The main entrance to The Arboretum at Penn State is located
at the intersection of Bigler Road and Park Avenue. The entrance
must be elegant and welcoming and be a foretaste of what is to
come. It must be well signed and lit for evening events.
The entrance road follows the old alignment of Bigler Road for
only a short distance before it swings to the west and into the
Education Center of the Arboretum. As described in the conceptual
plan, the design allows for Bigler Road to be converted into
a shared entrance corridor with the Penn State Dickinson School
of Law’s Lewis Katz Building and to eliminate using it as
a through road and service access for University deliveries at
the Housing and Food Services Building. This traffic will eventually
be rerouted via University Drive, thereby diverting it from Park
Avenue and eliminating it from the campus core.
Parking is located discretely beyond and behind the Education
Center so that the view of the Arboretum from Park Avenue is aesthetically
pleasing. The lot is designed to capture storm water in swales
and direct it into storage tanks that would be located under the
parking lot. This lot will need to be designed to screen the view
of the Housing and Food Services Building with conifers.
The entrance is also designed to bring pedestrians and bicyclists
from the rest of the campus safely across the road and into the
site. There will be a sidewalk along the length of Park Avenue,
a sidewalk along the entry road, and a network of paths around
the perimeter of the Marsh Meadow and into the site from the intersections
of Park Avenue with Shortlidge Road and with Bigler Road.
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The Education Center
The Education Center is the heart of the Arboretum's educational
programs, the front door to all visitors and the main engine for
generating earned income. It is also the administrative center
for the entire Arboretum operation. 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 comprise
a sophisticated work of architecture. As a place to relax with
friends in a beautiful garden setting, it will add to the quality
of life at the University.
While the master planning process for the botanic gardens did
not include a detailed study as to how this building might be
laid out or what it would look like, the MTR plan defines the
building program and key elements of its design. The building
is generally oriented east to west at a site near the top of the
ridge in the middle of the tract and directly opposite the entrance
to the Lewis Katz Building. The length of the building is presented
to Park Avenue to give it more presence and to use it to shield
as much of the site from the noise and traffic of Park Avenue
as possible. The front of the building can overhang the entry
drive to create a porte-cochere for dropping visitors off under
Source: Howard Nuernberger
A large group of visitors
at an open house listens to Dr. Steiner explain the historic
importance of preserving the valley-floor woodlot in which
The MTR plan recommends that visitor services be located at the
entrance to the building, including a reception area and exhibit
space, restrooms, the gift shop, and a small café. This
is the key area to welcome visitors, to make sure that they understand
the difference between the Arboretum and a public park, and to
promote events and educational offerings that might motivate them
to return. There will also be an office for an event coordinator
and for a volunteer coordinator, as well as a room for volunteers
to leave their belongings and to meet. Beyond the visitor area
will be the education area, consisting of a classroom, a meeting
and conference room, and the plant resource center, which is a
small reference library and computer center. The computer center
will provide access to and information about the collections,
such as plant locations on the site, as well as on the campus,
and recommend plants for central Pennsylvania and specific growing
On the eastern and southern sides are terraces where groups can
assemble. One terrace will serve as a transition onto the event
lawn, and the other will be associated with the café and
provide access to the Winter Garden. This terrace is particularly
important as a place to sit in the sun with a cup of coffee and
the newspaper, a place to gather informally with friends, and
a place to revel in the beauty of the surroundings. Because the
Winter Garden Terrace provides access to the Conservatory, the
Education Center will also be able to host events that flow seamlessly
from one facility to the other.
Included in the master plan for the Education Center is a multi-purpose
complex containing a main room that can seat up to 200 people,
and a break-out space for registering at a conference or having
a coffee break. The main room could be adjacent to one of the
outside terraces and used in conjunction with it for social gatherings
on the event lawn, or even tented for special events. It is also
recommended that there be a catering kitchen and a storage area
for tables and chairs.
The Conservatory Complex
A sample 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. Featuring
tender and tropical plants, it will be a winter refuge for visitors
that is unlike anything else in the region. The Conservatory will
also offer opportunities for students to study plants of the tropics.
