Plants, Collections & Horticultural Highlights
Historically, Tyler’s horticultural displays date from the mid-1800s, when Minshall and Jacob Painter started an arboretum on their family farm. Today these magnificent historic trees and shrubs tower over the landscape, creating a sense of awe and inspiration.
In the mid-1900s, beautiful flowering trees and shrubs were added to Tyler’s plantings, which to this day create spectacular displays from spring through and until the middle of fall. Wildflowers and other native plants are featured throughout Tyler’s core area, along with herb and vegetable displays that entice home gardeners to grow their own fresh healthy food.
Wister Horticulture Collections
Between 1948 and 1968, Dr. John Caspar Wister (1887-1982) served as Tyler’s first director. Wister was a member of a prominent Philadelphia area family, which included the 18th century physician Caspar Wister, after whom the species Wisteria is named.
As director, Wister developed the concept of Tyler Arboretum as it is today, in that we are an organization that maintains both cultivated and natural areas. He planned and laid out our collections of cherries, lilacs, magnolias, rhododendrons, and crabapples, as well as the Pinetum and our trail system.
The early years of Dr. Wister’s time at Tyler were devoted to clearing areas intended for planting. In the early 1950s, Dr. Wister produced a plan of the “Wister Loop,” a circular trail linking the collections of lilacs, crabapples, cherries, and magnolias. In 1952 he described his vision: “The varieties were most carefully chosen, and are believed to be the finest in existence at the present time. Given five or ten years of good growth and a minimum of care, they should make this portion of the grounds a beauty spot unsurpassed in any public garden.”
“Nurtured within Tyler Arboretum is a hidden treasure. It is a legacy so special and unique that its existence alone places it as a nationally and locally important resource. This horticultural jewel is the Wister Rhododendron Collection. Growing pleasantly beneath the shade of second-growth tulip trees, oaks, ashes, and maples, the collection represents the culmination of one of this country’s great rhododendron breeders, Dr. John Casper Wister.”—Robert Herald, September 6, 2005.
It took years before Wister was able to plant the extensive rhododendron collection adjacent to the Pinetum.
By the 1950s, Wister described the area as a thick jungle of weedy tulip and ash trees, many of which had been blown down in a hurricane in 1954 and in a snowstorm in 1958.
Compounded by inadequate labor, planting was impossible until 1959. Dr. Wister described the establishment of the Pinetum rhododendrons as the most important development undertaken at the Arboretum, and by the end of 1959 the collection numbered more than 500 rhododendrons and 200 azaleas. He wrote, “These quantities are not so important as the number of species, varieties and hybrid strains…these alone should make a collection second to none in Pennsylvania.”
Robert Herald reports that “there exists no other public collection in the northeastern United States that can compare in horticultural diversity, condition and importance” than Tyler’s Wister Rhododendron Collection. We invite you to visit and discover this amazing collection for yourself!
Planting of the magnolia collection began in 1951, with the assistance of the Hill and Hollow Garden Club. Prized for their broad range of flower types, colors, and fragrances, the magnolia collection includes important Asiatic, native, and hybrid varieties including the late-blooming “Little Girl Hybrid” series, which was developed by the National Arboretum.
The crabapple collection was planted between 1951 and 1953, mostly along a sweeping looped path known as the “Crabapple Trail,” that linked the collections of cherries and lilacs. By 1959, there were 95 crabapple trees representing more than 40 species and varieties.
The collection contains American and Asiatic species, along with garden hybrids in a broad range of pink, red, and white spring flowers that give superb displays of autumn fruit.
Planting of the ornamental cherry collection began in 1951, with 45 plants representing 23 species and varieties, most of which were donated by the Scott Foundation of Swarthmore College. These splendid Yoshino cherry trees planted along Painter Road make a dramatic display in spring.
The original lilac collection was planted in the early 1950s, with 84 plants representing 63 varieties. Today, although we add to the collection from time to time, our Horticulture staff maintains Dr. Wister’s original wish for exhibiting only the best examples of lilacs for this region. Lilacs in pinks, blues, purples, and whites line this walk, exhibiting the extensive color range of this plant. Spring is the best time to visit the Lilac Collection to experience the beautiful colors and intoxicating sweet smell.
