Living In A Tree? Go…Out on A Limb

At the Morris Arboretum, this is where the adventure begins. Let’s make a sharp swing to the right. It brings you to the cool and curious structure below, one with intrigue and that little spice of danger, as you walk into the tree canopy.  The exhibit explores how we need trees, and why trees need us. A theme very dear to my heart.  It also brings out the kid in everyone, and disguises learning as fun. And boy is this exhibit fun!

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to live the life of a squirrel or robin, going from tree to tree? Have the freedom to scurry up a tree or build your nest among the tree tops? Take a canopy walk and find out first hand.

Well, at the Morris Arboretum, some very creative architects (Metcalfe Architecture & Design) and engineers must have done just that. They created a forest experience for kids and adults, remembering the joy of building their very first tree house.

But, not like this tree house, no siree. This tree house is way up there, five stories high. This environmentally conscious structure is made from recyclable metal, rot-resistant locust wood decking, and sustainably harvested, renewable Western Red Cedar. Now how cool is that?

The entry above, features a tube-shaped trellis that was designed to give the sense of traveling from standing on the ground to walking into the sky. It sports a series of 10 foot wide wooden hoops, and it is modeled after a trellis in Versailles. Inspiration, wouldn’t you say?

If you wondered how this big structure impacts the environment, (and you can bet that was my first thought), the structural engineers incorporated small foundations called “micro-piles”, where the boardwalk was specially engineered to put the least amount of stress possible on the root systems of the forest trees. This was a most considerate design decision.

They also preserved the greatest amount of original trees too. The exhibit is fifty feet in the air, and if you are squeamish of heights, no worries. The unique experience washes those fears away. Hey, what’s life without a little danger, anyway. The entry ramp gives you a sense of increasing excitement as you make your way up into the tree tops, even though you are firmly anchored, safe and secure.

The netting inside the structure does give kids a thrill of being a squirrel though. Kids scamper onto the Squirrel Scramble’s rope-netting skirting for all kinds of bouncy fun. See what I mean below, but there were no kids this day, (raining, remember), but you can just imagine the fun.

Close up of the Squirrel Scramble.

View from inside looking out. And right outside? Trees of many varieties everywhere.

Like this Umbrella Magnolia. It grows well in these shady conditions and flowers white. It is shunned by deer too. The leaves are up to a foot long. It seems this forest has much that is BIG.

This view is looking straight down to the forest floor below. You can see many of the groundcover plants carpeting the ground surface. Hope you are not afraid of heights!

As the terrain slopes down, your vantage point is at its highest. Remember, we came in at grade when we walked along the 450 foot-long deck.

Here are a couple of groundcover and understory plants, seen below. The forest floor is wonderful habitat and environment. So much happens below, and so much of it is out of our view. Tiny, working and efficient.



Pee Gee Oakleaf Hydrangea

This was the image from the post, The Long and Pretty Views at the Morris Arboretum. Did you guess correctly that this is a people-sized bird nest? The entrance to the nest is decking that is a swaying suspension bridge, allowing the visitors to see trees as a wildlife habitat, and view the world below, just like the birds might from their nests.

And of course, we need some super-sized bird eggs. And speaking of big eggs…

Image by Joel Allen and Heidi Hermanski

The National Post did a story on this unique structure and its creator, Joel Allen. You must take a look at this project also. The Out on a Limb exhibit made me remember reading about the HemLoft tree house above. It has been featured in U.S. design and architecture magazine, Dwell. It is named, HemLoft, because it was built in a tall Hemlock tree.

Is this not the coolest tree house you ever saw? Allen is an unemployed, self-taught carpenter, and with a lot of searching on Craigslist for materials and supplies, he created this really unique and beautiful structure. It, like Out on a Limb, is fifty feet in the air.

The HemLoft is built on Crown land in British Columbia, Canada. Joel is squatting on Whistler Mountain beneath some of Western Canada’s most luxurious mega-homes. There is actually a poll where you can vote for Joel to keep his structure right where it is. I hope he is successful as he is getting world-wide recognition for his very ‘courageous’ undertaking. He did break the law by building it, so hopefully popular opinion keeps him out of jail and gets him some work out of it.

Coming Up Next on GWGT

We have GBBD in the front yard.

