A Day at the Botanic Garden of Smith College

Pet-Free Till Now: The Botanic Garden at Smith Works its Magic

Koi pond in the Stove House at the Smith College Lyman Conservatory. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

We’ve been a pet-free family for almost 15 years. The first three years of our marriage we worked so much that having a pet would have been animal cruelty. I was finishing my degree, writing some huge thesis and drinking too much Chai. Matt was working a few jobs and writing.

We added a child, then two more kids, one with some extra needs. Pets are beyond us.

Theo, my youngest, has some fear of animals. Ever since he was a baby he has seemed unenthusiastic. I remember taking Henry to a little petting zoo farm when we lived in Connecticut. He was a happy three year old running around pointing at goats, sheep, chickens and making all the appropriate sounds. Theo, at age one, just wanted to crawl back inside mama. I had to wear him on my back — he hid under the cape of the Ergo. By the time he was two, it was pretty clear he didn’t like it. “No, no, farm! No, no horses, neigh!”

As he grew older, I realized he was fearful of dogs, but no more so than my oldest who outgrew it and now loves dogs. I kept thinking Theo would just outgrow it, but this summer I discovered he was afraid of cats, squirrels and chipmunks too. At my in-laws he was refusing to go downstairs alone for fear of a very ancient, sage cat who does not care about his existence. Outside at friend’s house, a chipmunk raced by his feet and he sobbed for 10 minutes.

In the Succulent House, prickly cacti made the boys stay close! (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

We have a problem, which is why nothing surprised me more than when we had our first ever animal breakthrough at the The Botanic Gardens at Smith College, in Northampton, MA.  Theo fell hard for the koi in the pond in the Stove House.  He sat there patiently, kneeling on the narrow pathway, begging, “Fishies, come jump out of the water and say hello to me, Theo. I like you! I will take care of you!”

We tried to move on, but he kept running back to the pond. Eventually, the big fish, whom Theo called Momma Fish, swam towards the surface near Theo and made a fishy-kissy face. Delightful! Thank you, Momma Fish.

We were then able to fully enjoy the rest of the Botanic Gardens. Henry and Theo enjoyed pretending to be monkeys as they were able to recognize the jungle plant found in the Palm House. Following the paths, looking the the oversize leaves and blooms was warm adventure on a chilly weekend.  Another favorite spot was the Succulent House, where the prickly cacti made them stay close to mom and dad. We got to show them lemons, oranges, and other fruit hanging off the branches

We got to show them lemons, oranges, and other fruit hanging off the branches. (Photo credit: Karen Bayne)

Although it is getting chilly outside, we toured the Rock Garden. These hearty plants like the weather.  It was lovely to explore this outdoor garden before it was snow-covered. — We plan on returning for the Fall Chrysanthemum show in a few weeks (Nov. 6th-21st). In the meantime, Theo and I walk up frequently to the Botanic Gardens sell hello to Momma Fish. We are talking about perhaps a fish of our own. “I will wake up early on Christmas morning, at 6:30 o’clock,” says Theo, “and I will tell Santa I am wanting a fish pet for Christmas today.”

I hope you decide to visit the arboretum and gardens at the Smith College  with your kids.  The conservatory is open daily from 8:30—4 o’clock. There is no admission fee, but donations are graciously accepted.  If you’re driving in, find out directions and where to park here. A nice idea before you go would be to visit their Kid’s Corner on-line and to take a look at their Conservatory Map and Virtual Tour so you can get your bearings before your visit.


Karen Bayne

Karen grew up in Manhattan and lived in Connecticut before moving to Northampton with her husband Matt to raise their boys. Her sons Isaac, Henry and Theo are 11, 6 and 4,  leaving Karen on a search for all the “just right adventures” that will wow them and wear them out.  She works as a birth doula, childbirth and parent educator in the greater Northampton area. She writes about mothering at Needs New Batteries and about birth in our culture at Gentle Balance Birth.

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