If you visit the Scott Arboretum expecting to see your typical university garden you will be pleasantly surprised. Nestled next to the Crum River, Swarthmore College has successfully married the college campus setting with a public garden. The gardens provide a calming retreat to busy students as they travel between buildings. This idea of combining education with horticulture displays has been the mission of the Scott Arboretum since it was first established in 1929, as a living memorial to Arthur Hoyt Scott, an alumnus of the Swarthmore Class of 1895. Today, the mission is a reflection of the Quaker traditions and values, which was the foundation of the college's establishment in 1864.
After parking the car, we were welcomed by the vibrant colors of the Scott Entrance Garden. The connection between the gardens and the college is immediately, yet subtly, established as you enter the Visitor Center, which was formerly a Professor of Astronomy's home. The pair of observatory domes has today become a symbol for the Arboretum and also introduced us to the theme of the relationship between man and nature.
Ms. Claire Sawyers, who is a former Longwood Fellow, serves as the fourth Director of the Scott Arboretum. However, during our visit she became our narrator of the many facets about the Arboretum. It was an intriguing, educational story of the origins of the Arboretum and College and where they are going.
We began our tour in the Dean Bond Rose Garden. This garden appears in the middle of a beautiful carpet of grass, which was not always the case. In fact, not long ago, the garden was surrounded by a moat of concrete that one had to navigate between cars simply to reach the fragrant oasis. At this point, we began to see the repeating pattern of the relationship between the old architecture of the campus and the design of the surrounding gardens. The excavated soil removed from around the basement of Totter Hall during its restoration was moved to fill in around the rose garden. Today's redesign of this garden is just one example of how the Arboretum invites people to interact with the gardens.
The rose garden is adorned with an open gate at the entrance, inviting visitors to cross the lush yard and walk among the pastel colored roses. To the casual visitor, this is just a decorative gate; however, for a brief moment we are reminded that this is a not-for-profit organization that is concerned, like most other public gardens, with funding. Claire elaborated on the involved process to acquire these gates and their importance to the future of the rose garden. Due to this, the tradition of Swarthmore graduates pinning roses on graduation day will continue in enhanced elegance.
As we passed through and exited Totter Hall, we were transported into the next garden. The space between buildings was also created to be interactive. The John W. Nason Garden was designed to have plenty of winter interest, for the students who are absent during the typical summer garden season. The paths through the garden, which are functional for students, faculty and staff of Swarthmore College, again allow you to walk among the plants and take in the different picturesque views. In this garden, there is a small turf area that often doubles as a classroom, a reminder of Swarthmore's Quaker influence and that we are not at your typical college.
As the tour continued, the motif of integrating plants and people continued. Although the everyday visitor or college student may not see all the examples of this, the Harry Wood Courtyard and Garden surrounding the new Science Center clearly states the theme. The new building has a rock façade to architecturally connect it with the older buildings on campus; however, the metal canopy over the entrance looks like art, but acts as a channel to direct the flow of rainwater. There is series of canals, which lead the water to a holding tank, occasionally revealing themselves as a reminder of the times and the importance of water conservation. On the backside of the Science Center, a different stone material is used, allowing classes to come outside and use the wall as a blackboard. Another blackboard wall was later presented to us in the front of the building. This environment gives a whole new meaning to "outdoor classrooms." The garden that flanks the "classroom" played an integral part in this building being awarded a Bronze Leeds Award for Architecture. By using a variety of native plant materials to help create shade, this building becomes more energy efficient and environmentally conscious. Unfortunately, with flowers and trees, come insects and birds. Due to this fact and the large expanse of glass windows, small black dots were added to the upper glass panels, creating a distracting reflection that helps to reduce bird injuries by decreasing the incidence of collisions.
As we ventured on through the gardens, we began to notice more and more labels with memorials to specific graduating classes. Class gifts are a very important funding source to Swarthmore College. Labels not only identified memorials and plant names, but were advertisements, as well. Several plants had the information about the upcoming plant sale next to the name of the plant, reminding the reader when and where they would be able to purchase the particular plant in the near future.
The tour continued, taking us through the Glade Garden, the Pollinator Garden, the Isabelle Cosby Courtyard, and through the Metasequoia Allee. Then we journeyed into Crum Woods. Not knowing where we were going, suddenly we came upon the well-known Scott Outdoor Amphitheater. This Amphitheater is key to the College's activities throughout the year, serving as the site for various events, including concerts and spring commencement. The Amphitheater is surrounded by trees, which buffer the sounds of the modern world, while several other tulip trees stand at attention in the aisles as if they were ushers ready to greet and direct guests.
Leaving the woods behind us, we approached the front of the College by way of the driveway, up from the train station. As we walked, we discovered more plant collections, including a wonderful group of Acer griseum and peonies. Although they were concentrated collections, other plants were added to provide more interest. A "green roof" blanketed the dormitory, showing the emphasis the College puts on the relationship between the environment and man. Unfortunately due to limited access, we were not able to get a closer look.
Later, we heard how the gardens were managed and by what staff. After seeing how unique this Arboretum was, it was interesting to hear that the staff also shares many of the common concerns with other public gardens such as funding, membership, volunteers, and maintenance.
As the College continues to maintain the tradition of the campus in the modern world, so too does the Scott Arboretum as its staff is currently creating GPS maps of the property.
The Scott Arboretum is a true example of a public garden. The garden is alive not only through its plants, but also due to the activity of the people within its borders. The collections and gardens have been designed to be interactive for people who love plants and want to learn more, and to the casual visitor who simply needs to get from one location to another. However, no matter who you are and what your background, it is impossible to visit Swarthmore College without being involved with the Scott Arboretum and taking note of the exceptional grounds.