Bright yellow sunflowers, leafy green plants, and herbs are cropping up around the School of Museum of Fine Arts this summer. Green-thumbed members of the Tufts community are busy installing container gardens outside the atrium and library balcony of the 230 Fenway building.
It was inspired in part by the Tufts Pollinator Initiative, which consists of a group of Tufts scientists who are passionate about conservation and pollinators (an insect or other agent that pollinates flowers). They have planted an assortment of native plants around the Medford campus. Native plants are species which are indigenous to a given region and are beneficial to local pollinator populations.
“We wanted to make sure the SMFA garden included a lot of native plants because planting them is a very ecologically impactful and simple thing to do,” explains Kimball-Brown. “It can be very overwhelming in the face of environmental issues to consider what one person can do to make a difference. But if you plant a native plant, you’re doing something positive for the ecosystem.”
The garden was made possible with support from the Tufts University Green Fund, which provides funding for the implementation of sustainability projects for the Tufts community. As part of her senior thesis project, Morse applied to the Green Fund in the fall of 2019 with support from Kimball-Brown and the Sustainability Committee, and advice from Senior Lecturer Silvia Bottinelli. Morse and Kimball-Brown were awarded funding in January of 2020.
They hosted a kickoff event in March of 2020 as part of SMFA’s annual Health, Safety, and Sustainability event. A week later, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, sending everyone home and delaying the installation of the garden.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, Morse and Kimball-Brown continued to work on the garden in a planning capacity. Morse finalized the designs for the curved, square, and L-shaped planters with help from Senior Studio Manager Adam “Legs” Cowell. Cowell, along with a group of student workers in the Welding Studio, built and installed the planters.
Before planting, Morse and Kimball-Brown sent out a survey to SMFA students, faculty, and staff, asking which plants they would most like to see in the garden. They sifted through 65 responses and selected plants based on the survey. “We’re hoping to run the survey again next year, and grow some new plants based on what people are interested in,” says Kimball-Brown.
Additionally, Kimball-Brown hosted two seed planting workshops, which received overwhelmingly positive responses from students.
“I’ve been at SMFA since 2010 and I’ve noticed a longstanding interest in plants,” says Kimball-Brown. “When we do official surveys about the library, which is full of plants, students are always commenting about how much they love our greenery. And there have been many studies showing the psychological benefits of being around plants.”
This interest in plants and the natural world also extends to the SMFA curriculum. Many instructors incorporate the use of natural dyes, pigments, paper, and fibers into their coursework, and bring students to surrounding parks to create observational drawings. “Across pretty much every studio area, we identified instructors who are working with and thinking about nature in a real way,” says Morse. “Environmental concerns are a constant conversation among faculty and students at SMFA.”
Kimball-Brown and Morse are currently planning what’s next for the SMFA garden, including hosting additional seed planting workshops; erecting trellises for students to hang 2D artwork on; inviting student groups and classes to stage exhibitions amongst the garden beds; and founding a “Seed Library” in the SMFA Library where SMFA community members can check out seeds to grow at home and are encouraged to harvest and return them.
“The garden has always been an evolving, community effort,” reflects Kimball-Brown. “It has the potential to grow in a lot of different directions.”
Tufts community members can access the garden space outside the atrium from 8 am – 6 pm every day, barring inclement weather. The garden space on the SMFA library balcony is accessible by requesting access from library staff.
Banner Image Credit: Botanical drawings by Michaela Morse; Photographs by SMFA Communications.