(Photographs by Sara Helm Wallace)
Our last excursion for the summer was to the Scott Arboretum on the grounds of Swarthmore College in Media, PA. Umbrellas in hand, we were warmly greeted by Claire Sawyers, the Arboretum’s Director. While admiring the spectacular tropical container plantings and garden beds, Claire gave us the run down on operations at the campus.
Established in 1921, Arthur Scott wanted the Arboretum to set an example to local home gardeners and professionals in the horticulture industry. It was the first college campus arboretum with an outreach function in the community. The Director, John Wister, set out the plant collections in a phylogenetic placement, starting with primitive plants laid out along the railwayline, and higher plants gracing the courtyards around campus. Today the Arboretum prides itself onbeing free and open to the public but maintains the core purpose of setting an example to outside entities. This is achieved through the use of themed gardens all expertly designed and maintained to the highest degree.
As we left the leafy tropical foliage, Claire paused at a great, yet ailing copper beech (Fagus sylvatica Purpurea Group) tree. With a concerned expression on her face, Claire told us the story of this tree and its projected demise. She explained that Scott Arboretum keeps these giants alive for as long as possible, and that rash decisions in terms of removal are often discouraged. Careful pruning is usually administered, but if a tree has to be removed, then the wood is recycled or used as an art installation in another part of the garden.
Moving on, we entered a space effectively dubbed by students as ‘’the wildlife garden’’ and you certainly do feel that wild animals could approach you at every turn. This, The Nason Garden, is attractively landscaped with grasses, conifers and meadow-like flowers, leading to a lot of contrast and continued seasonal interest. Flagstone is combined with asphalt for some cost savings and toshowcase an innovative and attractive pathway that meanders perfectly through the garden.
As we continued on, Claire highlighted the importance of blending the stark architecture of the buildings with the grace and beauty of the Arboretum and native forest. There are several examples where the forest is brought into the campus through native plantings and where large ground floor windows are used to connect outside areas with inside foyers and passages. In relation to this, excess rainwater is managed through rain gardens and roof installations that collect water in giant cisterns. This water is then used for irrigation or is released intermittently into nearby Crum Creek. This minimizes the effects of flooding and erosion, which was a problem in previous years.
After exploring a Pollinator Garden, we made our way to the front area of campus known as Parrish Beach. Here we were greeted by a whole group of naked ladies, more tastefully known as Lycoris squamigera. This bulbous species from South America flowers abruptly in late July, without warning and without leaves.
After lunch we were given a tour of the new greenhouses and the green roofs. The latter are highly functional and an important part of every environmentally conscious organization. We had some time to wander in the Arboretum, thinking how wonderful it would be if every college campus could take a piece of Swarthmore and make it their own.