“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” – L.P. Hartley
On Saturday, September 23, I ventured to Morris Arboritum by recommendation of my mother, who told me childhood stories of sneaking plants through the back fence to her mother’s best friends and spending hours exploring the vast grounds of this historic landscape. As I drove through the windy suburbs of Philadelphia, past horse farms and old houses, I arrived in the late afternoon as the shadows cast across the grounds and families began to disperse after a long day in the gardens. Overall, I found that much of the architecture remained intact and was well preserved. One exception is the former mansion, which is where a statue now sits.
Historically known as “Compton,” The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania was established in 1887 as a summer cottage for John and Lydia Morris who were siblings from a family iron-manufacturing company founded by their father. I.P. Morris Company. According to the literature provided by the arboretum the actual land was “barren, with poor soil that drained too quickly; but with diligent care they surrounded their home with a landscape and plant collection devoted to beauty and knowledge” (History of the Morris Arboretum).
The Morris family was well-known for their love of travel, history and art which the sculpture garden reflects today. They were also passionate about education and had intended for the estate to be a school and laboratory for horticulture and botany. It was through this initiative in 1932, that the property become part of the University of Pennsylvania and a well-known arboretum in the greater Philadelphia area (History of the Morris Arboretum).
According to the Morris Arboretum the property is “Listed on The National Register of Historic Places, it is an interdisciplinary resource center for the University, and is recognized as the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Moving around the premise, I was impressed with the educational centers and information scattered throughout the grounds, as well as how the lay of the land allowed you to get lost in all that had been preserved and placed in the gardens. I found myself almost retracing my steps on paths that I didn’t know existed through following specific statues or educational markers. I felt almost voyeuristic as gardens and trees had been placed intentionally to make you feel as though you were in a secret garden peeking through small gaps to see the seven arches across the expansive lawn or spot and follow a meandering path through the woods.
Reflecting on the initial quote, I felt as though I was traveling through time and space to a place where guests were drawn on horse and carriage through these vast grounds, or perhaps discovered this secret garden while on a walk through rural Pennsylvania. Had I been there on a Monday morning rather than a Sunday afternoon when the grounds were not as filled with others, I imagine I would have felt as if I had snuck through a time capsule and into someone’s expansive garden and grounds in the early 1900s. Morris Arboretum is a place of today and yesterday as well as doing a great job of preserving nature and our heritage for tomorrow.
Please feel free to check out my flickr set with a few of the photos I took while visiting.
“The History of Morris Arboretum,” 2012. The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. Accessed September 24, 2012. http://www.business-services.upenn.edu/arboretum/about_history.shtml