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Located roughly a mile from Beaver Stadium on the campus of Penn State University, the Penn State Arboretum lives at the crossroads of nature, education, and community engagement. Opened in 2009, this 350-acre living museum extends beyond a traditional botanical garden, offering a variety of experiences, serene landscapes, and hands-on educational programs for visitors of all ages.

**Disclaimer: This was a hosted stay, however, all opinions are my own. I strive to provide my readers with my most authentic sentiments.

View of Penn State University campus as seen from the Arboretum

The Arboretum offers year-round interest and aesthetic experiences as well as educational and recreational opportunities. It provides a unique learning environment for those interested in botany, environmental science, and landscape architecture, with a variety of programs promoting conservation.

It also serves as a cultural venue, hosting art exhibitions, musical performances, and events that blend nature with the arts. In a short time, the Arboretum has become a vital resource for both the academic and wider community.

The Overlook Pavilion at the Penn State Aboretum

Visiting the Penn State Arboretum offers a unique blend of experiences that cater to a wide range of interests, making it a special destination. Whether you’re a horticulturist, a family looking for an educational outing, or simply someone seeking a peaceful refuge, the Arboretum invites you to explore its beauty and learn from its diverse flora and fauna.

Educational Outreach and Research

The Penn State Arboretum excels in its role as an educational resource. It’s not just about observing plants; it’s an immersive experience where visitors, students, and researchers alike delve into the fascinating world of botany and environmental science.

Educational signage at the Arboretum at Penn State

The Arboretum hosts workshops, lectures, and tours that are designed to inspire and educate. It serves as a living laboratory where students and faculty research plant pathology, ecology, and sustainable landscape practices, contributing valuable insights to the global conversation on environmental stewardship.

Biodiversity: The pillars upon which the Arboretum stands

Conservation and biodiversity are the foundational principles that strengthen the Arboretum. Through its collections and conservation efforts, it aims to protect Pennsylvania’s native species while also introducing and cultivating plants from around the world. This commitment ensures that the Arboretum is not only a place of beauty but also a stronghold for genetic diversity and ecological sustainability.

Collections of beautifully themed gardens offer a visual feast and a learning opportunity about different ecosystems, plant biology, and the importance of biodiversity.

Marshy area of the Arboretum at Penn State as sen from the Birdhouse

For those passionate about environmental stewardship, the Arboretum exemplifies sustainable gardening practices and conservation efforts. It’s a place where you can learn about ecological sustainability and the role of botanical gardens in conserving plant diversity.

Creating Community Connection

Community is at the heart of the Arboretum’s culture. The Arboretum fosters a sense of community by being a venue for cultural and social events that bring people together. Popular events such as the Winter Celebration, garden concerts, and plant sales draw crowds from across the state.

The Arboretum’s spaces, including the elegant Event Lawn and the serene Lotus Pool, welcome everyone, from residents to international visitors. It’s a venue designed to foster community interaction and celebrate the natural world’s beauty.

Pumpkin and goard display at the Arboretum at Penn State

H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens’ Thematic Gardens

At the core of the university’s mission is its dedication to conservation, education, and research. The H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens, the heart of the Arboretum, captures this mission beautifully. Offering inviting themed gardens featuring diverse plant collections ranging from colorful ornamental displays to unique ecosystems such as wetlands, woodland, and wildflowers, each garden offers its own delightful experience.

Pollinator and Bird Garden at Penn State's Arboretum

Kathryn Bower Smith Strolling Garden and the Hosler Oak

Enter the Arboretum beneath the Palmer Art Museum connecting bridge. As you step beyond the limestone building you are met by the large circular Event Lawn. The Kathryn Bower Smith Strolling Garden wraps around the space. It features a broad, paved pathway lined with flowering shrubs and perennial herbaceous plants. It is also home to the Hosler Oak, the inaugural tree planted in the botanic gardens.

Fall Plantings at the Arboretum at Penn State

Overlook Pavilion

Following the path you’ll be greeted by the Overlook Pavilion, a favored spot for weddings and various gatherings.  The covering and patio offer vistas of the Bald Eagle Ridge to the northwest and views across the central lawn towards the fountain and campus in the southeast. Adjacent to the pavilion’s northwest side, the 924-square-foot Ridge and Valley sculpture illustrates the topography and waterways of the Spring Creek watershed.

