As director of the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University for 54 years, Sargent made a significant mark on the American landscape and is memorialized by many plants named in his honor. Born in Boston and educated at Harvard, he was appointed as director of Harvard’s Botanic Garden in 1872, working closely with botanist Asa Gray. The following year, Sargent was selected to direct the new Arnold Arboretum and hired Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., to assist with the site planning. At Olmsted’s recommendation, the arboretum was ultimately transferred by Harvard to the City of Boston, where became a prime destination within Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system.
Under the auspices of the Arboretum, Sargent participated in plant-collecting expeditions, introducing exotic Asian plants to American gardens while simultaneously celebrating native flora in two books, Silva of North America and Manual of the Trees of North America. A major advocate for the protection of American forests, he worked on the survey team for Glacier National Park and helped create the first conservation policy for the Adirondack region. Sargent served as consultant to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, providing valuable service in the preservation of the historic estate and landscape.
Mentor to numerous practitioners in the emerging field of landscape architecture (including Beatrix Farrand and his nephews, Philip and Henry Codman,) he also encouraged the publication of Olmsted, Sr., Charles Eliot, and George Kessler, amongst others, in Garden and Forest, the short-lived (1888-1897) but influential landscape journal he founded.