The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is celebrating its 90th anniversary as a public garden this year in a big way.
The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is celebrating its 90th anniversary as a public garden this year in a big way – with a series of new additions and events. It’s even getting a new name. As of March 29, 2023, the 92-acre campus will henceforth be known as Morris Arboretum & Gardens of the University of Pennsylvania.
“The new name is really a reflection of what was already here – we have always been more than just an arboretum,” said Bill Cullina, the botanical gardens’ F. Otto Haas executive director. “When John and Lydia Morris first created this place, they crafted beautiful gardens, like the Rose Garden and Flower walk, to add color and interest in addition to building a diverse collection of trees.”
Throughout 2023, the Morris Arboretum & Gardens will mark its anniversary year with a series of events and themed garden tours, children's activities, and a specially priced community weekend.
A brand new exhibition, opening on June 24, will be “Exuberant Blooms: A Pop-Up Garden” – a vibrant display of over 10,000 plants funded in part by the Powder Mill Foundation and Ball Horticultural Company.
In addition, the popular Rose Garden will reopen with new bluestone pavers that will increase accessibility and make it easier for all visitors to smell the flowers. The crowd-pleasing Garden Railway will reopen on May 26 with 300 more feet of track – the largest expansion of that attraction since it was first installed in 1998. This year's railway theme, "Public Gardens," will feature models of public garden structures from across the country, all made from natural materials like acorns, seed pods, and twigs.
More than just a pretty place
The Morris siblings, born to a wealthy Philadelphia family, shared a passion for horticulture, botany, and travel. As they journeyed around the world, they amassed a vast collection of unique plant species – which they brought to the Compton estate, which would eventually become their beloved summer home.
They sought the expertise of some of the era's most prominent landscape architects of their day, including the Olmsted Brothers, as they undertook the painstaking process of transforming the grounds into a lush, meticulously designed arboretum and gardens. It was Lydia Morris’s gift to the University of Pennsylvania in 1932 that set it on its path to becoming a public garden in 1933.
As an important part of the University, today’s Morris is an invaluable resource for researchers studying plant genetics, propagation, and taxonomy, and has grown to become an important hub for these fields. Home to an impressive collection of over 12,000 labeled plants, representing over 2,500 different species, it plays a crucial role in plant conservation and research. Morris also participates in global plant conservation initiatives, such as the Global Trees Campaign, which aims to protect the world's most endangered tree species.
"As we stand on the cusp of our second century, our role as a research institution and a place for joy and healing has never been more critical," Cullina said.
And joy was always part of the plan. In addition to all the horticulture they tended, the Morris siblings also invested in water features and intricate stone pathways to create a delightful garden environment – much of which remains today.
“The Morris is a place to learn about trees, but it is also a place to stroll with family and friends through colorful gardens, playful sculpture, and sparkling fountains,” Cullina said. “We hope everyone can visit to enjoy all that the Morris has to offer.”