Travel Journal: Spring at Smith College Botanic Garden

There’s one botanic garden that I’ve been meaning to visit for sometime. Smith College Botanic Garden is part of Smith College, a liberal arts college for women located in Northampton in Western Massachusetts. Now that spring is here, visiting this garden seems to be the perfect way to enjoy the season. The botanic garden is situated inside Smith College campus. This college was founded in 1871 through the endowment from Sophia Smith who wanted to use her inheritance to give better education for women and that of equal to what men receive. Smith College Botanic Garden was established in 1895 to provide teaching, public education, scientific research and also the beauty of the place. There are glass houses in the garden built in 1895 and they’re fascinating and I will talk about them in another post specifically. These glass houses is what attracted me to visit the garden.

On my way toward the garden, to my delight, I saw several saucer magnolia trees in bloom. The sound of trickling fountain from a nearby pond with a beautiful female bronze statue was heard mixing with the sound of the birds. On the side of the pathway toward the glass houses lay a beautiful rock garden. This first rock garden in North America was established in 1897 copying the rock garden at the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew in London. I stayed there for the longest time admiring the lay out of the garden that resembles the environments of high altitude area and the tundra. Some of the plants have small and succulent leaves to conserve water, rather large flowers to attract pollinators, or roots that go deeper into the underground stream. Some have short life cycle adapting to the drought season. It is a remarkable beauty to see some of the plants nestled between the rocks. It’s sort of beauty and the beast inspired.

Being in any garden, for that matter in Smith College Botanic Garden was a wonderful experience for me. Not only because I needed to take a break from the busy sometime mundane days, but also to learn about the garden. I always love learning about botany, you see. After admiring the Rock Garden, I went to the glass houses and astonished by the collections of plants being cared there. A lot of them are tropical plants and they thrive beautifully. I know some of the tropical plants having seen and planted them in my mother’s yard. She would’ve loved to come to the glass houses and probably would be amused seeing her plants are growing in a four-season country. When one of the gardener informed me that the garden would be closed at 4PM, I then headed to the garden office. I met a nice lady there who told me about another garden on the other side of campus and I’d love to visit it in June when the roses are in bloom because they have rose arches there. I ended my visit with sitting on a bench near the perennial border just relaxing even though the wind became pretty strong and chilly, waiting until the time for me to go to meet my daughter to see her orchestra concert in nextdoor city. 

The saucer magnolia trees in bloom.
The glass houses at Smith College Botanic Garden.
Smith College Botanic Garden was set up in 1895.
The statue with writing: In Memory of A Beautiful Life, was dedicated in 1911 to remember Mary Tomelson Lanning. It is the work of Jean Gautherin.
The Lyman Conservatory at Smith College Botanic Garden.
Spiraea Thunbergii – Spirea flowers.
Smith College Botanic Garden arboretum has magnificent tree collection.
Fritillaria Meleagris – Checkered Lily flower.
The Rock Garden at Smith College Botanical Garden is copying the one at the Royal Botanic Garden in London.
The Rock Garden was created in 1897 and is one of the oldest in United States.
Creeping Phlox
The Rock Garden at Smith College Botanic Garden.
Penstemon Hirsutus – the beard-tongue flowers.
Smith College Botanic Garden consists of the Rock Garden and Lyman Conservatory.
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Travel Journal: Emily Dickinson’s Home Sweet Home

On the main street in the town of Amherst in the western Massachusetts, there’s a house painted in ocher ( deep yellow to somewhat light brown) with a lovely big yard. The house with number 280 known as the Homestead, was Emily Dickinson’s home sweet home. Emily spent her adult life here writing poem upon poem  and between 1858 – 1865 were her productive years. She is my favorite female poet and who inspired me plenty through her works. The Dickinson family has been an important member of Amherst community for a long time. Emily’s paternal grandfather, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, had an advanced way of thinking regarding the education equality for men and women during that era. He was among the founder of Amherst College that was opened in 1821. Emily was born on December 10, 1830, at the Homestead. She had an older brother, Austin, and younger sister, Lavinia.

The Homestead was one of the main interest I wanted to visit in Amherst. I had that chance when I accompanied my daughter who had her first campus orientation as a freshman at UMass Amherst. It was my solo adventure and I loved it. The weather was perfect with blue sky and abundant sunshines. The visitors who visit Emily Dickinson’s Homestead have to come from the part of the house that used to be a kitchen. The old stove and chimney are still visible there. In the room that also function as the gift shop were poem books, books about Amherst history and its famous people, some postcards etc. In the room next to it was where they displayed several things used to belong to Austin Dickinson and his wife, Lavinia Dickinson and their close family friends. I looked around at the things being displayed while we waited for our tour to start.

