At the Morris Arboretum in Chestnut Hill

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By far my favorite school reading was during my Master’s program, titled “Outside Lies Magic” by John Stilgoe, a Harvard University professor and historian. It talks about the beauty and importance of exploration, especially in the age of technology and social media. We think information is at our fingertips, but if it’s not touched and experienced with all our senses than how can we appreciate and learn from the intricacies of nature and the environment. With exploration we can make connections and with connections we problem solve holistically.

We may have checklists like LEED, Well-Building, and Living Building Challenge, that act as a guide for us and tell us everything we need to know about how to design sustainably, but what a checklist lacks is the experiential emotional aspect. I’m not trying to undermine the checklist but to explain that before reducing design to checkmarks, we should immerse ourselves with our surroundings. Feeling a breeze, smelling flowers, observing people’s movements and actions (trying to make "people watching" sound fancier), hearing the flow of water, and the list goes on. What the Morris Arboretum, or any arboretum does, is that it reflects a model for the integration of systems with experience.

(Note to self: Pinterest is certainly not the only place for inspiration - it’s informative, convenient, and filled with pretty pictures but a) I don’t get my work-out in because boy do I hate going to the gym, and b) I’m missing out on the magic of the outdoors)

Now that I’ve lost your attention and enticed you to explore the wilderness, I hope your still sticking around to read about a few things I learned about the Morris from my great conversation with Bob Gutowski, Director of Public Programs and a source of knowledge in trees, plants, and the environment. 


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Can't get a ticket discount because you're no longer a student? Guess what, you're still in luck. If you bike, hike, or take public transportation to the Morris you can get a discount and at the same time help the environment. yup, a win-win scenario! ;) As you bike notice the emphasis on stormwater management through the use of materials on the sides of the road. Oh, and the parking lot is a permeable* surface that was estimated to have filtered 31,863,304 gallons of water, which reduces the strain on local water departments and prevents pollutants from entering our rivers and streams! 


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As Bob described it, every building is treated like an exhibit to provide educational and fun experiences. The current exhibit at the gift shop building displayed images taken by Charlotte Temple, highlighting China’s rural culture and the juxtaposition between modernism and traditional farming techniques. They provide further evidence of disappearing rural communities to growing urban cities, a pattern that’s been occuring in America and around the world (I may or may not have contributed to that increasing statistics). 


wood blocks

wood blocks

the leaf motif

the leaf motif



Craftsmanship provides the essence of place and beauty.


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I haven't done nature photography in a while and it felt so good to pick it up again. It allows you to notice more things you wouldn't have discovered otherwise (side note: I think its time for me to invest in a macro lens). I asked Bob about the arboretum's mission, plant selection, and research conducted. Their mission is to create and protect natural habitat, preserve endangered species, to maintain biodiversity and provide community health.

Some research and things the Arboretum does:

  • Botanical research
  • Collection of endangered plants
  • Researching the impact of fracking on Pennsylvania flora
  • Landscaping consultation
  • Education on environmental stewardship
  • Historical preservation

Play & Learn

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What the word "arboretum" really means - an adult's playground. 


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 "If you're working with stone you don't want to ship it you want to use it locally," as Bob explained how limestone onsite was sourced from local quarries. He also talked about the Wissahickon Schist, which was discovered by the first female geologist, Florence Bascom!


one way

one way

dead end

dead end

three way

three way

two way

two way

How neat is the arboretum to have easily accessible trails?


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Some things you just mesmerize at and can't explain.

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For more information on the Morris Arboretum, visit the site here.   

Thanks for stopping by :) And now, Go Play!