SMFA Garden

The SMFA Garden is an ongoing collaboration to support local pollinators at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) at Tufts University and to cultivate artistic cross-pollination throughout the greater SMFA at Tufts community. The garden is made of seven large planters located at the SMFA's main 230 Fenway building in Boston, situated on balconies off the central atrium and school library.
On a biological level, the container beds feature plant species which are native to New England and flower perennially to provide food resources for local insect pollinator populations. On a social level, the SMFA Garden brings refreshing greenery into the school's industrial urban space, offers space for students to install artworks and builds connections across SMFA at Tufts. The garden relies on the engagement, knowledge and experiences of all beings in the community to continue blooming.

Funding for the SMFA Garden was provided by the Tufts University Green Fund in its 2019-2020 application cycle. After delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, the garden was established in 2022. Much gratitude goes to my project partner, Lauren Kimball-Brown of the SMFA Library, as well as the SMFA Sustainability Committee, the Tufts Green Fund Committee, SMFA Facilities, administrators, studio managers, faculty, staff, students, alumni and countless others who have supported the project.

SMFA Garden
Established 2022
Lauren Kimball-Brown & Séphora Bergiste pose with SMFA Garden planter box

Current Garden Activities

Visit for resources on the importance of native plant and pollinator species, on art, ecology and plant-based studio practices, and for upcoming garden programming. A list of plants growing in the SMFA Garden is also available.

Garden activities include:

  • HSS workshops: Since 2020, the SMFA Garden has participated in the school's annual Health, Safety, and Sustainability Week by offering workshops on a range of topics, including seed-starting and gardening for pollinators, garden design, zines and artists' books on gardens and food, and activist art and gardening.

  • Seed Library: As of 2023, the SMFA Garden is collaborating with the SMFA at Tufts Library to bring a seed library to the university community. Individuals can "checkout" seeds to cultivate in their dorms or apartments and are encouraged to harvest and "return" seeds at the end of the growing season.

  • Exhibitions & engagement by student groups & classes: In 2022 the SMFA Garden planter boxes were outfitted with trellises and stakes for installing artworks amongst the plants. Student groups and classes are invited to curate exhibitions and performances in the garden, and to engage with the site through means such as focused visits for observational drawing or harvesting of plant material for use in papermaking.


How the Garden Sprouted

Interact with the post modules and flippable booklet below to learn about the process of developing the SMFA Garden.

Planting the Seed
Tufts Green Fund grant application process and project beginnings of the garden in 2019-2020.

Planter Ideation and Design
Development of container bed designs for balonies off the library and atrium of the SMFA 230 Fenway building.

A selection of student sketches for custom planters for the balcony at the SMFA Library. At roughly 8x4 feet with a half-moon shape, it was a fun and intimate space to activate.

Ideas for container designs were solicited from the school community; fantastic responses came back. Click to view iterations for planters on the atrium balcony.

Preparations to bring the library balcony planters to life involved paper mock-ups, cardboard approximations and full-scale tracings of the space.

Approval for permanent garden installation required knowing the library balcony planters' volume; therefore an estimate of total weight when full of wet soil could be determined, ensuring the garden beds would remain under the balcony's load limit. Volume of the custom curved and sloping planters was approximated by calculating corresponding geometric prisms for a total volumetric sum.

Planter Fabrication and Installation
Creation of cutting layouts, renderings and piece lists to fabricate planters in the SMFA Metals studio. 

Development of plans for planter fabrication in three phases:
      1. Research U.S.-based Corten steel suppliers; request quotes, place orders.
      2. Collaborate with the SMFA Metals studio on the planned use of each steel sheet.
      3. Update planter designs for structural integrity and adjust cutting layouts.

In order to collaborate with project partners remotely, the creation of detailed planter renderings and piece lists were important steps in the process.

Placement diagrams were submitted with workorders to install other readymade planter beds that were purchased. Many thanks to the SMFA Facilities staff who assisted in receiving and relocating shipments of project materials, as well as developing a balcony-access procedure.

The complete custom-fabricated planters were installed in spring 2022. Photos show planter details and installation sites at the SMFA 230 Fenway building. Much appreciation goes out to the SMFA Metals studio manager and student workers.

Garden Planning
Surveying the SMFA at Tufts community on which pollinator-friendly plants were preferred to start in the garden, research of soil mixes for container gardens and development of planting diagrams.

The SMFA Garden hosts 18 pollinator-friendly plant species, ranging from spring, summer and fall blooming native wildflowers to perennial herbs and annual veggies that support insect pollinators when left to flower and seed. Image gallery above shows seed-starting workshops and a survey used to collect community plant preferences.

After researching custom container soil mixes, a lightweight blend of soilless growing media was chosen with proper aeration, drainage and retention of moisture and nutrients in mind. Final mix: 35% Perlite, 35% Peat moss/Coir, and 30% Compost.

After collecting individual plant species' details on spacing needs, bloom times, sun requirements, average height, planting depth and more, plant placement diagrams across the total seven planters were developed.

A second set of planting diagrams mapped out plant spacing before seedlings were transplanted into garden beds. The SMFA Garden had officially taken root!

Final Report
Read a final report submitted to the Tufts Green Fund in spring 2023, including an overview of the project objectives, accomplishments, future goals, breakdown of funds and a selection photos from over three years of project development.


BFA Thesis Exhibition: Outrageous Plans for Sensible Ideas, SMFA at Tufts University (Virtual)
View the virtual exhibition.


The SMFA Garden was featured in an article on the SMFA at Tufts website in August 2022. Read for more details on how the garden took root.

View PDF of Green Fund final report View PDF of Green Fund final report