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The Long Green Line
spacerConstance A. Parks

     West Point cadets proudly declare they are part of the Long Gray Line stretching back to the first graduate of the academy. Conservatory Manager Rob Nicholson, when illustrating the educational mission of a botanical garden to the 1999 Horticulture class, compared the Long Gray Line to one hundred years of Horticulture students at Smith who make up the Long Green Line.
     That analogy prompted this inquiry: What is the tradition of Horticulture at Smith College? From previous research and experience, I knew that Horticulture was a relative newcomer (c. 1900) to the well-established botany curriculum of an institution founded in 1875, in which its founder Sophia Smith specified that "all the education and all the discipline shall be pervaded by the Spirit of Evangelical Christian Religion." I'd also seen careful yet stylized drawings of elephant's ear (Begonia sp.), brake (Pteris cretica), chrysanthemums, and others from a Botany V (Horticulture) notebook of Emily Rankin Watkinson '11. I knew the Chrysanthemum and Bulb shows to be longtime traditions involving Smith students. Finally, as Laboratory Instructor in Horticulture, I know what students are currently learning about the art and science of growing plants. Perhaps I could find evidence of a trend in teaching horticulture, progressing from reflective contemplation of God's work to active investigation of Nature.
     With the help of College Archivist Nanci Young and the staff of the Smith College Archives, I found much interesting information on Horticulture, plus some surprises. In the first archival box relating to the Botany Department (which in 1966-67 merged with the departments of Biology, Microbiology, and Zoology to become Biological Sciences) was a 1947 article by Dorothy W. Woodruff that included this: "A description of the Botany Department cannot be left without a glance at the gardening and horticulture classes and the work done in the courses on Plant Materials and Planting Design." Period, end of paragraph. The writer continues, however, by stating that the Botany Department responded to the World War I "Food for Victory" movement by "instituting a course in Horticulture, which has been part of the curriculum ever since." In truth, Horticulture became part of the Smith curriculum in 1900, and the institution that grew out of Smith students' helping Connecticut Valley farmers get in their crops during WWI was the Smith College School for Social Work.
     The tradition of helping others was exemplified in World War II as well, when a local grower facing a labor shortage asked the Botany Department for help. A greenhouse of gardenias needed grafting, and Smith Horticulture students were recruited. According to Woodruff, "The girls returned to the college laden down with exquisite blossoms to the loudly expressed envy of their friends." Fringe benefits are a Horticulture tradition to this day. Just ask any in the Long Green Line what is her or his favorite "cultivar" of Coleus hybridus (syn. C. blumei, renamed Solenostemon scutellarioides). The coleus collection at Smith, maintained for a century, is a treasury of readily rooting material. To become true cultivars, however, they need officially approved and issued names-perhaps their nicknames would suffice: Patches, Freckles, Ruffles, ....
     I wanted to find out if there were records of the first Bulb Show or the first Mum Show, and to determine the connection, if any, to Horticulture. A press release on the Mum Show from 1952 announcing the debut of

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tropical
spacerAnne Elizabeth Prickett '00
spacerstudent in Drawing I

 
mums by seniors Miss Margaret Knecht of Allentown, Pennsylvania, Miss Jean Richmond of Kenilworth, Illinois, and Miss Bernice Low of Singapore contained this clue, "An annual feature for over 50 years, this display was begun under Dr. William F. Ganong, head of the Botany department, and Mr. E. G. Canning, head of the Garden department." This suggests that the first Mum Show was held in 1900 or 1901, coinciding with the beginning of Horticulture. A slightly earlier press release on the Bulb Show confirms that bulbs were potted by the Horticulture students, so the Horticulture-flower show connection seems solid. Indeed, in 1999, members of the Long Green Line not only potted up and ferried to the cooler a long line of green pots filled with bulbs, but they also genetically engineered plants, so to speak, by selectively hybridizing mums, potentially creating unique flowers to be seen nowhere else on Earth.
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spacer spacer First Horticulture course description, 1900

Horticulture. A study of the principles of plant-cultivation, including the practice and theory of the care, propagation, and improvement of hardy and greenhouse plants, together with a systematic study of all the species and groups commonly cultivated. For the first half-year the laboratory work will consist of practical and experimental gardening operations carried on at the Lyman Plant House; for the second half-year it will consist of the systematic collection, identification, and classification of the principal kinds of cultivated plants. Mr. Ganong, theoretical and systematic part; Mr. Canning, Head Gardener, practical part. Source: The Twenty-seventh Official Circular of Smith College, 1900-1901.

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