Contributed by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Morris Arboretum Volunteer and Penn State Master Gardener

There’s plenty of “ha-ha” at the Morris Arboretum!  You know - big, loud, hearty laughter.  It's easy to hear while you’re there.

Yet, “ha-ha” is more than intense giggling.  A Ha-Ha is also a landscape earthwork; basically, a hidden boundary wall or sunken fence.  So, it's not always noticeable right away to a casual viewer's eye.  Even today, Ha-Ha landscaping is used at the Washington Monument.

Why the funny name?  Because, a Ha-Ha causes surprise, when unsuspecting people suddenly become aware of its stealthiness.

The Arboretum's stone Ha-Ha wall - a landscape earthwork; recessed into a grassy hill and adjoined to a wide walkway located near to the Oak Allee​

Step up the grassy hill about 30-40 feet, look downward toward the Ha-Ha wall, and the wall and walkway disappear from your view!


At the Arboretum, there is stone Ha-Ha wall.  On one side, it is recessed into the bottom of a broad sloping grassy hill. On its other side, the wall adjoins the wide walkway leading to the Oak Allee.  Here, the Ha-Ha serves as a boundary between the hill and walkway. It is both decorative and functional (i.e. suited for sitting).  But, if you step up the grassy hill about 30-40 feet and look downward, the wall and walkway disappear from your view.  Poof, they're gone!  I can't stop laughing every time I look down the hill.

In history, the Ha-Ha was a design innovation for 18th century large English gardens. Then, it was a sunken fence:  a grassy area sloped down into a deep, long ditch and a masonry wall rose up from the ditch to ground level.  Thus, viewed from a distance, it was a cleverly hidden, unnoticeable barrier separating a formal garden from the agrarian landscape beyond.  

This design feature was important because it prevented freely grazing cattle, deer, and sheep in the landscape from entering the owner’s refined garden (i.e . lawn, and terrace), while preserving the owner’s uninterrupted views of the agrarian landscape.  Prior to this, the other means of animal control - above ground fences and walls - were visually intrusive.

Find the Ha-Ha wall at the Arboretum and have a great laugh!