Members Reception: Legacy Parks in a Changing City

This past Tuesday, John Alschuler, Chairman of HR&A Advisors spoke to Friends members at our annual Members Reception at the Four Seasons Hotel Boston. John Alschuler gave an excellent and thought-provoking presentation entitled Sustaining Excellence: Legacy Parks in a Changing City. The capacity crowd was very engaged and asked John many interesting questions after his presentation. Attendees enjoyed meeting new friends and catching up with old ones at the reception after the program.

If you were unable to attend, the entire program is available to watch on YouTube. The presentation slides are here.

Continue reading “Members Reception: Legacy Parks in a Changing City”

Meet the Trees: Gingko Biloba



By Sherley Smith

The ginkgo tree is the oldest living tree species in the world. It is a botanical “living fossil,” dating to the time of the dinosaurs -250 million years ago. It was the very first seed-producing tree, which means it was the first tree that could live and reproduce on land. Ginkgo biloba is a “single species,” which means it has no living relatives, and fossil ginkgo leaves have been found on every continent, but the tree primarily survived in the protected valleys of China.  In the eighteenth century, European visitors discovered the ginkgo on the grounds of Buddhist temples in China, Japan, and Korea.

Ginkgos are well represented in two of our parks, with thirteen gingko trees on Boston Common, and eight in the Public Garden, both male and female trees. The first Ginkgo biloba in the parks was transplanted to Boston Common near the Joy Street steps in 1835. Already 40 feet tall at the time, that tree was moved to the Common from the nearby estate of Mrs. Gardiner Greene, daughter of John Singleton Copley.

The male tree produces small, cone-like structures that hold pollen. When female trees are about 25 years old, they produce small fruits with a fleshy, apricot-colored skin around the nut inside. The pulp is quite pungent when mashed and has a strong odor that many find unpleasant.

Long valued for aesthetic, religious, and medicinal reasons, it is said that Confucius studied under a ginkgo tree, giving it special meaning to Buddhists. The nuts are thought to have healing properties and can be eaten as a special delicacy. Extracts of the leaves are also used in medicines to enhance memory or stimulate blood flow.

Due to its resilience, the ginkgo has become a popular ornamental tree in the last fifty years. The tree tolerates pollution, extreme temperatures, road salt, and the confinement of being planted along a street. It is also both pest- and disease-resistant. It is easy to see why the tree is a symbol for longevity in Asia. There is an individual Chinese ginkgo said to be 3,500 years old.

The ginkgo is easy to identify due to its unique, fan-shaped leaves, with veins that fork outward from a central point. Its common name is “maidenhair tree” because the leaves resemble the leaves of a maidenhair fern. Carl Linnaeus, the renowned Swedish naturalist, gave the tree its Latin name, “Ginkgo Biloba,” which refers to the lobed shape of its leaf. In autumn, the leaves turn a beautiful golden hue before falling to the ground, typically all at once, resulting in a wonderful carpet of yellow surrounding the tree

Look for the ginkgos as you walk in the Public Garden and the Boston Common.




Surviving Drought – if you are a Lawn in an Urban Park


By Normand Helie and Toby Wolf

This year’s extreme drought has affected landscapes throughout eastern Massachusetts. It may also be a harbinger of a more common future, as climate change alters weather patterns.

Over the summer, as the turf on Boston Common began to go dormant, many people felt alarmed by what they saw as dead grass, and pictures of the Common’s turf cropped up in several newspaper articles about the drought.

How can lawns be restored from brown to green – and how can they be kept green in the future? As extreme weather becomes more common and park use increases, what are the keys to maintaining healthy lawns in urban parks?

Some of the news is good: The grass in those brown patches is dormant, not dead.  Turf grasses cope with hot, dry weather by holding water in their roots rather than their leaves.  They sacrifice their green top-growth, which becomes brown and brittle, to keep the roots alive, biding their time.  When the weather cools and the rains return, the roots send up fresh green shoots.

Dormancy is a natural, adaptive response that helps grasses survive dry summers. By understanding these responses, we can learn to create conditions that support grass’s natural resilience. Every lawn is different, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Start each year with a plan: With each increase in accuracy, long-term weather forecasts have become a more important tool for planning.  If summer drought is forecasted, for example, consider mowing higher [or watering deeper] during the spring so that the turf has more sugars [water] stored in its roots by the time dry weather arrives.
  • Grass Loves to be Cut: Turf grass’s astonishing adaptability includes its ability to grow back stronger and thicker after being mown – as long as the mowing is moderate and well-timed.  If a lawn is mown too low, when the weather is too hot, or too soon after fertilization, the loss of leaf area will weaken the plant, reduce root growth, encourage weed germination, and cause premature brown-out.   It is optimal to mow to a height of 3” or greater, and reduce the height of the turf by no more than 1/3 in any one mowing. Mowing should be reduced during drought, and not be performed within a week following any treatment or when the temperature is above 90 degrees. The right equipment makes a difference too: sharpened mower blades make cleaner cuts, and mulching mowers keep nutrients on site, reduce water loss, and eliminate the cost of off-site disposal.
  • Irrigate in moderation: The shape of a plant’s root system is often determined by the availability of water. In lawns that are irrigated daily, water is available at the surface of the soil, so roots spread horizontally. These lawns may look great in the short term, but they are entirely dependent on continued watering, and their shallow roots are vulnerable to root rot. Irrigating less often allows the soil to dry out between waterings and encourages root systems to grow deep, where moisture levels are more stable. Deep-rooted turf is less likely to develop an unhealthy thatch layer and it is better adapted to withstand drought.
  • Build healthy soils: When urban soils are compacted by foot traffic and other day-to-day use, they can become impenetrable to water and air, and root growth. Deep-rooted turf can reduce soils’ vulnerability to compaction, but if compaction is already present, aeration is necessary. In most cases core aeration is helpful, as a best practice measure, but under extreme stress vulnerable lawns/soils can be harmed by the aggressive nature of aerating. Always refer to your plan and be prepared to adapt to seasonal conditions.
  • Feed lightly: Some soils are better suited for lawns than others, so it’s tempting to try to create the “perfect” soil on every site. For any large park, however, it’s more realistic to work with the soils we have, adding nutrients and minerals lightly and selectively.   Observation and testing can help to understand what the soils need, and necessary products can be added. For example, timed applications of lime can mitigate acid soils and increase the availability of existing nutrients, and light treatments with Potassium can help turf and other plants survive drought by regulating their transpiration of water.
  • Set realistic expectations: The mark of a healthy lawn isn’t that it never browns out at all; it’s that it browns out partially and briefly — for weeks, not months. Understanding dormancy as a natural adaptation, rather than a sign of failure, is essential to establishing the real-world practices that will create thriving and resilient turf.


