Almost around every corner, visitors will discover unusual gardens and garden areas that are unique to the Morris Arboretum. John and Lydia Morris designed many of the garden features themselves (along with the help of some of the finest architects of their time) so that each space reflected their diverse cultural interests.
Some Garden Features to explore when you visit:
The Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery
The Dorrance H. Hamilton Fernery is the only remaining freestanding Victorian fernery in North America. Originally built in 1899 under the supervision of John Morris, the fernery stands today as a historical time piece, documenting the British obsession with ferns and glasshouses during the Victorian era. The building was constructed using locally mined stone and utilized cutting edge technology in glass cutting, steam heating, and architectural elements.
Nestled in a curve of land below the rose garden, the fernery has become an iconic part of the Morris Arboretum. Its glittering rooftop welcoming visitors into a peaceful space filled with ferns, trickling waterfalls and reflecting pools. A wonderful place to explore in all seasons.
The Mercury Loggia was constructed in 1913 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Compton estate. The Loggia is a small, temple-like structure constructed of Wissahickon schist with an arched plaster roof and mosaic tile floor. Located at the western edge of the English Park, the Loggia captures the feel of a Roman temple with a bronze statue of Mercury, recognizable by his winged sandals, nestled within. The Grotto beneath the Loggia is an artificial cavern created and lined with Wissahickon schist. Historically, grottos similar to this one was designed as a wonderful location for intellectual ponderings. A narrow winding path leads through the grotto and out into the Ravine Garden on the north side of the Loggia. Large blocks of stone were used to create the walls of the ravine and serve as an anchoring mechanism for flowering bulbs and perennials. An artificial streambed was created to allow water to flow through the Ravine Garden and collect in a pool at the end of the path.
John Morris created the English Park around 1912, filling it mainly with plants from China. In keeping with English tradition, the area provides light and open vistas of the surrounding landscape. Today, the English Park is marked by gently rolling lawns bordered by significant collections of maples, witchhazels, dogwoods, cherries, and stewartias.
One of the most noticeable features of the English Park which remains today is the Step Fountain. The fountain was commissioned by Lydia Morris in 1916 in honor of her brother John who had died shortly before. In 1988, the Step Fountain underwent a restoration and the sculpture “After B.K.S. Iyengar” was installed.
Rock Wall Garden
The Rock Wall Garden was built in 1924, about the same time the area was changed into a Rose Garden. The six-foot-high wall is made of Wissahickon schist, and is filled with a variety of perennials. It is a sunny, south-facing location, with well-drained, cool cracks, providing conditions similar to those in alpine regions. Plants with short stems, dense, tough or hairy foliage and those with long fibrous roots or taproots grow well in this environment. The wall provides a unique display for colorful cascading plants in early spring.
The Alice & J. Liddon Pennock Flower Walk
A garden of vibrant color and texture, the Alice and J. Liddon Pennock Flower Walk represents the realization of a dream envisioned by plantsman, philanthropist and longtime Arboretum friend, Liddon Pennock. Liddon, who passed away in 2003, first proposed the idea of a new garden at the Arboretum in the 1990s, when he served on the Advisory Board of Managers. He was eager to see more color at the Arboretum and wanted to help create a teaching garden that would serve as a living laboratory where interns, students and the general public could learn about plant life. Liddon ensured that his dream would become reality through a generous bequest, which provided for the design and implementation of the new garden, and provided funds for a designated endowment to support an internship and ongoing maintenance of the garden.
Fortunately, Liddon was able to have a hand in the design of this garden while he was still active at the Arboretum. He very much wanted it to be a garden of splendor, and in keeping with his wishes, the garden was designed to incorporate brilliant color through a combination of woody plants, perennials and non-hardy plants. While it is located on a site where the Morrises once had an elaborate double flower border, the new area is contemporary in design and planting. The palette features sunset colors in shades of orange, red, chartreuse and purple, with touches of silver.
Nestled among towering trees, many of which date to the Morrises’ time, it provides the perfect backdrop to showcase plants that have been wild-collected from various Arboretum plant explorations around the world. Among the many plants, visitors will find morning calm Chinese trumpet creeper (Campsis grandiflora), and Amsonia tabernaemontana (blue stars), just to name a few.
The placement of the Pennock garden restores the central axis of the flower garden that was created by the Morrises for their estate. A wonderful addition to the landscape, this spectacular garden also serves as a lasting memorial to Liddon and Alice Pennock, and honors their many contributions to the Arboretum.
This “garden room” was built shortly before 1900, offering views to the hillsides across the Morris estate. The design was described in garden literature as an Italian Villa Garden, a popular landscape form at that time. The balustrade, terrace, rustic rock waterfall and hillside garden were elements copied from these Italian Renaissance landscapes and their French and English imitators. Today, surrounded by lush, mature trees, it is a peaceful and shady retreat offering open views to the Maloney and Pennock gardens.
Like other privileged Victorians, John and Lydia Morris were intrepid travelers. Many of the
features in the gardens they created at Compton were inspired by places they visited. Such is the case with the Long Fountain. After a visit to the Alhambra in Spain, John and Lydia were motivated to install a “Moorish” fountain in their garden back home in Philadelphia. The water feature was constructed in 1905.
After not having functioned since the time of Lydia Morris, individual and foundation donors provided the funds for the dramatic renovation of this fountain, the last of the Arboretum fountains to be restored in recent years. The fountain was returned to its intended glory with eight jets of water arching over a long pool that spills into a basin at the end of the feature. New LED lights provide dramatic, energy-efficient lighting. A simplistic planting scheme around the fountain features Lindera salicifolia (spicebush). Designed to engage each of the senses and impart a feeling of “green tranquility,” the area is screened from the main path in order to provide a sense of enclosure and privacy.
The Long Fountain has become a favorite destination for the youngest of visitors who delight in touching the “dancing” water.
Gayle E. Maloney Garden & Marble Fountain
One of the Arboretum’s newest gardens, the Gayle E. Maloney Memorial Garden, is located directly behind the Pennock Garden. Surrounding the Marble Fountain, this garden contains a variety of perennials and annuals, and blends seamlessly with the surrounding gardens, creating a beautiful area within the Arboretum that links the Pennock Flower Walk with the historic Orange Balustrade.