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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
River of Grasses &
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
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
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.
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.