Then upcoming immediately after, the back yard, followed by the side yards and a peek inside in one post. Please stop back because I am not telling you the order of the posts.We go across the street to the Niagara River gorge and see the blooms there, too.

This is a multi-post, home and garden tour. Too much concurrent blooming this year and I mix it up with tours in the park or farm usually, so that is a lot to post about. As in my post, My May Garden, Testing a Flinging Theory, I am posting on my garden pretty often. I tested the theory and like I thought, traffic was down by about twenty percent over my travel posts. Niagara Falls posts are usually the highest, as many come from searches.

I will be traveling a lot this summer into Fall, so the weather calendar will be postponed, even though I have all of June recorded so far.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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16 Responses to Living In A Tree? Go…Out on A Limb

  1. The Morris Arboretum is a extraordinary place and I am glad you have highlighted some of its wonderful features. I am taking Michael there for Father’s Day at his request.

  2. gauchoman2002 says:

    Too bad that squirrel net is just for kids, I think I’d certainly enjoy scampering around and playing with that set up.

  3. Andrea says:

    Hi Donna, i have been absent from posting and commenting these past few days and weeks. I know i missed your W4W post last month and when a habit is cut, it is a bit uncomfortable. Re:that structure, i am amazed at the lovely things money can create. I remember the pictures built inside the canopies of trees, dizzying but amazing, although i am exempted from them for fear of heights. Even ziplines can’t get me. Even if your structures are for children, i don’t think i can still try, i am passed being a kid, hehe. Fear is really disgusting!

  4. What a really neat structure and to be so high off the ground. Those blue eggs are so pretty!

  5. Very impressive, although I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to venture up there. I used to be so bad with any sort of pedestrian suspension bridge, or any bridge high of the ground for that matter, that any time I’d cross one, I’d get the hiccups! I’m somewhat better now, but still get a bit woozy if I’m too far off the ground. I do love the giant bird nest though, and the eggs, but that tube trellis is gorgeous!

  6. I went to the Morris Arboretum in the early ’90s and can’t believe how much it has changed. Will be back to take in all the details of your post … only have time to scratch the surface right now! (Loved the over-sized bird’s nest sculpture).

  7. HolleyGarden says:

    What a fun and creative idea! I love it! I’ve always wanted a tree house, but a squirrel scramble is now on my wish list! haha 🙂 I bet the actual experience was thrilling!

  8. I have got to go to the Morris Arboretum. I would love to experience life as a squirrel. Is the netting only for kids? That would be a shame.

    That tree house is cool, too. Do you have any idea what holds it in place? Are beams just nailed into the tree? Does the tree get damaged?

  9. I love the garden posts and these wonderful travel tours….what a fascinating exhibit…I would love it and will add it to my long list of places to visit…imagine being able to be like a squirrel or bird up in the trees….

  10. b-a-g says:

    I’ve been on a walkway like that in Kew Gardens – it didn’t have a scramble net though. That egg-shaped treehouse is so beautifully crafted that I can’t stop looking at it.

  11. GirlSprout says:

    I like the series of arches in the second photo. I afraid of heights, but would like to venture in the bird’s nest.

  12. Love the Morris Arboretum tree house/ bird’s nest — what a great experience for kids (and adults). Love the Hemloft house. How very cool.

  13. noelmorata says:


    i loved taking that journey with you, it was like i was almost there – thank you so much for sharing this fun and creative space, i\’m totally in awe with how creative minds develop interesting and sustainable spaces – it is just gorgeous

  14. I don’t like heights so even this post gave me vertigo. But what a great way to let people experience our natural world.

  15. Les says:

    I have enjoyed your Pennsylvania tour. My brother lives north of Philly in Bucks Co. and we usually visit every summer. My family must love me to put up with the places I drag them to, but we have enjoyed Chanticleer (twice), Longwood, Bowman’s Wildflower Preserve, numerous garden centers and others. On a future trip I will have to visit the Morris Arboretum, Bartam’s Garden, the Scott Arboretum and Terrain. I strongly agree that a future fling should be in Philly. Hopefully we will soon get to see some of Chanticleer through your lens and your words.

  16. When you do a post such as this one, Donna, I feel as though I’m THERE with a very knowlegeable tour guide. Your photos and commentarty really capture the essence of a place.

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