Tucked in among the strong stone buildings of Swarthmore College, the Scott Arboretum provides visitors the opportunity to see majestic trees and beautiful gardens during an afternoon. Just visible above the trees, the bronze dome of the Arboretum offices invites guests to enter into the peaceful garden filled with a variety of perennial plantings and containers overflowing with plants of varied colors and textures. It was inside of the offices that we met our host, Director and Former Fellow Claire Sawyers, for a guided tour of the 325 acre arboretum.
Established in 1929, the Scott Arboretum was founded in honor of Arthur Hoyt Scott and remains an integral part of the Swarthmore campus today. According to Sawyers, the Quaker values and traditions that are dominant in the region helped people to appreciate the value of green spaces and the development of horticulture. The tradition of planting trees was started long ago on the Swarthmore campus and, while the majority of the Swarthmore Board of Directors are no longer Quakers, the value of nature and these morals are still held in high regard.
Today, the Scott Arboretum stays true to the mission for which it was established while adding to the aesthetics of the college. The founders wanted to establish a place for local residents of the Philadelphia area to see collections of plants that would grow in their own yards. These great collections still remain on the grounds and are now integrated into the landscape to show homeowners the most successful cultivars. Set among the varying rooflines of the buildings, collections of lilacs, tree peonies, roses, holly and rhododendrons can be found for comparison and study.
The Entrance Garden that surrounds the Scott Arboretum office building offers visitors a wide variety of annuals, perennials and shrubs in sweeping beds along brick walkways. The circular patio welcomes guests with a fanciful mix of tropical and tender perennial planted containers. The color guides visitors out along the walk and past the annual planting into the heart of the campus. In remaining true to form, there is plenty of lawn among the old trees that grow between the stone buildings as college and arboretum work in great sensitivity to protect the trees that are the backbone of their institution.
As if put there by nature, the Biostream garden combines beauty and function in an organic manner to help ease the stresses of water runoff on the area. The stone filled creek bed is planted in a naturalistic approach with native grasses and flowering perennials. When necessary, the area can direct storm water runoff and create a new water feature. Through the joint cooperation of the College and Arboretum, the Biostream is an environmentally friendly way of aiding in drainage and eliminating damage to the established elm trees.
The open space of the great lawn is a valued tradition, giving an open view of the tree lined sidewalk and a memorable first look from the historic main entrance on the south end of campus where the train arrives and departs. With almost no students on campus during the summer months, the Scott Arboretum uses this time to attract the majority of its garden-seeking visitors. It is during the academic year when students are passing through campus, however, that the Arboretum boasts its highest attendance, with almost "two thousand visitors" passing through each day. For a college that is without a formal horticulture program, the integration of the Scott Arboretum into Swarthmore College has become a valued part of the academic and physical "landscape."
Providing a tunnel of shade, the White Oaks that line the sidewalk leading up to Parrish Hall supply one of the most picturesque walks on campus. With open lawns on each side, the oak trees frame the stately, stone, administration building. Only a short walk away, the peace and tranquility of the Amphitheatre blends beautifully into the surrounding woods. The Scott Outdoor Amphitheatre is one of the signature sights of the Arboretum and Swarthmore College. Under a canopy of leaves, the space is set apart by the low stone that separates each level, while tall tulip trees grow inside the Amphitheatre. The natural surroundings of the Crum Woods provide the perfect backdrop to the stage as the trees and Amphitheatre seem to blend together.
It seems there are small gardens around every corner of the campus, and the Science Center is certainly no exception. A certified LEED building, representing leadership in energy and environmental design, the entrance features unique water holding capabilities in its planted beds and three themed gardens in its courtyards. Like many of the gardens, these can be enjoyed while walking through them or from a window view within the surrounding buildings. The Nason Garden is no exception, and the plant selection provides texture to the area during all seasons. With a variety of grasses and perennials in combination with the large leaves of the catalpas, there is interest year round.
Finally, the Rose Garden is a long standing staple of Swarthmore College. The tradition continues that graduating seniors are pinned with a rose from this garden on the day of commencement ceremonies. In a way that seems to reflect how important Scott Arboretum is to Swarthmore College, each student carries away a rose upon departure.
The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College feels right at home within the historic stone buildings of the campus. This arboretum successfully showcases plants to home gardeners without making it feel like a display of rigid collections. The serene amphitheatre, well placed gardens, and collection of established trees guide visitors through the grounds of the Scott Arboretum with pleasure.