Sign up to be emailed when new events are posted to the web site.
Tree House Exhibits at Tyler & Longwood Appeal to the Kid in All of Us
Tyler Arboretum and Longwood Gardens are celebrating trees with totally terrific -- but different -- approaches to tree houses.
by Denise Cowie - 6/3/2008
The birds at Tyler Arboretum in Delaware County must have wondered just what kind of neighbors were moving into the strange and wonderful new abodes that started taking shape in their arboreal world this spring.
Some of these houses among the trees feature whimsical animals. … Dangling ropes that ring bells. … A pink elephant tiptoeing along a branch.
A pink elephant?
But these tree houses aren’t for the birds.
As the avian neighbors discovered at the grand opening event on Saturday, these tree houses are for humans celebrating trees.
The fantastic structures are all part of Tyler’s Totally Terrific Treehouses: Where Imagination Goes Out on a Limb, an ambitious exhibition of one-of-a-kind tree houses designed and built by local architects, landscape architects, builders, potters, metalworkers, students, and artists.
A Tree Housewarming for ‘Terrific Treehouses’
The exhibition opened over the Memorial Day Weekend with a “Tree Housewarming” that featured numerous tree-oriented events for the grand opening on Saturday. The tree houses will remain on display through September 28.
The designs of the 17 tree houses that are scattered throughout the arboretum were selected in a juried competition. Some were designed and built by one person; others were created by teams of professionals or groups of neighbors and friends.
And their approaches vary widely. Some are playful – “Scared Silly” was dreamed up by a group of young fathers and features a pink elephant – while others are inspirational – “Thoreau’s Cabin” (shown under construction at right, fourth from top) offers a full-size replica of the famed writer’s home at Walden Pond.
As Tyler describes it, “From the elegantly simple to the fantastically elaborate, each house is designed to inspire wonder and appreciation for trees.”
Some of the tree houses are at or near ground level, though others are up in the trees. But no trees were harmed in the creation of these tree houses – the winning proposals were required to safeguard the health of the trees and respect the natural environment.
More tree houses at Longwood Gardens
Tyler’s aren’t the only tree houses wowing visitors to the region’s public gardens this summer.
Last month, Longwood Gardens in Chester County launched Nature’s Castles, an exhibit of three extraordinary tree houses that will be open to the public until November 23.
These large-scale tree houses are the work of specialist builders, and again, preserving the trees’ health and environment was of paramount importance.
One of Longwood’s tree houses, “Lookout Loft” (part of which is pictured at right, second from bottom), is an Adirondack-style structure with two separate viewing platforms, one covered by a roof, the other by a trellis, and connected by a walkway. It was designed by Forever Young Treehouses of Burlington, Vermont, and occupies a total of 720 square feet. A large ramp leading up into the treehouse allows for universal access.
The other two tree houses in Longwood’s exhibit were designed by Peter Nelson of TreeHouse Workshop Inc. in Seattle, Washington. The “Canopy Cathedral” (pictured at right, third from bottom) is an ornate two-story house inspired by a Norwegian Stave Church, and features beautiful hand-carved wood throughout and a large deck overlooking the Italian Water Garden.
The third of Longwood’s Castles is “The Birdhouse” (pictured bottom right), a cedar structure that rises nearly 20 feet above the ground and offers a true bird’s-eye view of the surrounding Peirce’s Woods.
(All photographs of Longwood's tree houses shown here are courtesy of Kirk Brown.)
Students depict aid for Katrina victims
Back at Tyler Arboretum, a group of students from the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades has constructed a tree house that exemplifies their message of “building a better world.”
Their exhibit, titled “Williamson Serves,” illustrates the students’ experiences rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. (Their exhibit is pictured at right, fifth from the top.)
Months before the students began working on the construction of the tree house, Jim Bradley, a senior at Williamson in the carpentry program, talked about what it meant to the group.
“We wanted to incorporate something that meant a lot to us, the carpentry shop, and the school,” Bradley wrote. “One of the first things that came to mind was the aiding in Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. So that’s what the theme of our tree houses became.