The Conservatory complex consists of the Conservatory and its
support facilities, including the Winter Garden Terrace on the
east, the Conservatory (north) terrace (which will have a water
element), and the adjacent Rose and Fragrance and Medieval Gardens.
These areas will provide ample space to accommodate educational
groups and small social gatherings. The complex needs to have
some seasonal display that may be provided by the University's
At the back of the Conservatory are a small service yard and
a head house to receive plants. All growing will be done in a
separate production facility which is located adjacent to but
not within the Mitchell Tract. Since the production houses are
not an integral part of the public area, they can be built using
less expensive construction. The service yard can be used not
only for deliveries but also as a staging area for maintenance
crews and for caterers.
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The Rose and Fragrance Garden
Roses such as these will undoubtedly
be popular with visitors of all ages.
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 that will burst forth with
color and fill the air with their scent. Located next to the Conservatory
Terrace and enclosed with walls and climbing roses, this will
be the perfect place for a garden wedding or a romantic stroll.
Being adjacent to the Conservatory complex, this garden could
be used in conjunction with the spaces in the Conservatory and
its north terrace for events or meetings. It could also be closed
off from the adjacent space if an event is being held.
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The Medieval Garden
To the south of the Rose and Fragrance Garden is another garden
that is a part of this complex because it contains both roses
and fragrant plants - the Medieval Garden. Covered walks, arbors,
and hedges will frame the space. The plants, materials, and gardening
style will represent the more formal gardens of this historical
period by featuring 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.
The Park Avenue Gardens
An example of a boardwalk through
a sea of grass like the one that will cross the Marsh
The Park Avenue gardens are the window on the Arboretum for all
that pass by. They will also function as a window on the University
for newcomers arriving from I-99 and the airport. Their configuration
is determined by the layout of the East Sub-Campus and the environmentally-sensitive
water recharge area.
In order to create an intimate space in this location so close
to Park Avenue, this garden is heavily screened on its south and
west edges. The screen plantings in the drainage swale coming
from College Heights must be selected to accept periodic inundation,
and the planting operations must be conducted so as to minimize
compaction and disturbance to the soils here. In this way their
capacity to infiltrate storm water will not be disturbed.
The most noticeable feature of these gardens is the Marsh Meadow,
occupying the low area closest to Park Avenue. Around the perimeter
will be edge plantings of baldcypress, weeping willows, and dogwoods
with colored yellow stems to provide a framework that is beautiful
at all times of the year. Located outside the Arboretum fence,
the Marsh Meadow is open to all to stroll through and enjoy. A
pavilion at the center allows visitors to rest and enjoy the singing
of the birds and the beauty of the natural setting.
This open, green space echoes the lawn at the center of the East
Sub-Campus with its broad semi-circle of green, but its configuration
is much more relaxed and flowing. Pedestrians are invited back
into the site on paths leading to the front door of the Education
Center and around the Marsh Meadow.
To the west of the meadow, a lawn panel leads up the gentle slope
to the terrace at the Margery Enes Smith Soaring Waters in front of
the bamboo allée leading to the Conservatory
Terrace Garden and Oasis Garden. This panel consists of a series
of progressively widening bands of different colored turf, creating
a pattern on the slope visible even from Park Avenue. The terraced
lawn panel will offer views down to the Marsh Meadow and across
its expanse. The expertise of the University's turf grass research
center will be invaluable in designing this program element.
Flanking the lawn panel is a Four Seasons Garden that highlights
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 has
paths exploring every nook and cranny so that visitors may find
even the smallest, early-blooming bulb. The four seasons garden
is also set close to the terrace so that no one will have to walk
far to enjoy it even during the worst of winter.
