Additional Images


Eastern Inner Loop

This plant illustrates the effectiveness of using the simple approach—a single, huge, leaf-like structure (spathe), held upright behind a flower spike (spadix), provides a dramatic backdrop.

Focal points for the arboretum's flower and turf plots, such as benches, birdhouses, or sculptures, could be designed by students in architecture or fine arts.



Program Narrative:
A Detailed Walk Through the
Mitchell Tract Site Plan

  • The Entrance and Parking
  • The Education Center
  • The Conservatory Complex
  • The Park Avenue Gardens
  • The Education Core
  • The Grass Theme
  • The Environmental Gardens
  • The Perimeter
  • The Entrance and Parking

    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


    Source: MTR

    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 cover.

    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 they stand.

    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 conditions.

    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
    Source: MTR
    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 Horticulture Department.

    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

    Source: MTR
    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

    Source: MTR
    An example of a boardwalk through a sea of grass like the one that will cross the Marsh Meadow.







    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 Education Center.

    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

    Source: MTR
    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 left.

    Source: MTR
    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.

    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. 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 weddings.

    The Event 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.

    Ben Sands, graduate student in Forest Resources, is one of the volunteers who have been removing invasive, nonnative shrubs as members of the Arboretum Woodland Restoration Corps.

    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 Sciences
    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.

    The Children's 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 educational programming.

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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 there. 

    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 gardens.

    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
    This 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 land owners.

    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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    Source: Pennsylvania Chestnut Tree
    Blight Commission
    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).

    The Perimeter

    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.

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