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 of  Smith College

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The Botanic Garden of Smith College
How We Developed Our Memorial Tree Policy
By Michael Marcotrigiano, Director

The firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Elliot, of Frederick Law Olmsted fame, designed the campus landscape of Smith College in the late 1800s. The original plan centered on open views, winding curved paths, and special garden areas. When the campus was young, it had an open hilly terrain interspersed with clusters of magnificent trees and special gardens visible from the distance. Paradise Pond was a key visual feature.

Over the years the campus has been built up significantly with the addition of many buildings but without the addition of significant acreage. There was a lack of adherence to the Olmsted plan, which resulted in many buildings and trees being placed in areas that obstruct the open views or distort the path of those on foot. Parking lots proliferated, adding to the visual confusion. As a part of a major review, a renewed Master Plan for the campus was developed in 1995 by two prominent landscape architects, Cornelia Oberlander '44 and Shavaun Towers '71. According to this new Master Plan, pathways have and will be reconfigured to be curvilinear, and open vistas to Paradise Pond and across open lawns will be restored. Some parking lots will be reduced or eliminated and will be replaced by open lawn.

Our role as a Botanic Garden is to increase the species diversity of our plant collection while adhering to the Master Plan. In the past, donations for memorial trees were accepted even when the Botanic Garden had no need to add a tree into the landscape. Because there was no policy in place, many donors expected that when memorial trees died they would be replaced in perpetuity. Large memorial trees that were in the way of necessary construction were relocated at great expense to the Botanic Garden. Many others died and had to be replaced. In the past, specific species were planted at the request of the donor, resulting in the overplanting of popular species at the expense of the scientific value of the collection. The generosity of the Smith community is greatly appreciated by the Botanic Garden, but it needs to be steered in new directions if we are to adhere to the Smith College Master Plan, restore the landscape to its glory of a century ago, and provide future students with an exemplary collection of the diverse species that exist on Earth.

As of April 30, 2001 and until further notice, the Botanic Garden can no longer honor any new requests for memorial trees unless the Botanic Garden has plans to plant the tree as called for in the Master Plan and/or it is a necessary addition for scientific purposes.

Smith College has many beautiful old trees that predate the concept of memorial trees. Some predate the College! Unlike a work of art, which has a high acquisition cost and minimal maintenance expenses, trees have a lower initial cost, but extremely high maintenance costs over the life of the tree. Our venerable old trees are currently maintained by hiring outside contractors to prune, cable, and treat them for disease when needed. The high cost of these services consumes a significant portion of the landscaping budget. In lieu of a new memorial tree being planted we offer an "Adopt a Tree" memorial, where funds provided by the donor care for the upkeep of a special tree to ensure the longest life possible for the tree.

Smith College
Last updated on Thursday, May 12, 2005.