On The Garden Path: The Botanic Garden of Smith College

The history of the Smith College garden.

| September 2007

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    LUSH LANDSCAPE: The President’s Herb Garden features a center bed, surrounded by four quadrants, which include plants used for fragrance and dye, as well as medicinal and culinary plants.
    Copyright Smith College Botanic Garden
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    SCENIC STROLL: It’s a scenic stroll along the path to the tea hut at the Japanese Garden for Reflection and Contemplation, which is built into a wooded slope overlooking Paradise Pond.
    Copyright Smith College Botanic Garden

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  • path-to-JapGdn-fall.jpg

A botanical garden is defined as a collection of plants scientifically ordered and maintained, documented and labeled for public education, research and enjoyment.

Smith College, in Northampton, Mass., was founded in 1871, and since opening, it has provided women an education of uncompromising quality.

In 1872, the college incorporated the study of plants into its academic curriculum. Now, the 127 acres of gardens and arboretum of the college combine the best of art and science.

The Botanic Garden includes thousands of plants on its 150-acre campus. It also features a collection of approximately 60,000 pressed herbarium specimens available for research.

The Garden Takes Shape

Smith College hired the firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot in the 1880s to develop a landscape theme to keep up with the growth of the college. The firm’s senior member, Frederick Law Olmsted, is best known for designing New York City’s Central Park, as well as the Boston park system.

In 1893, the firm came up with a plan to curve the drives and walkways at the garden, as well as to create open spaces to showcase specimen trees and place vistas overlooking Paradise Pond. The plan also called for diverse trees, shrubs and herbs, as well as aquatic and marsh plants to be incorporated into the landscape. In May of the following year, William Francis Ganong was appointed professor of botany and director of the Botanic Garden – positions he held until retiring in 1932. Under his leadership, the garden formally took shape. That same summer, Edward J. Canning was hired as head gardener. Together, Ganong and Canning expanded the Lyman Plant House, built a rock garden, turned the entire campus into an arboretum, and reworked the herbaceous plant beds into a systematics garden.

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