Complementing the Marsh Meadow and Four Seasons Garden is the
Winter Garden that follows the driveway from the intersection
of Park Avenue and Bigler Road to the covered entrance of the
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. The Winter Garden features shrubs, trees,
and grasses with beautiful form, colorful bark or berries, intricate
seed heads, or evergreen foliage. As mentioned above, a terrace
in the Winter Garden serves both the Education Center and the
Conservatory and helps to make the transition from the entrance
corridor into the site. Low seat walls in the Winter Garden mirror
those across the street at the Dickinson Law School's new building
and form a visual gateway to the Arboretum along Bigler Road.
The Education Core
An example of an event lawn
encircled by a walkway, bedding plants, and garden structures.
The education core, consisting of the Overlook Pavilion, the
Event Lawn, the Demonstration Gardens, and the Children's Garden,
is located where most visitors will enter the gardens from the
Education Center. This places the complex close to parking and
to the educational facilities in the building. Spaces can be combined
for particularly large events or symposia. Visitors leaving the
building will emerge onto a terrace with a view of the Demonstration
Gardens across the event lawn, the Overlook Pavilion on the ridge
to their right, and the Conservatory and its terrace to their
The overlook pavilion (#14)
sits at the top of a ridge in the botanic gardens, offering
a view of the river of grasses and dry stream garden (#15),
flanked by perennial beds (#16) arrayed across the slope.
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. The
pavilion can be rented with the adjacent Event Lawn. Based on
MTR's experience at other gardens, this will be one of the most
popular spots for rental. This location is serviced by a restroom
that can also be used by visitors at the Children's Education
Center and Event Lawn.
At the top of the bank are intimate sitting areas for visitors
to step off the path around the event lawn and to sit looking
out over the valley. These areas also have potential for small
Lawn is a beautiful, green, open space
surrounded by attractive plantings. The one-acre lawn can be set
up for festivals, plant sales, and garden shows, all of which
have major education potential. The site can also be used for
an occasional fund-raising event. However, because of the wear
and tear on the lawn, this space should be used for a maximum
of one event per month. The event lawn is not far from the parking
lot for ease of service and access when transporting materials.
This also allows the Arboretum to close the Education Center while
maintaining access to special events after hours. The event lawn
is flanked by the two major teaching sites in the gardens.
The Demonstration Gardens
are designed for use by University departments and by the Arboretum
for outreach to the community. They are meant to have rotating
exhibits that address specific educational topics and respond
to current issues. There are four quadrants set around a small
structure that will serve as a learning center. The entrance to
the gardens runs along a lawn panel, the Joan Milius Smith Esplanade,
and up to the structure. Flanking the lawn are plant borders featuring
the “best of the test,” those plants that have performed
particularly well in trials.
The learning center is not an indoor facility. Rather, it is
a place to gather classes in the shade of a porch, or to set up
for a lecture in the small amphitheater. The lecture space could
consist of a lab/kitchen for staging cooking demonstrations or
demonstrate horticultural techniques. The learning center needs
to provide restrooms and storage space for use by lecturers. On
summer weekends, space could also be devoted to sales of practical
gardening items that are featured in classes.
There are four quadrants in the Demonstration Garden: the pollinators’
garden (including a bird garden), home landscapes, fruit and vegetable
gardens, and turf and flower demonstration plots. Walls delineate
the quadrants, providing an armature on which to display the Arboretum's
collection of vines and space in which to demonstrate advanced
pruning and training techniques such as espaliers.
The Bird Garden is a more permanent display showing plants and
landscape elements that promote bird habitat. There is a small
entry pavilion to inform visitors about the birds that might be
attracted to each habitat and a trumpet-creeper pergola to attract
hummingbirds. The garden is set around a meadow with a perimeter
planting designed to provide shelter and food. In one corner is
a bird blind for bird watching. Scattered around the garden are
feeding stations and birdhouses. There is also a place where water
trickles into a shallow pool to provide the birds drinking water
and a birdbath.
Also included in this quadrant are a Butterfly, a Hummingbird,
and a Bee Garden.
Source: College of Agricultural
In the future, students and
volunteers will learn about flowers and shrubs firsthand
in the horitcultural displays and demonstration gardens.