Summer Party 2016: It’s all about the parks!

The Friends annual Summer Party benefitting our work on the Boston Common, the Public Garden and the Commonwealth Mall. A sold out crowd of over 225 people enjoyed socializing with excellent drinks and hors d’ouevres taking in the view from the famed Taj Rooftop overlooking Boston’s iconic parks. The Friends would like to thank First Republic Bank for their sponsorship.

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Dear Friends Member,
This letter is to ask for your help in determining the future of the Charlesgate block of the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.  For the past three years the Friends  have been working to improve the health and beauty of this landscape with the following:
  • Extensive work on the trees
  • Excavation of entire block to correct the soil composition and the drainage
  • Replacing and upgrading the irrigation system
  • Turf restoration.
Since the initial work we have committed to do extra ordinary maintenance in this block to ensure the turf and the trees remain healthy and strong. The Friends have invested $130,000 over three years in this block for turf restoration, tree care, and the Leif Eriksson sculpture restoration. This huge investment of time and money has improved and maintained the beauty of this block of the Mall.
Unfortunately, this considerable investment is being destroyed by the use of this block as an off-leash dog park.  Because this block is fenced it is an inviting spot for off-leash dog activity which is illegal in this park.  This usage has grown to such an extent in the past year that the majority of the investment in improvements is being wasted because we simply can’t get ahead of the damage that is being done. While we welcome dogs and dog walkers using the park properly, the current fencing exacerbates unsuitable use as an off-leash dog area. In addition, this off-leash behavior has made it difficult, if not impossible, for other people to feel welcome and safe in this area of the park.
These fences are not historic; they were installed in the 1980’s.  Removal would bring the Charlesgate block into aesthetic harmony with the rest of the Mall where the fences are on the cross streets only. About 15 years ago, then Commissioner Justine Liff removed a similar fence around the Hereford block because of the exact same problem. If you look at the Hereford block today, where the Friends has a similar program, you can see the difference.
Charlesgate can look like the Hereford block, but only if the fence is removed:
  • The Friends of the Public Garden has recommended to Parks Commissioner Cook that this fence be removed.
  • The NABB Board of Directors voted at a meeting last week to support this recommendation.
Commissioner Cook wants to hear the removal of the fence is supported by the neighborhood.  We have promised we will do our best to “take the temperature” of the abutters and supporters of the stewardship of the Mall.
We are now reaching out to get your feedback.  
A response of a simple YES or NO to removal of the fence would be welcome, additional comments would be appreciated. Please put Charlesgate in the subject line of your email.
Please respond to the Friends at  or to my email   Numbers will matter.
Please send your response by June 20, 2016.
Thank you,
Margaret Pokorny, Chairman, Commonwealth Avenue Mall Committee
A joint committee of Friends of the Public Garden and NABB


Historic Preservation and the Community Preservation Act

What is CPA and what can it do for your organization?

This November, Boston voters will have the opportunity to vote YES for the Community Preservation Act in Boston. The Community Preservation Act (CPA) will bring innumerable benefits to the City of Boston, furthering the work of preservationists and community builders alike. CPA will provide funding for preservation in amounts we’ve never seen in Boston. With the passage of CPA, the typical Boston homeowner whose home is assessed at $500,000 would pay approximately $24 per year towards this investment, and in turn, the City would generate $20 million or more every year for CPA projects including affordable housing, parks/open space, and historic preservation.

Please join the Boston Preservation Alliance and Historic Boston Incorporated, Thursday June 23rd, from 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. at the African Meeting House to learn more. 

During our time together we will discuss how CPA money would be raised, how it would impact your neighborhood, and where the funds would go. Come and get your questions answered and brainstorm how the CPA can help your organization. At this meeting we will discuss:

  • Obtaining formal endorsements from preservation and neighborhood organizations that will be used in the support campaign for CPA
  • The elements of a campaign underway and  how you can get involved in promoting the CPA ballot initiative in your community and among your members

 This event is free and open to Organizational Members and partners of the Boston Preservation Alliance and/or Historic Boston, Inc. and any other friends of historic preservation.

This event is next week!

Please register ASAP.  
Thursday, June 23
6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
African Meeting House, 46 Joy Street, Beacon Hill
Registration required.

Learn more about CPA at Yes for a Better Boston