The Overlook Pavilion at Penn State Arboretum

Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden

As you make your way beyond the pavilion, watch for the colorful entrance to the Childhood’s Gate Children’s Garden, a highlight of the arboretum.  Enter through the Transformational Canopy and discover the ever-changing landscape of Central Pennsylvania, its geology, and vegetation.

Childhood's Gate Children's Garden at the Arboretum at Penn State

Laid out in three distinctive areas, Rocky Ridges, the Central Valley, and Fossil Gap, the Children’s Garden is an interactive space that encourages young visitors to engage with the natural world through play and discovery. Learn about fossils, wade in the creek, climb on rocks, or step inside a cave complete with stalactites and stalagmites.

Educational sighnage in the Childhood's Gate Children's Garden at the Arboretum at Penn State

The Children’s Garden provides an engaging, educational outing for families, helping children develop an early appreciation for nature and science. Whether you have kids or not, the area is a delightfully whimsical space with a visit.  Explore, discover, imagine!

Joan Milius Smith Esplanade and the Joel N. Myers Sundial

From the Children’s Garden follow the circle toward Joan Milius Smith Esplanade featuring the Joel N. Myers Sundial, a landscape-sized sculpture.  Seasonal plants fill the beds along the walkway.

Joan Milius Smith Esplanade and the Joel N. Myers Sundial at Penn State's Arboretum. Palmer Art Museum in the Background

Pollinator and Bird Garden

At the Round Meadow, recognizable by the giant weather ring that surrounds the raised bed, veer off on the secondary path and make your way through the Pollinator and Bird Garden. Designed to attract and support local wildlife, resident bird populations, and migratory species, this three-acre garden features plantings favorable to pollinators and birds, alongside water elements, beehives, cultivated plots, and an orchard. A center for academic research and learning initiatives, it is also an oasis for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts.

Pollinator and Bird Garden at the Penn State University Arboretum

The Birdhouse

Deep within the Pollinator and Bird Garden, you will find the Birdhouse. This delightful wood-constructed outlook provides a fantastic vantage point for observing the wildlife. For me, this tranquil spot overlooking meadows and marshes was the highlight of the entire arboretum.

The Birdhouse at the Penn State University Arboretum

Rose and Fragrance Garden

As you exit the Pollinator Garden, you will approach a series of more traditional gardens. The first is the Rose and Fragrance Garden, an enclosed cottage-style garden filled with colorful and fragrant roses and tree peonies, complemented by an underplanting of herbs. Notable elements include a pathway lined with irises and a garden bower adorned with wisteria.

Rose and Fragrance Garden at the Arboretum at Penn State University

Oasis Garden and Lotus Pool

The Oasis Garden and Lotus Pool offer a serene setting for reflection. Set apart from the rest of the Arboretum, the Oasis Garden’s centerpiece is an elevated pool filled with fragrant aquatic flora. A private terrace offers a quiet respite from the outside world.

Lotus Pool at the Penn State Arboretum

Soaring Waters Fountain and Ramage Marsh Meadow

The Margery Enes Smith Soaring Waters Fountain stands out within the Arboretum, offering views over Ramage Marsh Meadow. A gravel pathway directs visitors to a boardwalk crossing the switchgrass meadow and leading towards the University Park campus. Benches and a low wall offer seating and a place for reflection.

Soaring Waters Fountain at Penn State's Arboretum

A Future Rooted in Growth

With plans to expand its collections and further integrate sustainability into its operations, the Penn State Arboretum is poised for growth. New gardens and facilities are on the horizon, promising to enrich the Arboretum’s offerings and deepen its impact on conservation, education, and community well-being.

Pollinator and Bird Garden at the Arboretum at Penn State

The Penn State Arboretum is more than just a collection of plants. It’s a dynamic ecosystem where education, conservation, and community intertwine, fostering a deeper connection between people and the natural world. Whether you’re a botany enthusiast, a student eager to learn, or simply seeking a peaceful retreat, the Arboretum welcomes you to discover its many wonders.

What’s in Season?

These gardens are constantly changing, offering vibrant displays of annuals and perennials that highlight the beauty of each season.

The Arboretum at Penn State University

Planning Your Visit

To make the most of your visit, consider the following tips:

Admission Fees, Parking, and Hours

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