Tyler’s Pinetum is an imposing 85-acre collection of pines, spruces, hemlocks, firs, cedars, false cypresses, and larches. Planting began in 1954, with conifer plants and seedlings donated by the Arnold, Morris, and Scott Arboreta. Trees in the pine family (Pinus spp.), including pines, spruces, firs, hemlocks, cedars, junipers, and arborvitae – were planted in groups of three to five of each species, with one specimen planted well apart from the group.
We actively maintain over 17 miles of hiking trails that traverse through 550 acres of our uncultivated natural areas. The trails allow you to meander through meadows, wind your way through dense woodlands, and forge sparkling streams as you observe the diverse wildlife and historic ruins of centuries-old buildings.
Tyler’s trails offer challenges for all fitness levels as well as providing multiple points of interest (and rest) along the way. Once you’ve hiked some of these trails, you might want to begin combining them in different ways to create your own personal hiking experience. The seven trails include:
(Blue blazes, Gate 1, 1.9 miles, approximately 1 hour) – This is a gentle, family-friendly, trail with cascades of plants, along with great opportunities seasonally to see varies species of butterflies birds, and other wildlife.
White blazes, Gate 2, 7.4 miles, approximately 4 hours) – This is our longest and most secluded trail that offers a range of terrain along with some beautiful historic ruins.
(Yellow blazes, Gate 3, 1.4 miles, approximately 45 minutes) – This is our shortest trail. It’s family-friendly, offers expansive meadow views throughout the year, along with lots of displays of wildflowers in the spring and summer.
(Red blazes, Gate 4, 2.2 miles, approximately 1 hour, 20 minutes) – This is our most challenging, trail, complete with stream crossings and some great views.
(Orange blazes, Gate 6, 2.0 miles, approximately 1 hour, 10 minutes) – This trail offers challenging Hills, a beautifully shady stream valley, historic ruins, and lots of possibilities to encounter a range of wildlife.
(Pink blazes, Gate 7, 1.6 miles, approximately 1 hour) – This trail offers moderate hills, the rare ecosystem of Pink Hill with its underlying strata of Serpentine, Our American chestnut nursery, several bridge stream crossings, and a delightfully quiet meadow.
If you are hiking our trails, we ask that you close and latch all trail gates behind you when heading out to the trails and when returning.
Lucille’s Edible Garden
Lucille’s Edible Garden and Schoolhouse provides hands-on learning for all ages about healthy eating, healthy living, and sustaining healthy land – providing a hands-on experience to Tyler’s environmental science expertise. Situated in Tyler’s historic core, the garden provides an experiential gateway to the arboretum’s other attractions with easy access to the meadows, woodlands, pond, and stream.
Construction was complete on Lucille’s Edible Garden and Schoolhouse in March of 2019 and the first growing season of the garden began. There were several theme gardens planted within the main fenced garden: A Children’s Garden, A Kitchen Pantry garden, A Three Sisters Garden, A Culinary Herb Garden as well as the many production beds. A majority of the food produced was donated to the local Media Food Bank which is helping provide food to the underserved in our community.
Home to a display garden where visitors can learn about the diversity of delicious fruits and vegetables.
Designed with Tyler’s youngest visitors in mind, this garden allows children to take a shovel to the soil, nest a seed in the soil, or pick fresh produce.
A land of make believe comes to life among the trees and garden edges. Young guests (and those who are merely young at heart) are invited to explore whimsical natural structures and the wild beauty that surrounds them.
The remnants of a domestic springhouse from the early 1800s provide the base of a garden created to tell the rich history of Tyler’s farming past. This original spring has been reinterpreted in the ruin garden by the stone fountain. Water is gently overflowing the stone fountain where it is then recollected in an underground basin and then recirculated.
Built to accommodate groups of 50, this environmentally focused classroom facility will allow for learning and experimentation all year long. Whether it is students on a school field trip learning where their food comes from, a cooking class for adults held in the demonstration kitchen, or an intergenerational workshop on innovative gardening practices, this space will inspire creativity.
Built in the spirit of Quaker ingenuity, this garden will serve to purify the stormwater captured from the site and recharges it before it returns to the groundwater supply. By controlling stormwater flow, the rain garden also prevents flooding and erosion of local streams and helps to sustain them during dry seasons.
Tyler’s Pond is a popular spot to visit any time of the year. The deck allows easy access right to the edge of the water and serves as a perfect viewing spot to look at the variety of wildlife that call the Pond home.
