Friday, October 9, 2009

Morris Arboretum… A Horticultural Gem in our Backyard

This week I joined the Philadelphia Branch of the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS) for a visit to Morris Arboretum. PGMS is the professional home for the people who manage grounds at schools, universities, public and private gardens, municipal parks and other such places. Did you ever stop to wonder who was making those places look so nice? Visiting interesting sites is part of the professional development this group enjoys and twenty-five of us took part in the visit to Morris. Past PGMS National President and pal Kevin O’Donnell, Superintendent of Grounds at Villanova University, arranged this event.

We had a real treat when Jan McFarland, Education Director at Morris and her colleagues gave us a behind the scenes tour. Morris Arboretum is associated with the University of Pennsylvania and is the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. After learning about the educational programs that Morris offers to professional horticulturists and the public we took off to the tree tops. Perhaps you’ve heard about “Out on Limb”, the unique feature at Morris Arboretum where visitors can scramble around like a squirrel in at tree-top height, securely of course. Indeed, a whole new way of looking at trees.

Jason Lubar, Director of Urban Forestry, lead the group I was in. Jason took us to a fantastic grove of Dawn Redwoods, (Metasequoia glyptostroboides… why is it that I can spell this but not squirel?) which appear to be ancient. Tree people know that this species was not known in the western world until the 1940’s so these trees are actually only about 60 years old. Hard to believe, but true. These trees are some of the first to be planted outside of China, its recent, native habitat. References say it was on our continent 15 million years ago and has been on earth for more than 100 million years.

Morris Arboretum is renowned for introducing interesting new plants to the West. We also stood beneath one of the largest Katsuratrees (Cercidiphyllum japonicum, native to Japan and China) I’ve ever seen and took in the unique fragrance of its fall foliage. Believe it or not, most folks agree it smells like cotton candy!

One thing that makes an arboretum different from a walk in the woods is that the plants are labeled… a great thing if you want to learn plant names. At Morris, the origin and age of plants is also displayed. There are more than 13,000 labeled plants in all so you may need more than one visit to take it all in. Fortunately, members of the Arboretum have unlimited admission year round. Membership also provides reciprocal admission to more than 200 gardens nationwide and invitation to special events. I think I heard Jason say they had a beer tasting recently. Hmmm. I know that I only scratched the surface of this wonderful horticultural gem. I’ll be back.

Morris Arboretum is located in the farthest northwest territory of Philadelphia County and is open seven days a week. Check it out!

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