“There are three houses in the plans; they are all built six feet off the ground on top of 12-foot by 12-foot platforms.
“The first one is a portrayal of what the houses looked like when we arrived. Most of the homes we worked on were uninhabitable, gutted completely, just rough framing remained of them.
“You walk across a suspended catwalk to the second house, and the idea for this house was to display all of the pictures we took in Mississippi, of before and after our work on these houses. This second house will be clear plexi-glass so we can post pictures facing in and outside the house.
“If you keep walking you will walk across another catwalk to our third house. This third house is a portrayal of the same house from the first platform, but this house is complete. So basically we are taking some of those before and after pictures and bringing them to life with our tree houses."
Evoking memories from childhood
Most of the tree houses don’t document such earth-shattering events, of course. Some are whimsical, or explore the structure of a tree, or pay tribute to the animals that live in the woods.
(See the conceptual drawings for several of the tree houses – exhibits titled “Nesting,” “Arboreal Adventum,” and “The Birch House” – from top right.)
“Tree houses evoke cherished memories for many people,” says Tyler Arboretum Executive Director Richard Colbert. “Totally Terrific Treehouses invites visitors to relive those memories.”
Tyler Arboretum and other environmental organizations have even coined a word to describe the study of trees and how to enjoy them: Treeology.
There will be lots of treeology happening at Tyler during Totally Terrific Treehouses, including two self-guided tours that will help visitors learn more about Tyler’s native and historic trees:
The Native Woodland Walk Tour explores the diverse community of the native woodlands from the majestic canopy trees to the graceful understory.
The Painter Heritage Tour steps back in time to highlight trees planted by the Arboretum’s 19th-century founders, including five state champions that are the biggest of their kind in Pennsylvania.
For more information about Totally Terrific Treehouses, visit www.tylerarboretum.org.
For more information about Nature's Castles, visit www.longwoodgardens.org.
Months of Events Involving Tyler's Tree Houses
Special events at Tyler Aboretum will explore the historic, artistic, literary, and vital nature of trees with demonstrations, tours, displays, and entertainment.
All programs take place from noon to 4 p.m. Tree Huggers Market Days on July 20 and September 28 offer trees, tree artwork, and green products for sale.
In addition to the changing activities, every event offers make-and-take crafts and tours of the Arboretum founders’ historic home and fascinating library where they studied the natural world.
Among the special events planned throughout the summer:
June 15: Tree-mendous Father’s Day
--Orienteering demonstrations by Eastern Mountain Sports staff
--How to build a tree-friendly tree house
--Talks and tours on Tyler’s bluebird program
--Raptor demonstrations with Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences
--Owl Display and owl pellet dissection
--Displays on birds that nest in trees
--Tree fungus display by ecologist and macro-photographer Steve Tessler
July 20: Tree Treasures and Treasured Trees
--Tours of Tyler’s historic trees
--Exhibit on the care of historic trees with Bartlett Tree Experts
--Woodworking demonstrations by wood turner Tom Pleatman and the William Rush Woodcarving Society
--Bentwood furniture and basket making demonstrations
--Tree Huggers Market with tree artwork for sale
August 9: Storybook Trees
--Children’s stories brought to life by storytellers and strolling characters
--Performances by children’s entertainers and educators Makin’ Music Rockin’ Rhythms
--Building fairy and gnome houses using natural materials to create a tiny home
--Fairy Tea Party with cookies and fairy tea
September 21: Bringing Trees Home
--Tree climbing demonstrations with professional arborists and children’s activities
--Tree care tips on planting, pruning, and mulching
--Arborist tree care with Bartlett Tree Experts
--Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gold Medal Plant Display of noteworthy trees
--Exhibit on native trees with Redbud Native Plant Nursery
--Tree Huggers Market with trees and green products for sale
Tyler Arboretum is located at 515 Painter Road off Route 352 in Media, Pa. For more information, call 610-566-9134 or visit www.tylerarboretum.org.