This gem of a garden is located on the University of Pennsylvania campus, and at first sight is hard to find, as it is sheltered between buildings. Nevertheless, this place is definitely worth looking for! I walk through the James G. Kaskey Memorial Park more or less daily, on my way to work, and it fills me with joy every time, even when I’m running late and spring through without paying close attention to the plants.
I am so glad I decided to write about this, because I have learned so much about the Park’s history. It was established as a botanical garden in late nineteenth century by Drs. J.T. Rothrock and John M. MacFarlane, both from Department of Botany at UPenn. This garden was unique in many ways: it was much smaller than an average botanical garden (only about 5 acres), and the future park was to be constructed on a waste ground in the Southern part of the Penn campus.
In addition to numerous trees and plant beds, the Garden boasted two greenhouses, two ponds for aquatic plants (only the smaller pond remains today), rock gardens, a bog garden, and an iris garden. From the start, not only were the grounds used by scientists for research, but they also served as venues for University-hosted events.
As time went by, the size of the Garden was diminished to just three acres due to new construction. University avenue, an extension of 38th street, separated the Garden and the Woodlands Cemetery. Later on, more Garden territory was claimed for new buildings. The greenhouses went through several cycles of demolishing and being rebuilt at a new location, finally landing on the spot they occupy today.
You may be wondering how the Garden acquired its present name. In 2000, it received a donation from Richard and Jeanne Kaskey. These funds were used to reconstruct the small pond, adding a waterfall and a weeping wall. Eventually the Kaskey family endowed the Garden to ensure it receives the funds and care it deserves.
Being a part of a University, the Kaskey Memorial Park provides a lot of educational resources not only to the students, but to the general public, as well. They provide approximate plant lists for different parts of the Garden, and even an interactive (sort of) map that you can use to locate and identify various trees in the garden. You have to keep zooming in on the map, and at some point tree names appear on it.
There are always new projects going on in the Park. At the moment, the Invasive Plant Removal Project is in full bloom.
In the pictures below, I tried to capture my favorite scenes and features from the Garden, like incorporation of wild and native plants and the natural, “un-garden-like”, look of it.
And here is a beautiful video of BioPond by a Penn student Isabella Gong.
Thanks for reading and make sure to visit the Garden, if you can!