The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College

Nursery News: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

Mahonia x media 'Charity'A gorgeous specimen of the mahonia ‘Charity’ in full bloom in front of the Scott Arboretum offices.

Every year since I started this blog I have chosen a mid-Atlantic U.S. garden to profile through the seasons.  In 2011 I covered Chanticleer, in 2012 Longwood Gardens, and in 2013 Winterthur.  You can click on the name of the garden to access the last post in each series.  This year I have selected the Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 3-23-03 PMCunningham House, the Scott Arboretum offices and library, is the former college observatory and was named for Swarthmore’s first astronomer, Susan Cunningham.

I have been visiting the Scott Arboretum on a regular basis for over 20 years and have been very impressed with their use of plants through out the Swarthmore campus, which is beautiful in its own right.  Cutting edge is an overused term, but I usually see newly introduced plants at Scott first and always displayed in unique and beautiful settings with excellent labels.  In addition, admission to the arboretum is free, and parking is available next to Cunningham House.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-13-41 PMThe Cunningham House entrance is flanked by ‘Charity’ mahonia.

My first visit to Scott for this series took place at the beginning of December.  The arboretum has always been very good at highlighting winter interest plants, and I wanted to see what would be peaking in the “off season”.  The answer is plenty, and I had a hard time selecting photos to use here.  I am glad that I visited then because ever since my visit we have had ice and snow and freezing temperatures.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-16-04 PMThe courtyard in front of Cunningham House is packed with containers planted for winter interest.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-19-37 PM.

Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-16-56 PMAttention to detail is shown with this creative use of pine cones as mulch in another winter container.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-29-27 PMThe back of Cunningham House is as interesting as the front, and the gardens there should not be missed.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-30-02 PMA shady pergola behind Cunningham House, much appreciated in summer. 


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-27-18 PM.

Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-28-32 PMThis close up of the pond shows that it was quite cold that day.


Fatsia japonica 'Spider's Web' & Helleborus x hybridusThe evergreen leaves of Fatsia japonica ‘Spider’s Web’ and hybrid hellbores both look great in the winter.

Although the plantings around Cunningham House are lovely, the Scott Arboretum encompasses the whole 425 acre campus of Swarthmore College.  The college was founded in 1864 by Quakers and is one of the oldest coeducational colleges in the U.S.  It is a small and highly ranked liberal arts college with a current enrollment of around 1,500 students.  On future visits, I hope to show the full diversity of the arboretum, but during this visit I stuck to the center of campus.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-34-58 PMA beautiful allée of trees extends gracefully from the center of campus towards the village of Swarthmore below.


Parrish HallParrish Hall, named after the first president of the college.


Parrish Hall, Swarthmore CollegeAnother view of Parrish Hall.  Every building on campus is surrounded by beautiful plantings.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-38-10 PMA typical scene from the campus where dried hydrangeas, winterberry, and a variety of evergreens enhance the setting.


Metasequoia glyptostroboides & Arum italicumAnother allée, this time of dawn redwoods underplanted with Italian arum.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-41-47 PMA close up of this beautiful combination. 


Betula nigra 'Heritage'‘Heritage’ river birch


Betula nigra 'Dura Heat'A close up of the wonderful bark of another river birch called ‘Dura Heat’.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-57-38 PM Containers planted for winter interest are found through out the campus.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 3-07-19 PMAll types of ornamental interest are represented from bark to evergreen leaves to berries, here winterberry holly.


Ilex verticillata 'Winter Gold'‘Winter Gold’ winterberry holly


Photinia serrulata, Chinese photiniaChinese photinia, P. serrulata


Stewartia pseudocamellia var. koreana, Korean stewartiaKorean stewartia


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-51-27 PMThe Scott Arboretum was one of the first public gardens to try the shrub edgeworthia, E. chrysantha, and there are several beautiful specimens on the campus.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-47-32 PMPerennials are not neglected, here a gorgeous yucca.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-48-21 PMA great combination of evergreen gold-leafed yucca and ornamental grasses.


Scott Arboretum at Swarthmore College 12-1-2013 2-58-20 PMA great way to use this aggressively spreading, evergreen bamboo.

This is just a small sampling of the winter delights that await you at the Scott Arboretum.  If you are local, I highly encourage you to join the arboretum so you can attend all their horticultural events.  These range from staff led tours of the arboretum during all seasons, an excellent biennial plant sale with very hard-to-find offerings, smaller talks featuring garden travels through out the U.S. and the world, lectures by well known national and international horticulturists, garden tours, classes, and much more.


