H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens – Phase I

Designers: MTR Landscape Architects | City: State College, PA | Project Type: botanical gardens
Date Visited: 09.09.12
Location: H.O. Smith botanic gardens, East Park Avenue, State College
Size: 56-acres
Cost: $10 million starting grant
Official Opening Date: April 25, 2010

Designed by Pittsburgh-firm MTR Landscape Architects, the H.O. Smith Botanic Gardens is the in-progress gateway to the larger 395-acre Arboretum at Penn State. Named in honor of H.O. Smith, a former State College alum and real estate developer, the garden was developed by Smith’s son, Charles H. “Skip” Smith–also a Penn State alum–who contributed the $10 million starting grant.

SIte Plan. Credit: mtrla.com

I went on a bright and chilly Sunday afternoon and even though most of the summer blooms had faded, I was surprised and impressed by the amount of colorful vegetation still in bloom–the planting design clearly shows that the gardens are meant to be a year-round attraction. Educational resources, such as the children’s garden and visitor’s center, encourage interaction and growth. It also serves as a horticultural resource for the nearby PSU Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.

The botanical gardens are set up like a series of outdoor rooms, the walls and characters of each determined by spatial organization and plant palette. I particularly enjoyed the Demonstration Garden, which consists of five sections: a Learning Center, Pollinators Garden, Home Landscapes, Fruit & Vegetable Garden and Flower & Turf Demonstration Plots. I was delighted to see Chinese squash–the kind that my grandparents grow in copious amounts in our backyard–hanging down from an archway in the Demonstration Gardens that led out to a grassy pathway flanked by tall sunflowers.

The Oasis Garden was also another favorite of mine. Small koi swam around brightly colored lily and lotus flowers that grew around a thicket of Papyrus plants.

Next to the Overlook Pavilion is a miniature replica of the Pennsylvania landscape. Rivers are cut into the ground stonework and large boulders strategically placed around the space in representation of the mountain ranges. I’ve always liked seeing contextual references to the greater area in landscape architecture sites but it was even cooler to see a little boy and his brother take it to the next level; taking on the role of Nature, they poured water into the cut-out stone rivers, making water flow across the landscape.

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