’s Garden was completed early in 2010 by EDAW/AECOM.

The overall vision for the Children’s Garden is to create a delightful, interactive, learning environment not only for children ages 3 to 12 and their families, but for children of all ages. The central theme is based on central Pennsylvania’s geomorphology and its particular flora, fauna, and culture.

To understand the connection between the subterranean world and the surface habitat that it supports, visitors will meander through a valley prairie landscape, travel through caverns and a grotto, cultivate crops and plants, pass through a tree’s roots, and walk between anticline and syncline formations to discover the ecosystems that live within them. Major components will be an entry court entitled, Childhood’s Gate (featuring canopies of colored glass casting color, plant, and insect shadows and whimsical quotes onto the pavement), Central Valley (featuring a Native American encampment, small cloche-shaped greenhouse, and open spaces to explore), and The Grotto, Fossil Ridge, and Mushroom Hollow (revealing minerals and plant and animal life forms in secretive places and from long ago times).

The Conservatory

The Conservatory is a 10,000 square foot glasshouse that will stand as a spectacular focal point as viewed from the East Sub Campus Allée as well as from many points in the Arboretum. It will be a winter refuge for visitors, unlike anything else in the region, featuring tender and tropical plants. The Conservatory will also offer opportunities for students to tudy plants of the tropics.

The Education Center

The Education Center is the heart of the Arboretum’s educational programs, the front door to all visitors and the administrative center for the Arboretum’s operations. Bringing together materials such as stone, wood, and glass, this 20,000 square foot structure will complement the gardens that surround it as well as being a sophisticated work of architecture. It will add to the quality of life of the University by providing a place to relax with a cup of coffee or gather with friends in a beautiful garden setting.

Four Seasons Garden

The Four Seasons Garden will highlight plants with several seasons of interest such as conifers and grasses, shrubs and trees with spring bloom and fall color, or plants that produce interesting seed heads or berries. It features plants that bloom particularly early in the spring andose that put on a very late display in the fall. At its center are terraced lawn panels sloping down to the Marsh Meadow and offering views across its expanse.

Meadow Garden

The Meadow Garden explores gardening with perennials and bulbs in combination with meadow grasses. An open meadow is flanked by specimen shade trees to create a savannah environment. The trees also help frame the view and create comfortable shade along the main circulation loop. The upper part of the meadow explores naturalized bulbs and non-native perennials while the lower portion of the meadowisplays native perennials that grow in association with grasses. This garden can establish Penn State’s leadership in exploring best methods for establishing and maintaining a natural meadow in this region.

Medieval Garden

The Medieval Garden will display the plants and the gardening style of this historical period. The Medieval Garden features a kitchen garden with raised beds of potherbs and medicinal plants and a flower lawn with a raised turf seat and central fountain. This will also be a major display area for herbs, as medieval gardeners grew an abundance of plants used for flavoring, medicine, and fragrance. Covered walks, arbors, and edges will frame the space.


The Orchard complements the function of the Demonstration Gardens and the theme of the Medieval Garden by displaying both heirloom and modern varieties of fruit trees appropriate to the region in a traditional orchard style. Many of these fruit trees are also beautiful when they are in flower in the spring.

Perennial Gardens

On either side of the River of Grasses and Dry Stream are the Arboretum’s informal flower gardens. The garden features a diverse plant palette of bulbs, perennials, trees and shrubs in a variety of sunny and shady environments. Mowed paths allow visitors to explore the flower beds at their leisure in an informal setting. Avid gardeners and novices alike will enjoy the ever-changing, carefully designed combinations of colors and textures throughout the seasons.

River of Grasses & Dry Stream

This garden features a “river” of ornamental grasses that billow and intertwine like waves spilling down the gentle slope. Weaving through the grasses is a dry stream, a carefully designed ribbon of gravel that flows around sculptural boulders and is bridged at intervals by rock slabs.

Shade & Woodland Garden

The Shade and Woodland Garden is laid out in three parts, beginning with the Asian Woods near the Schreyer House, Transition Woods in the center and Penn's Woods next to Big Hollow.

The Asian Woods explore the rich woodland flora of Japan, China and Korea. It might include groves of Japanese maples, a forest floor carpeted with wild flowers, hosta and ferns and shrub massings of hydrangeas and rhododendrons. It is beautiful at all times of the year due to its use of rock and its sculptural treatment of plants. In the eastern tradition, it will emphasize form and texture over color and symbolize a majestic landscape in miniature.

The Transition Woods are a deliberate juxtaposition of American native plants and their Asian counterparts. Asian and American trilliums, ferns, snakeroots, rhododendrons and azaleas, hollies, and maples, among others, can be compared. Two very small streams work their way through this area creating environments for moisture-loving plants and the soothing sounds of water.

Penn’s Woods features icons of the Pennsylvania woods such as the rosebay rhododendron or mountain laurel. One corner of this garden is shown as an opening configured to create a wet sedge meadow, displaying sedges discovered by Henry Muhlenberg, a renowned early ennsylvania botanist and clergyman

Trees (Perimeter)

The perimeter of the botanic gardens will require heavy screening adjacent to the Housing and Food Services Center. The Master Plan calls for a woodland corridor along the edge to create a pleasant, shady environment for the bicycle trail that will wind through that area and out into the Arboretum. This bicycle trail will connect to another trail that comes out of Sunset Park and into the Arboretum trail system developed on the preliminary master plan. The first major artery in the Arboretum's trail system has already been built (Bellefonte Central Rail rail).

The perimeter plantings are one of the places in which we intend to develop tree collections appropriate to an arboretum.

Winter Garden

Although many people think of gardens as a summer attraction, there are many plants that are quite beautiful during the coldest months of the year (also much of the school year). The Winter Garden features shrubs, trees and grasses with beautiful form, colorful bark or berries, intricate seedheads, or evergreen foliage. A terrace in the Winter Garden serves both the Education Center and the Conservatory. Low seat walls in the Winter Garden mirror those across the street at the Dickinson Law School, forming a gateway to the Arboretum along Bigler Road.


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