Nursery Happenings: To register for Charles Cresson’s Winter Interest Plants Seminar click hereWe are now taking orders, for mail order or pick up in late February or March, from the 2014 Snowdrop Catalogue, featuring snowdrops and other winter interest plants like cyclamen and hellebores.  To access the catalogue, please click here.  Please visit my Etsy Shop to purchase beautiful photo note cards suitable for all occasions, including a new set of snowdrop cards, by clicking here.

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a local retail nursery in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, U.S., zone 7a. The only plants that we mail order are snowdrops and miniature hostas and only within the US.

If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

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24 Responses to “The Scott Arboretum of Swarthmore College”

  1. Carolyn I look forward to your garden profiles and this will be a great one. When I do finally make it down for a visit, I hope to visit at least one of these gardens you have profiled and perhaps be treated to a guided tour by you 🙂

  2. Says:

    When I looked up both Fatsia Jap. and the Chinese Photinia they were not listed as hardy in my zone 6. How does the Scott Arboretum manage to grow them ?? Thanks

    • Here in Bryn Mawr, PA, we are zone 7A. Swarthmore is slightly warmer than us but still in 7A. This winter is testing the zone denial of a lot of plantings, and we will have to see how the photinia and fatsia do among many other borderline plants like nandina and crape myrtles. The location of the fatsia at the arboretum is protected, but the photinia is exposed if I remember correctly. Carolyn

  3. I love this garden, and it is so wonderful to have it at the school for the hort program. I love the wooded areas with all the shade plants. I agree that is a great way to corral bamboo. I have not visited in winter, but the college does a great job for winter interest.


    This is a beautiful setting and not so well known as the others that you have profiled. I am so looking forward to your posts and hope that you get to post a bit about the Stumpery which I understand is one of the best in this countery

  5. Beautiful place! And, yes, they do seem to be experts with winter interest. I use Pine Cones for pot mulching sometimes, too. They also help to keep the chipmunks at bay (they help, but don’t totally eliminate the digging ;-). Thanks for the tour!

  6. Thank you for the wonderful tour and highlighting of a lesser known botanical gem. I look forward to more posts about The Scott Arboretum, and hopefully visit in person someday. Edgeworthia and Black Bamboo are two of my favorites.

  7. Thanks for the tour of Scott Arboretum Carolyn, quite magnificent. I find Mahonia is growing on me, (well not literally). Charity is definitely the one which I have a preference for.

    • Alistair, I never liked mahonia because the varieties that used to be available had ugly, discolored leaves in the winter and spring. The newer varieties always look good and have better flowers. The straight species M. japonica is very nice too. Carolyn

  8. nwphillygardner Says:

    Thanks, Carolyn. What an excellent documentation about the breadth of what gardeners mean by “Winter interest”. I will have to bookmark this blogpost for reference. In future, when I use that term and see a blank look in someone’s eyes, I’ll be able to send them here.
    I think for many, “Winter Interest” suggests conifers, and the evergreen shrubs conventionally marketed for suburban foundation plantings. Secondly, folks may conjure visions of browned plant matter that remains ornamental in winter like grasses. But you’ve offered up a much wider selection to stimulate novice (& experienced) gardeners.
    And while you surely mentioned it in this post, Scott must really be applauded for it’s incredibly rigorous use of botanical markers throughout the Swarthmore College campus. It’s so helpful for gardeners who visit, both to learn about unfamiliar plants, but also to reinforce their memory of those they’ve seen and are starting to commit to memory.

    • Eric, I actually didn’t think that I was expanding the term winter interest, but come to think of it, you are right. A lot of gardeners do not know about the full range of options available to them for winter gardening. I didn’t really even focus on flowers and conifers. You are so right about the labels at Scott. I have almost never wondered about a plant while exploring there and not been able to find a label, which is a common occurrence at most other horticultural institutions. Carolyn

  9. nwphillygardner Says:

    Of course we’d need to wait until the snow melts, but it would be so interesting to visit all the plantings you’ve photographed here and see how they appear now appear, in later February.

  10. Hi Carolyn, I remember all the other gardens you have profiled, today’s garden is just as lovely – thanks for the tour!
    It was interesting to see what they had done with the bamboo, maybe I can borrow that idea somewhere in my garden 🙂

  11. Really nice. I love the look of the metasequoia and hope that someday my own little sapling will be part of a similar planting!
    I underestimated the Scott Arboretum, the other big gardens of Philly always win out and I pass on this one. I need to fix that on my next visit!

  12. Another to add to my list. I look forward to the upcoming posts, but better yet seeing the place in person someday.

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