Penn State arboretum—money well spent?

In Chicago my family spent 14% (That’s an estimate.) of our weekends at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Here, we don’t have a botanic garden. We have pretty flowers, we have interesting wildlife, we have mountains—but no botanic garden.

Maybe—since campus is covered in flowers and mountains are our skyscrapers—we don’t need a botanic garden. But after trying to fit Google maps into my schedule, fighting with Google maps and my printer for half an hour, realizing that maybe giving up on my handwriting and inability to draw straight lines after third grade was a bad idea, and finally making it (early) to the PSU arboretum for English class, I remembered the peace in flowers and a beautiful landscape.

The arboretum is a long stretch of lawn ending in forest and the most amazing local mountain backdrop I’ve seen so far (except the prison grounds). In the middle is a small garden worth hundreds of hours of work and a few million dollars (How many college educations could that have paid for?). It’s a bit small, for now, and the plants are freshly planted and a stubbly, but it’s a start. The arboretum emphasizes native plants, but there’s a small plot reserved for exotics like banana trees that are somehow related to our Pennsylvania flora.

I think we really need something like the arboretum here. It’s comforting that there’s a peaceful place that doesn’t care about money or careers or the futility of human life just fifteen minutes away. Still, if this were my project I would spend my money differently. The sidewalk is very comfortable to walk on, and the bamboo-shaped fences complement the what’s-it-calleds very nicely. Still, it bothers me that they’re worth more than my life so far. We need gardens, and the arboretum is a good investment. But the money that was spent on it could have been stretched to get almost the same effect and maybe even more—kind of like buying ten pairs of TJ Maxx jeans for the price of an Abercrombie shirt. Maybe, just maybe, the zillion dollars dedicated to the sidewalk could have built that greenhouse or planted some more flowers. And just think—if our 51-km/h winds get a little bit wilder, if this winter is particularly violent, if—goodness help us—there’s another hurricane—how much money will be lost, and will there be enough left over to recover the arboretum?


~ by science cow on October 7, 2009.

One Response to “Penn State arboretum—money well spent?”

  1. Money will always be spent by those who have it in the way(s) they want. And those of us that don’t have money will always be free to criticize the choices those with money make and to suggest turning more of it toward more practical, urgent needs than flowers. You ask, “How many college educations could that have paid for?” And the answer is zero, because the man with the money did not choose to give it for college educations. Instead he designated it for the gardens.

    Skip Smith donated the $10 million needed to jump start the arboretum and gardens. See the story here: And I got to meet him and eat my ice cream with him at last weekend’s Sound Garden (the project Kelcey worked on). I’m grateful he put it toward this impractical and beautiful use.

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