New garden ready to take root at Morris Arboretum

J.L. Pennock Garden

What better way to remember a plant lover than to design a garden in his honor? That was the thinking behind the J.L. Pennock Garden, currently under construction between the Garden Railway and the Rose Garden at Penn’s Morris Arboretum.

J. Liddon Pennock, in whose memory the garden is being created and whose endowment gift to the Arboretum will help maintain it, died last spring at the age of 90. For most of his life, he ran the family business, a Center City flower shop that provided floral decorations for countless society weddings as well as the Nixon White House.

When Pennock sold the business in 1970, he focused his energies on Meadowbrook Farms, his 25-acre estate in the Rydal neighborhood, where he exercised his green thumb and established a successful retail nursery and garden shop. He was also actively involved with the Philadelphia Flower Show.

In local gardening circles, says Morris Arboretum Curator and Director of Horticulture Anthony Aiello, he was “Mr. Horticulture.”

To honor his leafy legacy, the Arboretum (with landscape architects Andropogen Associates), has designed a garden that’s reminiscent of Pennock’s estate. It’s “intimate, colorful and exuberant,” says Aiello, and it echoes the feel of Meadowbrook’s “series of garden rooms and garden experiences.”

The garden that siblings John and Lydia Morris had planted in this part of the Arboretum more than 100 years ago provided a second source of inspiration. But though the garden’s exuberant summer floral displays—with lush tropical plants like coleus, cannas and bananas—will have a heady Victorian feel, “This is not a historic recreation,” says Aiello.

To make way for the new garden, landscapers had to temporarily uproot several Snowball Vibernum, which had grown in the same spot since the Morrises lived here.

These treasured specimens will be moved back in once the planting beds have been laid in. A winding bluestone path will lead visitors through the garden, and a decorative metal fence will keep out deer and also allow for the display of ornamental vines.

The plan, says Aiello, is to complete the hardscape and infrastructure this fall, construct a decorative arbor in early spring and finish planting by late spring. “By June,” he promises, “nobody will ever know this was a construction site.”

Originally published on October 21, 2004