The Morris Arboretum, previously a summer home of the Morris family, holds 92-acres of classical English landscape and sculpture gardens in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Many of the 2,500 types of plants found in the gardens today are products of siblings John and Lydia Morris’ extensive travels and love of horticulture: the Morris’ transformed the estate from barren acres to manicured gardens. Today, the Arboretum attracts more than 130,000 visitors annually and is used as a center for education and research by the University of Pennsylvania.
Backstory and Context
In 1887, the Morris family built “Compton” in the northeast corner of Philadelphia to be their summer home. The wealthy family owned an iron company in Philadelphia, founded in 1828, that produced items such as steam engines, presses, and pumps. At the time of their purchase, the grounds around the mansion were barren and not conducive to plant life; however, siblings John and Lydia Morris’ knowledge and care transformed them into a beautiful display of plants from all over the world.
Both John and Lydia traveled in many parts of America, Europe and Asia, bringing back artwork, plants, and ideas - they began placing works of art and sculptures throughout their gardens, a tradition which continues to this day. A large sculpture termed “Two Lines” now sits in the very place that the Morris’ mansion was once erected. Their carriage house still stands and serves as the Widener Visitor Center for the Arboretum.
The Morris’ were also highly invested in the value of education and made plans to start a school and laboratory at Crompton devoted to horticulture and botany. However, in 1915 John Morris died and left Lydia Morris to continue pushing for their plans for the school. When Lydia passed away in 1932, she bequeathed Crompton and its estate to the University of Pennsylvania for the purpose of creating the Morris Arboretum. The arboretum was dedicated in 1933 and was a part of the university’s botany department for many years. In 1975, it became established as the separate Interdisciplinary Resource Center of the Penn.
The Morris Arboretum is the official arboretum of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and is listed on National Register of Historic Places. It now holds many of Philadelphia’s oldest, largest, and rarest trees, along with research, teaching, and outreach programs. The arboretum boasts 12,000 labelled plants of around 2,500 different types that represent 27 different countries.