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Greater Philadelphia: Historic arboretums

Giant trees connect above magical path at Tyler Arboretum.
Giant trees connect above magical path at Tyler Arboretum.
Kathy Martin (

Few cities can boast the rich history, impressive acreage and tremendous specimens of trees, shrubs and ornamental plantings of these historic arboretums. Nature lovers, gardeners, bird watchers, and historians will be inspired by a visit to each of these gardens. Open year round, these arboretums chronicle Philadelphia’s early vision to preserve and treasure for all to enjoy.

Historic Arboretums of the 1800s

One of earliest is Tyler Arboretum in Media, established in 1825, if offers an immense 650 acres of tranquil gardens with more than twenty miles of hiking trails. Brothers Jacob and Minshall Painter began the significant tree and shrub collections that continue today to showcase champion trees and meadow maze of mature shrubs. Tyler also offers unique treehouse look-outs and magic garden walks enjoyable for all ages. A small fee charged for non-members. [515 Painter Road, Media, PA 19064, 610-566-9134]. Next on our timeline tour is Haverford College Arboretum. Established in 1834, it sits on 200 vast acres with landscape designed by English gardener William Carvill. This collection includes original trees such as the Swamp white oak and Bur oak on Founders Green, grape arbors and serpentine walk with 36 special trees that are centered around the Haverford College campus buildings. Free. [370 Lancaster Ave., Haverford, PA 19041; 610-896-1101]. Germantown hosts the next historic garden oasis of Awbury Arboretum, established in 1852. Awbury presents a romantic style landscape of 19th century England. Originally, these 55 acres were of the summer home of the Quaker Cope family who named the property after the English village of their family’s origin. The grounds were laid out from advice of William Sanders who designed the Gettysburg National cemetery and Washington DC’s Capital grounds. Among the garden features is a Victorian kitchen garden, the Francis Cope House and Agricultural Village. Free. [One Awbury Road, Philadelphia, PA 19138; 215-849-2855].

Three more Philadelphia stories

Fairmount Park likely requires no introduction, however, the 1876 Centennial Arboretum Horticulture Center included in the park may be new to you. This arboretum features 27 acres of a most diverse and unique tree collection that is part of a landscape dotted with art and sculpture and is also home to the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden. [100 N. Horticultural Drive, Philadelphia, PA 19131; 215-477-1482]. Equally recognizable, the Arboretum of the Barnes Foundation offers, at its Merion location, an historic collection established in 1880. On these 12 acres, the center provides an education environment on site with the Barnes Foundation art gallery. The arboretum, itself, was begun by Captain Joseph Lapsley Wilson and includes a rare and unusual collection of mature trees, perennial gardens, rose gardens and ornamental ferns. Reservations are required and a small fee is charged. [300 North Latch’s Lane, Merion, PA; 215-278-7350]. Lastly, although certainly not least, is the Morris Arboretum. Established in 1887, this 92 acre collection features a Victorian landscaped garden of winding paths, streams that are both an historic public garden and an educational institution. Begun as Compton, the summer home of siblings John and Lydia Morris, the property was initially barren, of poor soil and drainage. However, with their diligent care, it was transformed. Today, the areas surrounding the original home feature plant collections devoted to beauty and knowledge. There is a small fee for non-members and non-Penn-card holders. [100 E. Northwestern Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19118; 215-247-5777]