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What's in a Name?

The idea of a botanical garden at Cornell stretches back to our earliest days.  In an 1862 letter from Andrew Dickson White to Gerrit Smith, the incoming first president outlines what he feels a great university should include: “It must have the best of Libraries – collections in different departments – Laboratory – Observatory – Botanical Garden perhaps…”

In 1935 the university formally adopted a Cornell Arboretum, and it was nine years after that that the great botanist and horticulturist Liberty Hyde Bailey laid out a more complex vision, synthesizing the thinking of various botany and horticulture professors: to create an extensive series of gardens and tree plantings, systematically and attractively laid out, where one could see and study, at all seasons of the year, specimens of all the trees, shrubs, vines, herbs, and flowering perennials native to this region, or that can be made to grow here.

As a name for this complex initiative, Bailey proposed Cornell Plantations. To help us understand what Bailey meant by his use of this term, we can turn to his own words: “It is a project … to unify into one organic whole a series of enterprises that are based on the land.  It includes the systematic observation and study at Cornell of wild, of economic, and ornamental plants, of trees, of wild life, and of other forms of nature.”