The Smith Gardens: The
Perfect Place for a Summer Internship
By Jan McCoy Ebbets
On a humid Monday morning in July, Rachael Cain ’08, dressed in jeans and
a Smith College Botanic Garden t-shirt, was busy pruning, nestled among the pastoral
greenery of the campus, unconcerned about the heat and satisfied to be outdoors.
She was halfway through her 12-week internship apprenticing with the botanic garden
staff and on the first day of her two-week “tree rotation” with John
Berryhill, chief arborist.
Like the other five interns in the program, Cain wore a leather holster on her hips
with a pair of Felco pruners tucked inside, a sign of her hands-on engagement with
the plant collection on campus. “Everybody carries these garden clippers on
their belts,” she notes, referring to her fellow interns. “Michael and
Gaby hooked us up with these, and they’re proof of the professional gardener.”
Cultivation Education: Jamie Duncan AC ’07; Gaby
Immerman, laboratory instructor in the biological sciences; and Rachael Cain ’08
discuss how to thin the interior of a young maple.
“Michael and Gaby” are Michael Marcotrigiano, botanic garden director, and Gaby Immerman,
internship coordinator and horticulture lab instructor. They developed the concept for the pilot internship
program to introduce students to the practical training and insight necessary for stewardship and maintenance
of a historic public landscape with a significant plant collection such as Smith’s.
“There is a delightful rightness to this internship,” says Immerman, who organized the
schedule and supervised the daily routines of the interns. “Smith has always valued the botanic
garden as an academic asset, but until now, student opportunities to fully exploit this unique and
valuable resource have remained confined to academic classes, with little possibility for practical
learning. Now, this program is a simple and elegant way to make the botanic garden a year-round resource
Stephanie Jones AC weeds the ivy slopes below Sage
The Smith campus was planned and planted more than 100 years ago as a botanic garden
and arboretum designed by the landscape architecture firm of Frederick Law Olmsted.
Today the botanic garden encompasses 125 acres, densely planted with diverse, mature
and in some cases rare specimens; the Lyman Plant House; and a variety of specialty
While many horticulture internship programs exist around the country for college
students, this one is unique for Smith, says Marcotrigiano. Previously, landscape
maintenance on campus was handled by summer help, often high school students with
little or no interest in the profession. Not so any longer. “The Smith students
who applied for these internships had already taken one or two courses in horticulture
and wanted to get some direct experience with how a botanic garden is maintained,” he
“It’s a win-win situation,” Immerman adds. “The Botanic Garden gets an infusion
of trained labor and enthusiastic help for the summer. And the students get a really coherent educational
and professional training.”
In addition to maintaining the gardens, each intern must complete an independent
project of her choosing.
For her project, Cain, a sociology major, focused on invasive plant species on campus—identifying,
mapping and, when possible, removing. She identified the plants in two categories:
the ones that are accessions to the collection and those that show up, uninvited,
on campus. In some cases, she received the okay to remove the plants herself, others
the grounds crew would expel.
Mo Speller ’08 pinches mums in preparation for
the annual fall chrysanthemum show.
Jamie Duncan AC ’07, an English major with a minor in landscape studies, was
drawn to the internship “by the opportunity to synthesize my academic work
into practical, hands-on experience with both horticulture and the collective courses
I’ve taken in landscape studies.
“Working with the botanic garden staff has given me insight, perspective and practical experience
with what it takes to design, implement and maintain a historic landscape,” she adds. The emphasis
of her independent project was landscape sustainability in the context of the 1996 campus landscape
master plan, created by landscape architects and Smith alumnae Shavaun Towers ’47 and Cornelia
Hahn Oberlander ’44.
“What better place for a horticulture internship than on the Smith campus, which is a preserved
and beloved landscape?” asks Immerman. “I’d love to see this internship as a stepping
stone to a career in public horticulture.”
Although this year was a pilot run for the program, Marcotrigiano and Immerman hope
to see the botanic garden summer internship become a permanent offering.
Among its advocates is Charles Staelin, associate provost and dean of academic development
for the college. “This summer seems to have been a great success for both the
interns and the college landscape,” he notes. “Funding is pretty much
in place for next summer and I’m hopeful that it will become permanent.”