Takoma Park Maryland Library · 101 Philadelphia Avenue · Takoma Park Maryland 20912 USA · 301.891.7259

August 23, 2010

B. Y. Morrison Park

James Colwell mural at B. Y. Morrison Park

This small, urban, pocket park is located in the commercial "Takoma Junction" area of Takoma Park. It is named for Benjamin Yeo Morrison, the developer of the Glen Dale azaleas and a resident of Takoma Park for many years.

Morrison first became interested in azaleas when, after receiving an M.A. in landscape architecture from Harvard in 1915, he traveled to Asia on a Sheldon Fellowship. After serving in World War I, he became a horticulturist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and eventually the director of the National Arboretum and a founder of the American Horticultural Society. Although Morrison named his azaleas for the Glen Dale Station of the Department of Plant Exploration and Introduction, he developed many of his hybrids in a two acre garden in Takoma Park.

Azaleas grow all over Takoma Park, but they are notably absent from the park named in Morrison's honor. It is instead dominated by the James Colwell mural pictured above, which commemorates music, not flowers. Yet art and music were Morrison's other great loves. He was a landscape painter and a master of botanical drawing. He composed an opera libretto, Salve Regina, and gave professional lieder concerts.

According to his Takoma Park friend, Eugene Hollowell, as quoted in Hybrids and Hybridizers,

He had a fine, sensitive baritone voice and he often was his own accompanist. He sang as a soloist with choirs, and occasionally gave voice lessons. I have been told that he was offered an opportunity to try out for the Metropolitan Opera.

Francis Patterson-Knight is quoted in the same work, describing a visit to him in Mississippi where he lived after his retirement:

Each day brought new surprises, for not only was he a great plantsman, and an able artist, but his love and knowledge of music added to our enjoyment. He gave us a wonderful evening in the little church where he worked and prayed - here he sang for fully two hours accompanying himself on the piano. We listened spellbound to ballads, Jewish chants, the songs of John Ireland and Brahms ... it was unforgettable.

Hybrids and Hybridizers: Rhododendrons and Azaleas for Eastern North America, edited by Philip A. Livingston and Franklin H. West. Harrowood Books, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, 1978.

In addition to the above book, the Takoma Park Maryland Library owns a copy of Morrison's 1953 U.S.D.A. monograph, Glenn Dale Azaleas, and a 1978 reprint published by Thophrastus.

The Morrison Garden at the United States Arboretum
Copyright for the picture at the top of the page is held by the City of Takoma Park. The artist is James Colwell.

You can take a look for yourself via street view.

View Larger Map
The July 2010 Takoma Park Newsletter had updated information on the mural, accompanied by a photo by Laurie Stepp. Look for page 5.
Guarding the Neighborhood Eighteen years ago, James Colwell painted the brilliantly colored, vibrantly animated mural, “Guardians of the Neighborhood,” in the pavilion at the corner of Carroll and Ethan Allen avenues. Last month, he did a major touch-up, repainting the piece to brighten its effect and keep the artwork from showing its age. “Guardians,” which depicts a lively jazz club-type scene, is one of the most familiar of Takoma Park’s public art pieces, as it is geographically central to the City at Takoma Junction. It is painted on the wall of what was originally a gas station, then a thrift shop; the structure is part of B.Y. Morrison Park, named for the Takoma Park azalea collector responsible for the “Azalea City” designation. The pavilion’s columns are covered in ceramic tiles by Takoma Park artist John Hume; these also illustrate the town’s quirky heritage, with representations of Roscoe the Rooster, Motorcat, and Root Boy Slim, among others. Colwell, who is a professional piano restorer by trade, remembers that the mural stirred some controversy when it was new: he had to raise the neckline of the sensuous dancer on the right.

please note: this page was originally part of the local reference section of the library's web site.
parks, gardens and athletic fields

Posted by library at August 23, 2010 04:57 PM