Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Botanic Garden

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Institution Name: Smith College
Original/Historic Place Name: Smith College Botanical Gardens
Location on Campus: College Ln.
Date(s) of Construction:
1893original design Olmsted, Frederick Law
Designer: Frederick Law Olmsted
Type of Place: Landscape site
Style: (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, education, history, landscape
Narrative: see below
References: see below
ca. 1893-present (2006)gardens
ca. 1893-present (2006)outdoor space (outdoor classroom; public recreational space)

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Smith's first president, Laurenus Clark Seelye, approached the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted to design a botanical garden for the Smith College campus. By 1892, the Trustees of the College adopted a set of extensive plans created by Olmsted. "The design included curving drives and walkways, open spaces with specimen trees, and vistas over Paradise Pond through wooded groves. More formal plantings defined the college margins" (C. John Burke, Celebrating a Century: The Botanic Garden of Smith College [Northampton, MA: Botanic Garden of Smith College, 1993]).

William Francis Ganong, the newly appointed director of the Botanic Gardens, described how the Garden would combine "the beautifying of the Campus with the formation of a scientifically arranged Botanic Garden . . . such a plan, though successful in many of the great Botanic Gardens of the world, notably Kew in England, has never been attempted, so far as I am aware, by any college in this country or elsewhere." The Botanic Garden also includes a rock garden within the grounds.

The Botanic Garden furthers the educational mission of the College, as well as encourages the continued relationship between the College and the greater community, since the campus grounds and the Botanic Garden are open to the public. All plantings on campus are labeled with the botanical and vernacular names of the plantings. Many historical trees remain on campus, including several that are over 100 years old. It is very evident that the Botanical Garden and landscape plan are an integral part of the Smith College experience. Everywhere one goes on campus, one can learn about the plantings.


Burke, C. John. Celebrating a Century: The Botanic Garden of Smith College. Northampton, MA: Botanic Garden of Smith College, 1993.

Dietz, Paula. A Centennial Bouquet: The Botanical Garden of Smith College, 1895-1995. [s.l.: s.n., n.d.].

The Historical Handbook of Smith College. Northampton, MA: Smith College, 1932.

Lincoln, Eleanor Terry, and John Abel Pinto. This, the House We Live In: Smith College Campus from 1872-1982. Northampton, MA: Trustees of Smith College, 1983.


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Last update: November 2006