At today’s meeting of the Advisory Board of Managers of Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, Paul W. Meyer announced his decision to resign his position as The F .Otto Haas Executive Director in the spring of 2019. Mr. Meyer has been at the Morris Arboretum since 1976, and in his role as its Director since 1991. The Board accepted his decision with deep gratitude for his unparalleled achievements over his many years of leadership. A search firm has been hired and an Arboretum committee formed to identify the next leader.
From fewer than 25,000 visitors to Morris Arboretum when Mr. Meyer arrived in 1976 to more than 140,000 in 2017, he has transformed a hidden gem into one of the region’s most vibrant garden destinations, and a world-class public institution. The Morris Arboretum now serves as a model for its peers.
During Mr. Meyer’s tenure, Morris Arboretum’s finances have shown tremendous growth that have set the Arboretum on a stable and sustainable path. The operating budget has more than tripled from the time he became director to $9 million today, and endowment has grown ten-fold since 1991 to its current value of $60.4 million.
Mr. Meyer pointed to others who share the credit. “The strides that Morris Arboretum has made over the years would not have been possible without the hard work of the Arboretum’s staff, board, and volunteers whose invaluable contributions continue to enable Morris Arboretum to fulfill its role as a premier public garden.”
Ellen Nalle Hass, Morris Arboretum’s Advisory Board Chair commented, “Ralph Waldo Emerson said, ‘Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.’ Nobody adopts the pace of nature better than our Paul. For over 42 years, he has nurtured every aspect of the Morris Arboretum with thoughtful patience and with nature as his guide. On behalf of the Advisory Board of Managers, I thank him for creating this world class institution.”
Mr. Meyer began his career at Morris Arboretum as its curator in 1976 where he developed a keener understanding of the Arboretum’s mission and day-to-day activities, while deepening his appreciation of horticulture. During that time, he led the clearing of overgrown sections of the garden and the renewal of living collections through expeditions to China and Korea. He was a founding member of NACPCC (North American China Plant Collection Consortium).
After a national search for a new Executive Director in 1991, Paul was chosen as having the “necessary vision, talent, leadership, and charisma to inspire staff and donors to raise Morris Arboretum to the level of beauty and service that was its destiny,” said Richard Lighty who ran the Longwood Graduate Program for many years. Paul was described as a ‘quiet young scientist’ who was also a ‘dirt gardener,’ a good combination to rebuild the Morris Arboretum.
As its new Director in 1991, Paul embraced the challenging task of turning the Arboretum around, while maintaining fiscal responsibility. His mantra, according to Morris Arboretum supporter and advisory board member John Shober was to “think big and take small steps.” Under Mr. Meyer’s guidance, the Fernery was restored in 1993, the first of many projects including restoration of the Log Cabin, the Springhouse, enhanced attractions, and carefully thought-through education and scientific programs for professionals and the general public. As Executive Director, he has been instrumental in the Morris Arboretum’s renewal of its historic gardens, architecture, and vistas with notable plant collections. He has taught Urban Horticulture in the University of Pennsylvania’s Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning Department and is a frequent contributor to horticultural publications.
His knowledge of horticulture is prolific, and his passion for imparting that knowledge is equally strong. Paul’s wife of 30 years, Debbie Rodgers says, “There is little separation between Paul as a person and Paul as the Director of the Arboretum. His love for the Arboretum is in his bones.” This connection is further evidenced through his camera lens where the Morris Arboretum has been a favorite subject for many years. Mr. Meyer’s photographic images record the last 42 years of progress at the Arboretum.
Paul Meyer is also a leader in the field of plant exploration and evaluation. He has completed twelve expeditions to countries including China, Korea, Taiwan, Armenia and the Republic of Georgia, where he has collected plants from various sources to introduce greater genetic diversity. He also searches for plants that will specifically grow in stressful urban conditions.
Since its inception, research and education have been at the core of Morris Arboretum’s mission. Under Paul Meyer’s direction the Arboretum built its botanical staff and its reputation for regional floristic studies. Publications include two editions of Plants of Pennsylvania and Aquatic Plants of Pennsylvania both of which serve as reference manuals for professionals far and wide.
Under his leadership, education programs have grown and prospered. In FY18, Morris Arboretum offered 188 continuing education classes, lectures and experiences serving over 3,500 participants. Engaging youth with the plant world is a long term commitment for the Arboretum that Mr. Meyer endorses, with the goal of cultivating young environmental stewards and scientists. Providing more immersive experiential summer programs was another strategic goal achieved during Mr. Meyer’s tenure represented in both paid summer camp programs and partnerships with underserved youth. The endowed Internship Program of nine interns celebrated its 39th program year in 2018, and remains a national model for professional development in horticulture, education, urban forestry, and plant sciences.
Another aspect of educational outreach is Morris Arboretum’s Urban Forestry team which supports the educational mission by disseminating tree care knowledge and providing unbiased arboriculture consulting services and technical assistance to clients including municipalities, institutions, universities, tree care companies, landscape architects, and businesses throughout the region. The team also realizes the Arboretum’s educational mission by spreading urban forestry and tree care knowledge through the School of Arboriculture, which provides classes for a wide audience including arborists, allied professionals, and industry leaders. While the classes target people in these disciplines, the general public is encouraged to attend to further their arboricultural knowledge.
Over the years, Mr. Meyer has received numerous awards. Most recently, Meyer received the 2018 Arthur Hoyt Scott Medal (established in 1929) for his outstanding national contributions to the science and the art of gardening. He was lauded for transforming the Morris Arboretum into an internationally acclaimed garden, multiplying its visitation, establishing a solid financial footing, creating its internship program, and developing its plant exploration program.
Esteemed colleague Bill Thomas, Executive Director of Chanticleer and 2017 Scott Medal Recipient, deemed Paul ‘horticultural royalty’ and truly deserving of this crown. “Throughout his 40-year career, Paul has made outstanding regional, national, and global contributions to the science and art of gardening. Paul has led the renaissance of the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, making it an internationally significant institution known for its collections, aesthetics, education, and research. He has promoted collaboration and cooperation among international as well as local organizations, is a world leader in plant exploration, and has been instrumental in preserving open space,” Thomas said.
A few of Mr. Meyer’s other awards include: the American Horticultural Society’s Great American Gardeners Professional Award in 2002, the Wyck-Strickland Award in 2010, the Award of Merit from the American Public Gardens Association in 2013, and the Liberty Hyde Bailey Award from the American Horticultural Society in 2014.
Paul Meyer has been an exceptional advocate for the planning, preservation, and stewardship of Montgomery County’s valuable green spaces for more than 35 years. He has dedicated many years of service as a member of the Springfield Township Planning Commission and the Montgomery County Open Space Board. In 2016, The Montgomery County Board of Commissioners and the Montgomery County Planning Commission designated Paul W. Meyer as the 2016 Planning Advocate Award Recipient. This award recognizes citizens, appointed/elected officials or boards, and community organizations that have made significant and sustained contributions to advancing or promoting planning in Montgomery County.
Paul Meyer is passionate about ensuring that future generations have the opportunity to be inspired by the natural world and be connected to nature through greenways and trails, parks, and preserved open areas. He leaves the institution he led for 42 years poised to embrace the future.