The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College

The incredible gardens of the Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College are a must see if you get to the borough of Swarthmore, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The grounds encompass over 300 acres and more than 4000 different varieties of plants. The Arboretum was established through a bequest of the family of Arthur Hoyt Scott, class of 1895. It was to be a living memorial to Mr. Scott in 1929, a pretty remarkable gift at this particular time in history.

I will take you on a tour as seen by a designer. You should note the use and design of the spaces, much of which can be implemented on a smaller, intimate scale.

One thing to notice, is how plant maturity plays into each design. It was well planned for, and each built space marries to its surroundings in material use, and scale of elements. Spaces have an intimate feel with and within nature.

Every space that has a grass element was designed to enhance and become a needed element of the space. What I want you to notice above, is the scale of the garden in relationship to the structure. The gardens are generous and notice how the round garden form pays homage to the ‘silo’ element of the building. The garden softens the structure also.

Notice again above. Do you see the same gesturing of the retaining walls to the building? The form of the courtyard is a strong geometry, as it needs to be to work with the form of the structure. No fussy curves would do. Again deep beds to balance the weight of the structure.

See this courtyard? It is the same building as in the fourth image down, only far to the right. Notice the turret/bay geometry to the right, angular.

I have a suggestion in this garden. Prune the Weeping Japanese Maples to form. They are too heavy untrimmed and are encroaching on the stairs. Once thinned, they will be a beautiful symmetrical focal point to this space. Notice too that the garden itself is not symmetrically designed on the sides, because the bed on the left must work with the space to the far left also. It opens up the left side for the borrowed view, rather than psychologically closing in the space with tall hedges. The opposite side is a formal treatment, below.

See how the grass becomes a sculptural design element. I use this often in my design work on formal gardens. When grass is necessary for entertaining, why not make it interesting?

Clotier Hall, another example of making the grass a design element. The paving designates how the grass is executed in the design.

More strong architecture.

Views through spaces are important. In this garden, you go from a space with much to see and smell – sensual curiosity, to the stark relief of the large campus. See the difference looking through the arches in the two images above?

The greens in front of Parrish Hall. Notice the large deck chair, an art piece based on scale.

A word on the expanse and use of lawns. The Scott arboretum is transitioning the 5 acre lawn between Mertz Residence Hall and Magill Walk to an organic management program. If you want to listen to an Audio Tour about the Organic Lawn, you can call 610-717-5597 and press #101 from any cell phone. I did call even though I was there in person, and this number is listed in their brochure about The Organic Lawn Initiative. The phone tour was pretty interesting and was given by a graduate and researcher at Swarthmore College.

Another well designed small garden room.

A grand allee, the Metasequoia Allee.

A woodland walk through the Rhododendrons.

You do not get the feel of a college campus here.

Or here. The Dean Bond Rose Garden.

I know I am like a tour guide up in Niagara Falls with all my travel posts, but I have said many times how I think Philadelphia is a great garden tour destination. Here is a list that with a click, gets slightly easier to read.

But go to for more information on places to stay if you are in the area garden hopping. I am not endorsing the site, but it is listed in the colorful brochure handed out at the hotels, like where I stayed a night. I would happily endorse this fine establishment. The rooms were wonderful and the food was great.

And for those of you local…

Don’t miss the 7th Annual Lewiston GardenFest this Saturday and Sunday, June 23rd and 24th., 10 am to 5 pm. For more information and directions, go to:

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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49 Responses to The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College

  1. It’s a wonderful looking place. I like your word tour too. The gardens do seem most generous. I like that a lot. I have a problem with the J. maples though. It’s not their size but the fact they appear to be two different cultivars so the difference is jarring to my eyes for some reason. The dawn redwood allee would be my favorite place. Just to be in the presence of those venerable trees. Though the rhodies look most enticing too…

    • You are so right, Tina. The two maples do look like different varieties. But there is nothing I would suggest doing about that though. They have to work with the fact that they are different colors since the plants look to have been her quite a long while. I still think these maples are on need of a serious haircut. Those redwoods are quite a sight. I loved traveling that path.

  2. Andrea says:

    Yes Donna, it doesn’t look like a school campus, very well maintained. It is like a resort place for tourists. I can imagine if i were studying there to just sit in one corner and be inspired to study!

  3. Barbie says:

    I loved the redwood allee – how absolutely tranquil and a place where you would want to rest a while. And the rhododendrons (? is this right?) are magnificent. Thank you for this – how lovely this must have been.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Hi Donna, I am glad that you made mention of the grass becoming an interesting sculptural design element. I tend to be to dismissive of lawns, but they do serve an important function in most residential and commercial spaces. I agree with you about the Japanese Maples. They look too much like balls. A little pruning would really enhance their appearance!

    • Lawns can be as Connie mentioned, a play on negative space. I was surprised to see the Maples in this shape, mainly because the gardens are so well maintained. There is an art to trimming them correctly and they can be so beautiful.

  5. Donna, I especially like your tip about the grass. It’s like paying attention to the negative space in a painting. Thanks for the design help.

