The Arboretum at Penn State

Gardens & Groves


Floral display on the Joan Milius Smith Esplanade

The Display Garden is arrayed on both sides of the Joan Milius Smith Esplanade where a tall hedge behind the beds helps to showcase the quilt of color. The ongoing appeal of this garden is the changing palette and arrangement of the beds in the landscape. Not only is the planting plan changed annually to demonstrate various display themes for home gardeners, but plantings are rotated three times (spring, summer, and fall) to showcase plants of seasonal interest.

Visitors entering "Rocky Ridges" area in Childhood's Gate Children's Garden

Visitors entering “Rocky Ridges” area in Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden

On July 7, 2014, The Arboretum at Penn State began welcoming children and adults of all ages to the newly completed Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden, a unique space for exploring nature, fostering wonder, and celebrating the plants, animals, and geography of central Pennsylvania. A team that included Penn State childhood development experts worked with the design firm EDAW/AECOM and the Arboretum leadership and staff to create a garden that is truly a microcosm of our regional landscape. Designed for visitors between the ages of 3 and 12, this garden serves as a place for families in the State College community and surrounding region, as well as alumni and other campus visitors, to enjoy the outdoors, learn together, and discover the natural world. Throughout the garden, plantings featuring native Pennsylvania species create a natural setting and illustrate the biodiversity of plant life in our region. Prominently placed and used throughout are natural limestone and sandstone boulders and walls evoking the local landscape and telling the story of our geologic history.

Guidance Regarding COVID-19
Individual visitors bear responsibility for adhering to guidelines and protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Please review Penn State’s guidance.

Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden Activities

Educational activities for children are provided on weekday mornings from mid-June through the end of October. Each season’s schedule is posted on this website and in the gardens in late spring.

Some of the most popular hands-on activities are planting, nurturing, and harvesting vegetables in the Harvest Gardens. Produce that is not used in demonstrations in the children’s garden is donated to the State College food bank. For example, during the 2016 growing season, the Arboretum’s children’s garden donated 2,989 pounds of herbs and vegetables, including kale, Swiss chard, squash, peppers, tomatoes, and beets.

Frequently Asked Questions
Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden Map
Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden Interactive Tour

Virtual Visit to Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden – WPSU’s Virtual Summer Camps 

Join Carolyn Donaldson on a walk through our children’s garden with Linda Duerr, former coordinator of children’s educational programs.

Species whose genera existed contemporaneously with the dinosaurs during the late Cretaceous Period are gathered in this “living museum” to start telling the story of plant evolution. So little remains of that ancient world that even a sense of place is almost meaningless, but the realization that some of its plants are familiar to us affords a small portal of understanding. The walk through the grove will give visitors the opportunity to remove themselves from the daily hubbub of Park Avenue and become part of the tranquil Arboretum. Threaded throughout the garden will be spaces of formal lawn, creating a visual link to the lawn on the East Sub-Campus. The Arboretum has made the initial plantings and will continue to expand the grove as philanthropy permits.
The North Terrace features a sub-tropical theme.

Looking across the North Terrace

This terrace, enclosed by stucco walls, ornamental panels, and climbing vines, presents plants that are the northernmost relatives of what are mostly tropical families, complementing the theme of the conservatory to be built someday in the adjacent space. Annual plants add fragrance and bold color to enhance the rich tropical theme. Benches, small tables, and chairs welcome visitors to sit and enjoy viewing the exotic colors and leaves of the plantings in this “garden room.”

Switch-grass fills a natural recharge basin near Park Avenue.

The Marsh Meadow’s switch-grass in autumn

The Dr. James J. and Lynn D. Ramage Marsh Meadow, filled with tall switchgrass, graces the front section of the Arboretum along Park Avenue. Baldcypress, weeping willows, and red- and yellow-stemmed dogwoods are planted around the perimeter to evoke the banks of a marsh or pond. The Marsh Meadow serves the functional purpose of infiltrating storm water into underground aquifers, though it is typically dry for all but a few hours of the year.