Nearby benches provide places to rest and enjoy the serenity of the space. The Pond is relatively small and was originally dug to serve as a source of irrigation water in the late 1940s. It is fed by Rocky Run Stream, which runs through the original historic Arboretum and continues on its journey along Tyler’s Blue Trail on its way to Ridley Creek.
Many animals and insects live in or near the Pond. In the spring, wood, pickerel, green, and bull frogs and American toads gather in the pond to mate and lay eggs. Later in the spring and into the summer, tiny tadpoles can be seen around the pond edge.
As the weather warms in early spring, Tyler’s turtles re-emerge from hibernation. On warm days, painted turtles, red-eared sliders, and snapping turtles enjoy sunning themselves on logs. Several species of fish call the Pond home, including largemouth bass and a variety of sunfish such as bluegill, redear, and pumpkinseed.
Summer and fall are a great time to enjoy the many species of dragonfly and damselflies that dart and swoop through the air hunting insects or rest on the plants and deck railings before their next flight. Birds are often seen near the pond edge catching a quick drink. In winter, the pond is quiet as animals and insects hibernate through the cold weather.
Tyler Arboretum’s Pink Hill offers visitors a chance to see the last remaining serpentine barren in Delaware County, and an ecosystem that is found only a few places in the world.
In the Eastern United States, serpentine areas occur in scattered pockets from Alabama to Canada, but the most diverse and botanically significant outcrops are in southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland, including Delaware County.
Over the years, the serpentine barrens of the County have disappeared under suburbia’s sprawl, but many of the plants that grew in these specialized habitats will make the transition to the suburban landscape with surprising ease. By using these plants, home gardeners can help preserve the County’s distinctive landscape.
The serpentine barren (or grassland) is a habitat that has adapted to growing on thin, coarse soil loaded with minerals that are highly toxic to most plants. The toxic soil is a byproduct from the erosion of Serpentine bedrock just below the soils’ surface. Serpentine or Serpentinite – rumored to have been named for a particular snake indigenous to Serpentine areas in the wilds of Italy – is a soft rock with the swirled green and brown color of melted mint chocolate chip ice cream.
The term “barren” often associated with these sites originates from a term the early settlers used to describe the soil’s inability to support commercial crops. The green color comes from the rocks’ high concentration of magnesium. Magnesium itself is very efficient at hampering plants’ nutrient absorbing capabilities; pockets of chromium, cobalt, nickel and iron substantially contribute to the hostile environment.
However, some plants have found a competitive advantage in this harsh soil. While a few species such as the serpentine aster (Aster depauperatus) are found exclusively on Serpentine grasslands, most are fairly common in other parts of the country. Some are native to the prairies of the Midwest, finding a niche in the barrens as fire suppression practices took effect. Others are common to the local area, and several of them are available in the nursery trade.
Pink Hill is named for the pink wash of Phlox subulata or moss phlox that blooms in the spring. Moss phlox is quite easy to find for purchase and is available in a number of colors. Used as a groundcover in hot, dry areas, Phlox subulata literally covers itself with flowers early in the year.
Evergreen except in very exposed areas, moss phlox won’t grow much taller than about three inches, but it can spread laterally for three feet.
To read more in depth about Pink Hill, see the Pink Hill Serpentine Barrens Restoration and Management Plan Report. https://www.tylerarboretum.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Latham-PinkHillReport-2008.pdf
Located on the northern edge of the core area within Tyler’s deer exclusion fence there are 13 acres of protected native woodland. Tyler has been steadily working to restore this forest to demonstrate what a healthy woodland looks like without grazing pressure from white tailed deer. Work continues to document the native plants growing in the area, to remove invasive plants, and to replant native species appropriate to the ecological conditions.
The meadows in the Pinetum, Pink Hill, and the Stopford Family Meadow Maze area come alive in spring when the bluebirds and tree swallows begin their hunt for insects to feed their young.
By midsummer, the grasses have usually grown to a height of at least four feet, as sun-loving wildflowers attract butterflies and other pollinators.
Fall finds the grasses turning a tawny brown color, contrasting with the bright colors of the surrounding deciduous woodlands. Winter is perhaps the most peaceful time to wander the sunny paths that dot our meadows, either on snowshoes or with cross country skis if conditions are right.