  6. Jeanette says:

    Donna, I always enjoy reading your articles sooooo much. Thanks! The Texas heat is arriving and the authorities are suggesting care against mosquito exposure due to the West Nile Virus. Looking forward to more articles! Love the Japanese Maples. Thanks for your photographs and incite.

    • Thanks Jeanette. I am busy right now and this entire weekend with the Lewiston GardenFest and will be posting more on the gardens of PA coming up. These gardens do so much right and perfectly that it is easy to point out the great ideas.

  7. Donna, I subscribe to the Arboretum’s blog postings, so I know a little (and I do mean little) bit about this beautiful place. Your photos really show how lovely this place is. Wish I had walked with you a bit in Asheville, reading how you speak of design and all the elements, could have learned a good bit.
    Love the Metasequoia allee, what grand trees. My daughter (who just got married) lived in NJ very close to Philly. Will have to do a good garden tour!!

  8. LYNN ROGERS says:

    Hey Donna, great picture of you! Loved the tour at Swarthmore. I’ve been to Philadephia but didn’t make it to this great garden. Reminds me of England because of the maturity of the plantings. Beautiful job.

  9. Les says:

    Well I can see the Philly Phling will have to be a lot longer than a weekend.

  10. OK, sign me up! I’m ready for a road trip. 😉 It’s wonderful to see it all through your lens, Donna!

  11. THANK YOU EVERYONE. I am away working at the Lewiston GardenFest,, this weekend and am surprised with all the new readers. I so appreciated you stopping by GWGT and hope to see you again. I always try to read the blogs that stop in and leave comments, and will do my best to get to these sites when I am through with the Lewiston Gardenfest on Monday. This is our big event of the year, and to my surprise, getting Freshly Pressed, came at my busiest time of the year. See you all soon, I hope.

  12. Great tour of the Scott Arboretum, one of my favorite local gardens. We are so spoiled here with wonderful places to visit. Now that you have profiled Chanticleer, the Morris Arboretum, and the Scott Arboretum, you will have to check out Winterthur, Bartram’s Garden, and Longwood in September. I am sure I am missing places.

  13. Alistair says:

    Oh my, how I would enjoy a visit to the Scott Arboretum. I just love the Metasequoia Allee. I am not so taken with attempts to make small lawns more interesting with sculptural design, tried it so often in the past, didn’t work for me either.

  14. Thank you for the tour and your design notes. Very inspiring.

  15. Donna although this is my home town, I left when quite young and have never visited this campus and gardens…where to begin…my just to be able to live on a campus so lovely…I do love your travel posts but you need to start getting a commission. I was hoping to get to Lewiston this year, but not with the bum knee. I know next year I will be retiring I hope and hoping that I will finally make it.

    • The Lewiston GardenFest was great so far. I took so many images and the gardens this year were so nice. I will have a lot to show, some really interesting spaces. Need some rest for tomorrow, much to be done and more gardens to see.

  16. Marguerite says:

    Hard to believe this is a campus. What a gorgeous place to study. Both the buildings and the gardens are outstanding.

  17. Rebecca says:

    Having spent some time studying at Longwood Gardens just south of Philly, and I couldn’t agree with you more. The Philadelphia area is got to be one of the best places for a garden/horticulture focused vacation!

    • I can see if you studied at Longwood, you would be quite the expert in gardens of this area. I lived in PA more than half my life, 40 miles from Philadelphia, and I only visited a few of these big gardens previously. It is like they say, what is in your own back yard…

  18. I’ve been wanting to visit Longwood Gardens, and now I have another reason to put PA on my must-see list for gardens. Thanks for showing us this arboretum — beautiful.

  19. WAAW what a lovey garden !!!

  20. M.B. says:

    Gorgeous pictures! I’m lucky enough to live somewhat close to Swarthmore. It’s a truly beautiful campus, one of the prettiest in the country, in my opinion. Your pictures are lovely! Thank you for sharing them!

  21. Jut beautiful….Oh how I wish I could have Japanese Maples here–zone 4–rats.

    • Thank you for dropping in, Stacy. No zone 4 Japanese maples? I did not realize since our area goes down to zone 4 in isolated places. My garden can take zone 7 plants, but there may be a year where I would lose them. So far so good though with all the masonry in my garden keeping the plants toasty in winter. But we need the snow cover, or they are gone in most cases. We are technically zone 6b.

  22. Pingback: Through a Designer’s Eyes – The Scott Arboretum’s Garden Seeds

  23. Scott says:

    This is a wonderful tour of a gorgeous place. Living locally, I love passing through the metasequoia allee, descending into the tulip tree amphitheatre, and walking the Crum Woods trails by the creek. The college’s cherry blossoms are also spectacular in spring.

  24. I could not have said it better. I lived in the Reading area of Pennsylvania more than half my life, and had not gotten to this Arboretum until recently. Hearing the experience of passing through the spaces from a local is the best way to learn of a garden. The passion comes through in the words and rings just a little louder. I find that in my Niagara Falls posts, but even more so when I post of home in PA.

  25. Scott says:

    I had to laugh at your college observation. Having grown up around here, I came to believe that college campuses are supposed to look like Swarthmore’s. Tough act to follow!

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