View of Strolling Garden pathway near Overlook Pavilion

View of Strolling Garden pathway near Overlook Pavilion

Encircling the Event Lawn, the Kathryn Bower Smith Strolling Garden comprises a wide, paved path and border plantings of flowering shrubs and perennial herbaceous plants. A tall hedge encloses the beds at the outer border so that garden specimens are silhouetted against the greenery. This garden prominently features members of the rose family, particularly ornamental members such as crabapple, serviceberry, chokeberry, and hawthorn, which display attractive blooms, ornamental fruit, and fall leaf color. Commemorative benches have been placed at intervals along this path.

The Rose Garden Bower is frequently rented for small weddings.

The Rose Garden Bower (frequently rented for small weddings)

This romantic cottage-style garden boasts the color and fragrance of hundreds of roses, under-planted with herbs and other aromatic plants. Winter-blooming specimens such as daphne and witchhazel ensure fragrance for much of the year. Enhancing the garden’s appeal are the Iris Walk and the Rose Garden Bower, a pergola adorned with wisteria. Initially built in 2009, this portion of the Rose and Fragrance Garden (more is planned) was renovated in 2012 to diversify the plant collection and improve soil drainage and irrigation. Most notable among the additions is a collection of 35 exceptional cultivars of tree peony. Rose Garden Part II

The Lotus Pool lies at the center of the Oasis Garden.

Lotus Pool at the center of the Oasis Garden

Enclosed by tall walls and airy trellises, the Oasis Garden features a stylized oasis—the Lotus Pool. Surrounded by plants with dark or golden colors, the Lotus Pool is a circular basin filled with lotus plants, prized for their uplifted, cuplike foliage and exotic blooms, water lilies of various species, and other aquatic plants. To one side, the Oasis Garden Terrace offers a quiet area to retreat from the flow of traffic and enjoy views back toward the Lotus Pool. It is shaded by native, fragrant sweetbay magnolias.

Mixed annuals and perennials, shrubs, and small trees provide color at the Overlook Pavilion.

Overlook Pavilion Garden

These plantings, which recall the richness of Appalachian forests, border the Overlook Pavilion terrace and the Ridge and Valley sculpture. The flower beds, containing both annuals and perennials, are accented by apple serviceberry and smooth hydrangea.


Wild Bee Hotel in the Pollinator and Bird Garden

Wild Bee Hotel in the Pollinator and Bird Garden
View a short video about this garden.

New Pollinator and Bird Garden: Combining Education and Research

The Arboretum’s Pollinator and Bird Garden, which opened in July 2021, is unique in its ambitious design and intent: to educate the public about the many insect pollinator species and broad range of resident and migratory birds in our region, and conduct research that helps us protect the ecosystems that support these species.

To this end, the Arboretum worked with a large team of Penn State-based and outside experts, including Penn State’s Center for Pollinator Research, to develop a design that encourages biodiversity by incorporating habitats such as a pond, wetlands, woodland, and dry meadow. The new gardens, which encompass more than three acres, showcase quite a large array of plants—over 390 unique species and varieties—most of which are native to Pennsylvania or the greater Appalachian region.

As with all our previous landscape projects, the Pollinator and Bird Garden has been made possible through philanthropy. Nearly 500 individual donors contributed financial gifts toward the project. Over the course of construction, over 620 people volunteered to help us install the vast majority of the 143,000 plants in the garden. Read about community involvement in planting the Pollinator and Bird Garden at

Close-up of Albizia julibrissin foliage

Close-up of Albizia julibrissin foliage

Millions of years ago, tropical, and later subtropical, forests covered what is now central Pennsylvania. The Tropical Grove is intended to evoke the character of these forests by grouping native remnants of that ancient flora, plants whose relatives are mostly restricted to the tropical and subtropical latitudes. Although they are familiar components of our contemporary eastern deciduous forest, the vaguely “exotic” appearance of these trees – for example, sassafras, pawpaw, and persimmon – is intended to be enhanced by grouping them into a collection. The grove is adjacent to the location of the future Conservatory, which will feature tropical plants that cannot be grown outdoors in our location.