Smith College President’s Garden, Northampton, Massachusetts

Smith College is rehabilitating the historic walled garden adjacent to the President’s House. The garden sits on a hill overlooking Paradise Pond and the Mill River. Boston architect John W. Ames designed the House in 1920 in the Neo-Georgian style for his Cambridge friend and incoming Smith College President William Allen Neilson and his wife Elizabeth Muser Neilson. Ames broke with tradition and faced the home in light colored stucco instead of the traditional Georgian style brick. Both the house and garden were featured in Better Homes and Garden magazine in 1921.

View of historic President’s House at Smith College

The President’s Garden is about eight feet below and to the side of the house façade, accessible from the house through the lower level of the garage and the rear terrace. Students enter through a side gate down a steep narrow walkway from the path above the garden. The rectangular formal garden with cutting and herb gardens was originally envisioned as a private space for the President and his family. An opaque six foot tall fence mounted on a stone retaining wall surrounded the garden.

Existing conditions of College President’s house and garden

New accessible entry and view of President’s Garden, Renderings by John Latham

Every May, matriculating Smith graduates parade down the path above the north wall of the garden adjacent to this tall fence. They can see a lovely grassy hill with ornamental trees and a swing overlooking the pond next to the garden, but not the garden.  The steep garden paths were not universally accessible. The college administration decided that they wanted to open the garden up to everyone.

Proposed plantings and garden restoration

Brown, Richardson + Rowe opened the view to the garden and created an accessible path by adding new stone retaining walls on three garden sides, replacing the tall fence with a lower ornamental wood railing, regrading the garden perimeter and interior and adding steps and handrails. A colonial style open air wood pavilion was added, located on axis with the main garden path and topped with a pyramidal cedar shingle roof and with interior seating. Other improvements include lighting, the replanted herb garden, new cutting garden layout, new brick pathways, three curved stone seat walls and wood benches. The formal garden plantings have been redesigned with all new herbaceous and vine plantings punctuated with ornamental flower pots in species mix and layout coordinated with the Botanical Garden staff. The garden is under construction and is scheduled to reopen September, 2016.

View of President’s Garden and Paradise Pond


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