Journalist: Raakel Toppila
Photographer: James Hearsum
Located on the campus of Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania the pristine gardens and majestic trees of Scott Arboretum make this campus one of the most beautiful in the United States. This unique setting also makes the Arboretum one of the most accessible of all public gardens; there is no admission charge and the “gates” never close. This was a great first stop for the class of 2012 to kick off their summer field trip series.
From the College’s inception in 1864 to present day, the Scott Arboretum materialized and persisted due to a common passion for plants. Swarthmore College was founded by Quakers who revered nature and maintained a close connection with the land. Some of the oldest trees that create a backdrop for the campus were planted in celebration of Founders Day, the anniversary of the founding of the College, over 130 years ago. Arthur Hoyt Scott, whose name the Arboretum bears, graduated from Swarthmore College in 1895. His love for plants prompted him to travel the world in search of interesting flora such as tree peonies and lilacs. Realizing that most people did not have the means to travel to exotic places, Scott began collecting plants for display on the grounds of Swarthmore College. Later, John Caspar Wister, a prominent landscape architect and plant fanatic, served as director of the Arboretum, receiving a salary of just one dollar per year. He continued collecting plants for demonstration and organized their planting by like genera so that species could be compared easily.
This common passion for plants is evident today, with over 100 volunteers and 26 staff who share the tasks required to make this Arboretum a beautiful destination. Claire Sawyers, former Fellow of the Longwood Graduate Program, director of the Arboretum and tour guide for the day, undoubtedly shares this reverence for plants. She can find beauty just as easily in a decaying tulip tree stump in the amphitheater to a much more blatant red-painted bur oak located in the heart of campus.
This love for plants is infectious; students of the College take notice of elements in the landscape. The red bur oak’s predecessor, a blue Chinese maackia, had an obituary written by students when it fell to the ground in 2008.
Our visit to Scott Arboretum ended in the Wister Education Center and Greenhouse, the newest addition to the garden. The building’s name commemorates the Arboretum’s former director, just one of the many people who made our visit memorable.