The Marsh Botanical Garden is named after famed paleontologist and dinosaur discoverer Othniel Charles Marsh, whose uncle, George Peabody, founded Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History. The area that encompasses the Gardens was once Marsh’s estate, with Marsh Hall being his former residence.
O.C. Marsh leaves instructions in his will for the donation of his house to be used as the new home of the first forestry school in the United States. The grounds are to be used as a botanical garden. Upon his death in 1900, the house and grounds become part of Yale’s campus.
Beatrix Farrand begins her decades-long relationship with Yale and Marsh Botanical Garden. With systematic plantings, a rockery, a small greenhouse and nursery, a formal garden patterned from the oldest existing formal garden in Padua, Italy, the garden was at its height in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. With a large work force and other resources devoted to its upkeep, the garden drew thousands of visitors per year.
With the changes in demographic and social patterns, the garden work force declined to the point where the grass areas were mowed and not much care of the plantings occurred. This neglect continued for decades until Mary Helen Goldsmith, Professor Emeritus in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, was appointed director of the garden and began the first stages of outdoor garden restoration.
After Tim Nelson, Professor in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology accepted the directorship, a new manager was hired to help bring the outdoor gardens into focus and back into horticultural norms. Along with the dedicated help of the one full time employee who maintained the greenhouse spaces and growth chambers in the biology buildings, a new approach to all aspects of the garden began. New greenhouses were added, more research space was created, the staff grew to four full time with summer hires and academic year interns and a master planning process began that would guide us into the next few decades of the garden’s life.