The home landscapes quadrant to the south of the learning center
might be set up as four or five areas located in a permanent tree-and-path
framework for rotating exhibits based on different themes. These
themes could be explored and sponsored by local landscapers or
designed by students in horticulture or landscape architecture.
Some examples are designs with winter interest, designs with lots
of color and low or no watering requirements, and designs that
integrate roses in the landscape. Quality standards for the design
and execution of these demonstration areas need to be set very
high and the Arboretum must control the final product.
Source: College of Agricultural Sciences
Many visitors to Penn State
have benefitted from tours of vegetable gardens such as
this one, led by Peter Feretti, professor of horticulture.
The fruit and vegetable gardening quadrant is to the west of
the learning center. At the center of the space are the amphitheater
and a kitchen/lab. Flanking the amphitheater are cutting and herb
borders. Arrayed around the quadrant in the first ring are the
vegetable gardens; areas for cordons, small fruits, and bush fruits;
and a work area with compost bins, a storage shed, and a potting
station. The outermost ring has orchard and flower beds that are
planted intensively so as to minimize edges and lawn area, thereby
reducing maintenance needs.
The last quadrant is the flower and turf demonstration plots.
As in the rest of the demonstration gardens, the plantings and
accessories will change over time and the design will involve
as many University departments as possible. As shown on the master
plan, the design consists of circles of different turf grasses
surrounded by flower plantings - each with a focal point of some
sort. The lawns will change over time to reflect developments
in the University's research on turf grass. The plantings around
each lawn will have different themes, and each year students in
landscape architecture or horticulture plant several of their
best designs in this section. Focal points are created with benches,
birdhouses, and sculptures selected from contests in the departments
of architecture or fine arts. Each time a new planting or other
change occurs in the plots, the Arboretum announces and celebrates
it and thereby draws other students into the Arboretum to see
what has been created.
Garden is designed to be an outdoor
classroom to teach local and visiting youth to love their green
world in a fun and whimsical way. It is a place of unscripted
play and spontaneous exploration so that children will not absorb
its message in one visit and will beg their parents and teachers
to let them return. It can serve both pre-school and elementary
school audiences as well as provide a "hands-on" educational
venue for elementary education students at the University. Various
themes may be explored in this garden, such as the relationship
between insects and plants, the roles of plants in human history,
and even the ability of plants to adapt (or not adapt) to changes
in their habitat and climate.
In addition to a restroom facility, there may be a small classroom
or an outdoor amphitheater for special plays, puppet shows, and
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The Grass Theme
As noted in the conceptual plan, several elements of MTR's plan
continue the grass axis found in the East Sub-Campus across from
the Arboretum. This axis is represented in the botanic gardens
by rippling grass in the Marsh Meadow, a lawn panel leading to
the Margery Enes Smith Soaring Waters, Conservatory Terrace Garden,
Oasis Garden, and the Event Lawn. Just past the Overlook Pavilion,
the grass theme is continued as a River of Ornamental Grasses
billowing and intertwining like waves 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. The Dry Stream is a place to meander
or explore side paths and find quiet places to sit.
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The Perennial Garden
On either side of the river of grasses and dry stream are the
Arboretum's informal perennial beds. This garden features a diverse
plant palette of bulbs, flowering perennials, trees, and shrubs
in a variety of sunny and shady environments. Mowed paths allow
visitors to explore the flower beds at their leisure.
As the perennial garden blends into the Meadow Garden near the
bottom of the slope, the plantings can become more informal and
set in bolder sweeps. Avid gardeners and novices alike will enjoy
the ever-changing, carefully designed combinations of colors and
textures throughout the growing season.
