Forty acres of the main campus of Delaware Valley College (ahem… I mean UNIVERSITY, old habits, I am an alum) comprise the Henry Schmieder Arboretum. As are many college and university arboreta and botanical gardens, this is open for exploration throughout the year and free of charge and serves dual purpose as public garden and living classroom.
One of the 36 garden members of Greater Philadelphia Gardens, the gardens are a mix of landscapes around historic and new campus buildings and specific garden spaces around the grounds. As you wander through campus you will find a Peony and Iris Garden. It seems we had perfect timing to see irises and tree peonies in bloom on our May 12 stroll. You will also find here a Winter Walk, Annuals Garden, the Oak Woods, the Martin Brooks Conifer Garden, an Herb Garden, Beech Collection and a Rock Garden.
While named for a 40-year faculty member from the early 1920’s in 1966, the Arboretum was an important part of the campus from its inception 70 years prior. As a student earning my BS in Ornamental Horticulture I valued the opportunity to learn about the plants by feeling them, smelling them and observing them in many seasons.
I also benefitted from being on campus and able to study the plants regularly because I lived in the outdoor classroom, my dorm was surrounded by study plants. This enabled and enhanced my understanding of horticulture and my knowledge of plants significantly.
As a woody plant identification instructor myself now, the experiencing of learning in a living classroom and experiencing the value of hands-on education has instilled in me an understanding of the necessity of making living plants available to students. They must see, touch, smell, observe these plants to learn them. It is essential.
This visit back to the Arboretum was certainly a trip down memory lane. Some gardens and plants I remember learning and becoming attached to are no longer there, while new buildings and gardens and paths are now there to explore. Just like nature is always changing, so too, is the university campus.
Experiencing a college or university garden is different than experiencing a garden whose sole-purpose is to be a public garden. These places serve so many functions – a teaching and learning space, campus beautification, event space, research space and a regional resource. Often these spaces are open to the public, all the time, at no charge which is unique and certainly presents a unique set of challenges when it comes to maintenance of existing gardens and funding new ones.
The campus is more than a garden of course. It is a community resource. The day we were there the local YMCA was hosting a 5-K throughout the campus. The lovely scenery of the gardens is almost enough to tempt me into running… almost.
Just a final note, sharing a story that was shared with my Woody Plant ID class and I pass along to the students I teach. I have no idea if this is a myth or there is truth to this story:
This is the bark of a Ginkgo tree. Notice the lines in the bark? If you know anything about Ginkgos you probably know they produce a fruit that smells. It smells like (apologies to the weak stomached…) vomit. These trees line the main walkway from the dorms to the classroom buildings. Every fall the female Ginkgos produce fruits that don;t really smell until they are damaged hitting the ground or by students walking their paths to class. The entire campus becomes engulfed in a stench I am pretty sure can be smelled in downtown Doylestown. While we found the smell putrid, we did see people harvesting the nuts from the ground, as they are considered a culinary delicacy in some Asian cuisine. This is not the part of the story I am not sure is true…this I know for fact and from experience. (Some of us may have taken these stinky fruits and rubbed them on dorm door knobs and put them in work boots… the truth of that will remain a mystery!)
Back to the bark, those lines are rumored to have been created by a chainsaw. People on campus did not like the smell of those fruits and thought the trees must go. But they were old, majestic and healthy not to mention a significant landscape feature and so they remained. Someone decided to take it into their own hands to kill the trees by girdling them with a chainsaw. So they cut around the bark of the tree, hoping to stop the water and nutrient flow in the tree, killing them. However, whoever did this, did not know enough about the trees, merely scarring them and scaring the trees into thinking they may die. When trees are stressed or think they may die they tend to produce a bumper crop of fruits to ensure their next generation. So a lot of fruit on these trees in subsequent years, many are still living, the smell is a tradition at Del Val and the horticulture students were told that the culprits must have been those animal science students, because all of us would know better.
Want to explore the public gardens in your area? Check out the American Public Garden Association’s Garden Finder.
What College and University gardens have you explored? What horticultural tall tales have you heard?