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Smith College students studying botany in 1875 looked out from College Hall over the town of Northampton, but their back yard, the former Lyman and Dewey homesteads, was a mix of gardens, orchard, hayfields, and pastures, where one might catch a glimpse of Paradise Pond or President Seelye's milk cow. Lilly Hall of Science, believed to be the first science-dedicated structure at a women's college, became the new home for plant sciences and the college herbarium after 1886. Biology Hall, named Burton Hall on its completion in 1914, was constructed to accommodate 1904 photo inside conservatorygrowing numbers of students interested in botany and zoology. Additionally, the campus itself became a laboratory and classroom for the study of woody plants and was augmented with collections of exotic plants.

To address the growth of the campus through the 1880s, Smith College hired the Brookline firm of Olmsted, Olmsted and Eliot to develop a comprehensive landscape scheme. Frederick Law Olmsted, senior member of the firm, is best remembered for designing Central Park in New York City Curving walkways of the Olmsted Planand the Boston park system. The Olmsted plan dated February 1893 included curving drives and walkways, open spaces with specimen trees, and vistas over Paradise Pond through wooded groves. Olmsted also provided planting lists of diverse trees, shrubs, herbs, and aquatic and marsh plants.

The Botanic Garden of Smith College formally took shape under William Francis Ganong, who was appointed in May 1894 as professor of botany and director of the Botanic Garden (positions he held until his retirement from Smith in 1932), and Edward J. Canning, who was hired in summer 1894 as head gardener.

William Francis Ganong and students, 1910
William Francis Ganong with students, 1910
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They expanded the Lyman Plant House, built a rock garden, revised Olmsted's plantings to make the entire campus an arboretum, and reworked the herbaceous beds as a systematics garden after the Engler-Prantl classification system. In 1910 Ganong wrote The Place of Botanical Gardens in Collegiate Instruction for the journal Science.

The Botanic Garden was further enhanced when the college acquired the Capen School in 1921. The adjacent garden area, laid out as a series of outdoor garden rooms, was redesigned by Kate Ries Koch in 1921, while an additional garden room was laid out and planted by Dorcus Brigham, assisted by the horticulture class, in 1934.

In 1937 William I. P. Campbell was hired as college horticulturist. Campbell and Dorothy May Anderson, who in 1935 had been appointed as the College's landscape architect, reworked and expanded the existing campus plan. One of their first tasks was the renovation and expansion of the Rock Garden. Within a year he faced an even greater challenge, as the hurricane of 1938 destroyed more than 200 trees in the campus arboretum. Campbell continued William Ganong's tradition of having students prepare plant material for two annual shows held at Lyman Plant House. He remained at Smith 34 years and his legacy is visible in the campus landscape today.

The geneticist Albert F. Blakeslee, renowned for pioneering chromosomal studies, came to Smith in 1942 and in 1952 greenhouses known as the Blakesee Range were added to the Conservatory complex to further his research.

In 1971 Gregory D. Armstrong was appointed director of the Botanic Garden. Armstrong reorganized the Systematics Garden to illustrate modern concepts of plant evolutionary relationships and oversaw a major expansion of Lyman Plant House, which was completed in 1981.

Richard H. Munson was hired in 1985 to direct the Botanic Garden. He guided the establishment of the Japanese Garden for Reflection and Contemplation on a slope below the President's House, next to Paradise Pond. Before leaving Smith in 1995 to become director of the Holden Arboretum near Cleveland, Ohio, Munson initated a master-planning project for the Botanic Garden.

Kim E. Tripp became the next director of the Botanic Garden in August 1996. Once the Board of Trustees adopted the Landscape Master Plan, Tripp began the implementation process. In February 1999, she departed Smith to become Vice President for Horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden.

Michael Marcotrigiano took over as director of the Botanic Garden in 2000, just in time to oversee the renovation and restoration of the Lyman Plant House. Under his guidance new plantings and renovations of existing plantings are shaping the character of the campus for future generations of Smith students.


More details of the history of the Botanic Garden of Smith College may be found in "Celebrating a Century: The Botanic Garden of Smith College" by C. John Burk and illustrated by Pamela See, a booklet published by Smith College in 1995 and from which much of the above summary is taken. The booklet is available at the Lyman Conservatory or you may use our order form to purchase it.

Botanic Garden Fast Facts

©2002, The Botanic Garden of Smith College
Northampton MA 01063
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Last updated on Friday, April 30, 2010.