Source: Penn State Archives
This parterre garden next
to the Old Botany building was a familiar site in the early
days at Penn State. Today the building, one of the oldest
on campus, is still being used, but the garden is no longer
The Environmental Gardens
The environmental gardens consist of the Meadow Garden and the Shade and
Woodland Garden. Both of these gardens are laid out on the master
plan with the premise that they explore the best plants for each
environment, beginning with non-natives closest to the Education
Center and transitioning to native plants adjacent to the rest
of the Arboretum. In this way these gardens introduce the native
environments featured on the 244 acres that lie beyond the botanic
The Meadow Garden explores gardening with perennials and bulbs
in combination with meadow grasses. It also serves as the main
view corridor out into the rest of the Arboretum site. An open
meadow is flanked by specimen shade trees to create a savannah
environment. The shade trees also help frame the view and create
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 meadow displays native perennials that grow
in association with grasses. This garden can establish Penn State's
leadership in exploring the best methods for establishing and
maintaining a natural meadow in this region.
The Shade and Woodland Garden is laid out in three parts, progressing
from the Asian woods near the Schreyer House, through the transition
woods, and into Penn's woods next to Big Hollow. Most of this
garden is located on open hay fields, but Penn's Woods incorporates
a section of the Hartley Wood, the remnant of an oak-pine-hickory
forest that began growing before Europeans arrived. The Asian
woods explore the rich woodland flora of Japan, China, and Korea
that have supplied so many of the plants currently used in ornamental
landscapes in this area. It may 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.
The Transitions 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 as they fill the air with the soothing sounds of water.
Penn's Woods feature icons of Pennsylvania woodlands such as
the rosebay rhododendron or mountain laurel. Both of these plants
can become wonderful sculptural elements when they are pruned
to reveal their beautiful branching character. A planting of these
could be developed into an exotic allée over time. The
forest floor is carpeted with wildflowers and native ferns. A
path winds back and forth across the streams, adding to the sense
of tranquility and peace.
Source: Joel McNeal
specimen, Monotropa uniflora
L. (Indian-pipe), is a low-growing, non-green plant that commonly grows in dry to moist woods. For a complete list of the native and exotic species identified in the Arboretum's inventory, please go here
One corner of this garden is configured to create a wet sedge
meadow, displaying sedges identified by Henry Muhlenbeg, a renowned
early Pennsylvania botanist and clergyman. This meadow would be
surrounded by pinxterbloom and sweet azaleas in the spring and
winterberry fruit in the fall and winter.
To educate visitors about Pennsylvania's wealth of natural resources,
and, in particular, about the role of iron in local history, the
Arboretum could bring the iron furnace currently located on University
land at the base of Tussey Mountain to stand at the entrance to
this garden. The iron industry is especially relevant to Penn
State since the University (which originated as the Farmers' High
School) was founded on land donated by one of the iron masters,
and its landscape has been shaped by the activities of those early
At the end of the Mitchell Tract next to Penn's Woods on the
main pedestrian loop there will be a restroom screened by planting
from the main views.
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Highly valued for their lumber and the food they provided
both humans and wildlife, chestnut trees sustained a thriving
industry early in this century until the arrival of the
chestnut blight (fungus).
As mentioned in the description of the Park Avenue gardens,
the perimeter of the Mitchell Tract will require heavy plantings
in the left front corner to screen out traffic at the nearby intersection
and create a more tranquil, garden-like space through which pedestrians
may pass as they enter the site.
Proposed for this corner, because of its high accessibility and
visibility, is an Appalachian Cove Forest Grove which would serve
as an outdoor classroom and a “living exhibit” that
stimulates discussion of the cove forest ecosystem and principles
of geology and plant evolution. The mixed mesophytic forest of
the central and southern Appalachian highlands is extraordinarily
diverse in species.
Along the edge adjacent to the Housing and Food Services Building,
the master plan shows a woodland corridor intended not only to
screen the service building from view, but also to create a pleasant,
shady environment for the bicycle trail that winds through that
area and out into the Arboretum. This bicycle trail connects to
the McKee Street/Clinton Avenue Bike Path that comes out of Sunset
Park and into the Arboretum trail system developed in the preliminary
Arboretum master plan by Sasaki Associates, Inc.
The perimeter plantings will be excellent places to develop tree
collections appropriate to an Arboretum. The plan also incorporates
specimen trees into virtually every garden space on the Mitchell Tract.