Penn’s James G. Kaskey Memorial Garden, or Biopond, as it’s commonly called, is the campus’ small piece of country in the city. The lush garden is filled with a large variety of plants, including daylilies, azaleas, hostas and spotted dead nettle. In the pond, there are goldfish, koi, mallards and turtles.
The green space was created in 1897 as a garden for botanical research. Botany professor John MacFarlane led the effort to develop the garden next to the Biological Department. At the time, the five-acre plot was considered much too small for the garden, but MacFarlane made good use of the space, creating more than five dozen long plant beds for herbaceous specimens, two greenhouses, a gardener’s cottage, a laboratory and two ponds for aquatic plants. The garden became an aesthetically pleasing and fragrant addition to the campus.
MacFarlane, who was also the director of the garden, published a small pamphlet titled “A Short History of the Garden,” which he prepared for The Ladies Auxiliary Committee of the Botanical Society of Pennsylvania. He wrote that Penn was among the first universities in this country to insist “that its graduates in the Department of Philosophy shall spend practically a continuous year watching living plants in their seasonal activities in some botanic garden such as that now described.”
The Quadrangle dormitories, erected two years after the garden was created, gave dorm residents a breathtaking view. This 1906 photo shows the Quad in the background.
The size of the garden shrank to three acres in the early 1900s to make land available for construction of the medical labs and the zoological lab, now known as Leidy Labs. The garden shrank even more in later years to accommodate the need to build more classroom buildings. Today the two-acre garden, located just off Hamilton Walk between 36th and 38th streets, is maintained by a full-time staff and still has many visitors, including nearby pre-school students as well as Penn students, faculty and staff enjoying a break from the usual sights and sounds of the city.
For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives at www.archives.upenn.edu.
Originally published on March 24, 2011