Our tour guide was a pretty young lady who was an English major student at Amherst College. Her specialty was Emily Dickinson’s poems and her life. The visitors weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the home, so as we were guided from room to room, I tried to remember the lay-out of the rooms and their senses. The first room we entered was the spacious parlor. There were paintings of the Dickinson’s children when they were younger, a beautiful fireplace and some furnitures. Then we were lead to Edward Dickinson’s study which had a more subdued and serious ambiance than the parlor that was painted in a cheery yellow. The study had tall book shelves with some books shown relating to Edward’s profession who was a prominent lawyer in Amherst. After that, we went up to the 2nd floor where the bedrooms are located.

Emily Dickinson’s bedroom was neat and immaculate. It was after 10 AM when we entered her room and the sun was shining through the windows making the room lighted up with such energy. I could imagine Emily sat on her writing desk and wrote the letters she sent to her sister in law and closest friends. Her many poems must have written in that room too. The house surrounding was an ideal place for a poet like Emily with its wonderful yard with small garden and so many trees, it was a marvel to enjoy. However, I wouldn’t sure if what I saw during my visit to the Homestead was what Emily saw, for the big trees standing now must have been young ones back then and not as big and grand. But I saw several robins like the one she mentioned on her poem:

The robin is the one

That interrupts the morn

With hurried, few, express reports

When March is scarcely on

After the Homestead, we visited the Evergreens which was the home of Austin and Susan Dickinson. Emily’s brother, sister in law and their three children lived just next door reflected the closeness of the Dickinson’s. The house exuded high class and the family’s important status in Amherst. Inside, there were beautiful paintings and other artworks, a grand piano, and many things that showed how preserved and intact the Evergreens is. After I finished my visit to the Homestead, I walked several blocks away to pay respect to Emily and her family. Their graves located close to Amherst Center or the downtown area. Emily’s family used to live in another house on Pleasant Street which located next to the graveyard. Little Emily has witnessed so many funerals because of it that impacted her in her works. When I visited the graveyard, it was very quiet and peaceful, even though less than 1/4 miles from it is Amherst’s main street that’s always busy. People left souvenirs on Emily’s headstone to honor her. A lot of them were pens to memorialize her as a poet whose words are still loved and enjoy until today.

The Homestead
The Homestead
The yard of the Homestead
Emily Dickinson’s Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts
The Homestead yard and garden
People left souvenirs on Emily Dickinson’s headstone.
Emily Dickinson’s headstone
The Evergreens
The gate to the Evergreens.

Snaps from A Road Trip: Northampton

    I get to know Northampton, a small city in western Massachusetts, as my daughter started her college last year. She goes to University of Massachusetts (UMass) in Amherst, a neighboring city of Northampton and we always pass by Northampton before reaching Amherst by car or train. My first encounter of Noho, the city’s nickname, was an eye-opening. The city is so charming with rows of 19th century buildings along its main streets. The downtown area especially, oozes that charm. For someone who has never come here, let alone heard about Northampton, I was in awe and felt dumbfounded. Every time we come to Amherst either dropping-off or picking-up our daughter from her dorm , or me having a solo trip to attend UMass Symphony Orchestra concerts (our daughter plays violin with them), I’d make sure I’ll visit Northampton and strolling down its beautiful downtown area. My love for old buildings, history and architecture find its way in this city. Thomas Cole, my favorite landscape painter who established the Hudson River School, painted the Oxbow in 1836 depicting a romantic panorama of Connecticut River Valley after the thunderstorm as viewed from Mount Holyoke in Northampton. It showed how he loved Northampton and its environment. 

    The city was called “Norwottuck” or “Nonotuck” by the native inhabitants of the area which was the Pocumtuc. The name means “the midst of the river” and Northampton is situated by Connecticut River. Its splendid surrounding has attracted many, including the “Swedish Nightingale” – Jenny Lind, a famous opera singer, who thought Northampton as “Paradise of America”. That’s how this city’s other nickname is the Paradise City. Noho is known as the city with cultural, arts, educational and historical background where Christian revival, slave abolitionist, artists and people with eclectic lifestyle thrive. Clarke School for Hearings and Speech was established here in 1867 which was United State’s first oral school for the deaf. Alexander Graham Bell was one of their school leaders. Other educational establishment founded in Northampton is Smith College, a private liberal art college for women, founded in 1871. Their famous alumni are Julia Child, Barbara Bush, Nancy Reagan – both were US first ladies, and also American poet and writer, Sylvia Plath.