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The Botanic Garden of Smith College was founded by L. Clarke Seelye, the College's first president. President Seelye expressed his hope that the whole campus could be developed as a botanic garden so that it might be of "scientific as well as aesthetic" value. The spirit of this concept has persisted at Smith College since that time and remains basic to our purpose.
The physical plan for the botanic garden was established by the landscape firm of F. L. Olmsted and by the first director, William Francis Ganong. This plan includes:
- a greenhouse complex situated in the lower part of the campus,
- an herbaceous garden adjacent to the greenhouse complex,
- an arboretum of trees and shrubs encompassing the entire remainder of the grounds.
Other garden areas have been added in the vicinity of the President's House, near Capen House, and elsewhere.
The botanical value of the plant collections lies in their ability to provide a resource for teaching and research, which is useful both to students and to faculty in the Biological Sciences. The plant collections are intended to be broadly representative of the plant kingdom with specimens representing as many higher rank taxa as possible. Specialized collections required for research or teaching are also provided as needed.
The aesthetic value of the botanic garden derives from the plant collection. Wherever possible, the beauty of the plant is considered as a criterion for selection along with its value for teaching and research. However, in certain situations either botanical interest or aesthetics may be secondary to the achievement of specific goals.
The utilization of the botanic garden is primarily a function of the Department of Biological Sciences. In addition, whenever possible, the botanic garden staff promotes a more general use of the plant collections through display and other methods.
The entire campus of Smith College was originally planned and planted over one hundred years ago as a botanic garden and arboretum, designed by the landscape architecture firm of Frederick Law Olmsted. Today, the Botanic Garden encompasses the 125 contiguous acre college campus. The Lyman Plant House features a changing Exhibition Gallery and the Lyman Conservatory consists of 12,000 square feet under glass, housing tropical collections. Two special shows are featured annually in the Conservatory: the Spring Bulb Show in the first two weeks of March and the Autumn Chrysanthemum Show during the first two weeks in November. The campus arboretum and a variety of specialty gardens on campus contain over of 7000 labelled and mapped plants. Adjacent to the Lyman Conservatory are the rock garden, one of the oldest in America , and the systematics garden. Other gardens include a Japanese Tea House and Garden, woodland and wildflower garden, herb garden, and a formal knot and gazebo garden. The resources of the Botanic Garden include a herbarium, teaching facilities for horticulture and botany, and an international seed exchange program. Guided tours are available for school groups and audio tours are available.