When you think of Philadelphia, Victorian gardens might not be the first thing that comes to mind. It might surprise you then that there are quite a few gardens right outside of the city. One of these is Morris Arboretum, started by John and Lydia Morris, a wealthy brother and sister. Although it was started by the Morris’ the arboretum is now cared for by the University of Pennsylvania. 

The Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania started in 1887 as the summer home of John and Lydia. Known as Compton, the property once had a mansion and a carriage house. The siblings traveled widely in America, Europe, and Asia bringing back art, ideas, and of course — plants. 

The Morris’ created plans for Compton to become a school dedicated to horticulture and botany. This is how the grounds come to be a part of the University of Pennsylvania in 1932. 

Out on a Limb

Morris Arboretum Out on a Limb

This unique kid-focused exhibit gives a perspective from 50 feet in the air. It is designed to connect visitors to the natural world with features such as the Squirrel Scramble, a hammock-like net; or sit on giant robin eggs; or just look through the platform’s binoculars. 

The Rose Garden

Morris Arboretum

Created in 1888, this garden is one of the oldest gardens in the estate and was originally a flower garden with a marble fountain as a centerpiece. In 1924 it was reconfigured to feature roses. Lydia Morris often requested that fresh roses from the garden be brought to the mansion. It is one of the oldest features of the Morris estate. 

The Fernery

I wish I had some pictures of the fernery but we were on a time crunch when we visited and didn’t have time to visit the Fernery. It is so unique I need to include it though. This fernery is the only remaining freestanding Victorian fernery in North America. It was designed by John Morris and harkens to a time when Victorians were fascinated by ferns and glasshouses. 

Garden Railway

Morris Arboretum Garden Railway

Morris Arboretum Garden Railway Betsy Ross House
A replica of the Betsy Ross House can be seen on the left.
Morris Arboretum Garden Railway Railroad Tressel
Even details such as the railroad trestle are made from all natural materials.

Although not nearly as historic as the rest of the grounds, the Morris Arboretum Garden Railway is a work of art. Designed in 1998 with the help of Paul Busse and his company Applied Imagination, the railway was created. What makes this layout unique is that all of the buildings depict Philadelphia-area landmarks and are made of natural materials such as bark, leaves, twigs, hollow logs, mosses, acorns, dried flowers, seeds, and stones. The railway is open daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and then weekends only until October 14. 

The entire arboretum is one of the best surviving examples of Victorian Eclecticism, a style that combined a variety of different gardening styles. It is home to 17 state champion trees, a Roman-style temple, grotto, and swan pond. There are also rotating exhibits and displays so be sure to check out what’s in bloom

If you are looking for a similar attraction in the Pittsburgh-area be sure to check out some of the amazing displays at Pittsburgh’s Phipp’s Conservatory, especially their winter displays

*This was a hosted visit, however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.*

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