Celebrating a fountain’s return in the Public Garden

On June 7th, the Friends celebrated the completion of our latest capital project, the restoration of the George Robert White Memorial fountain. Joined by many friends, including City Councilor Josh Zakim and Parks Commissioner Chris Cook, new Friends Board Chair Leslie Singleton Adam thanked the generous donors who made this restoration possible.

Special thanks to Weston & Sampson, Zen Associates, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Boston Parks and Recreation Department for their contributions to the fountain restoration and landscaping work, making this a beautiful corner of the Public Garden again.

Remembering Anne Brooke

In tribute to our wonderful late Board Chair, Anne Brooke, we also dedicated a beautiful Horsechestnut tree for her inspired leadership of the Friends and this special restoration project.

Photos of the White Fountain Renovation

We’re thrilled to share pictures of the fountain renovation at the George Robert White Memorial in the Public Garden. And as of last week, water is flowing through the rams’ heads again. Many thanks to our generous supporters, without whom this project could not have been done.

Take a look at the project, starting with recent photos, all the way back to the beginning of the renovation in mid-September.

 

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

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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.

 

Successful 46th Annual Meeting

 

A record-breaking, standing room only crowd of almost 200 were welcomed to the 46th Annual Meeting of the Friends by board chair Anne Brooke and vice-chair Colin Zick.

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Attendees listened appreciatively to a powerful presentation by Liz Vizza, Executive Director, celebrating the Friends work in 2105 to continue the care and preservation of trees, sculpture, and turf in the three parks. Her remarks also highlighted the success in creating a dynamic park space at Brewer Plaza, continuing renovations of the Boylston Street border in the Garden, and the upcoming restoration of the fountain at the George Robert White Memorial.  Liz praised the hard work of the volunteer Rose Brigade and announced the creation of a new volunteer Border Brigade while reminding the attendees of the upcoming fun and engaging public programs, Duckling Day and Making History on the Common.  She shared that a Boston Common User Analysis survey will be taking place through the fall, providing real numbers about who, how and when people use the Common and what park users’ needs and issues are.

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Advocacy for the parks is crucial, the threats are real and involve public safety, proposed building development on Tremont Street that exceeds the zoned height limit and could set a dangerous precedent, as well as the need to increase funding for the Boston Parks Department.  Liz commended the Department’s hard work to keep the Boston Common, Public Garden and Commonwealth Mall healthy and beautiful.

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The Annual Meeting served as the occasion to introduce the Henry and Joan Lee Sculpture Endowment in honor of the Lees’ legacy of commitment to the parks and their sculpture. The fund’s mission will be to provide for the long-term care for 42 pieces of public art in the Common, Garden, and Mall, the largest concentration of public art in the city. Regular annual maintenance prevents much more costly restoration.

In keeping with the sculpture theme, David Dearinger from the Boston Athenaeum gave a fascinating presentation about the Common, Garden, and Mall as “Museums Without Walls” and the history of the sculpture in the three parks.  Reminding the attendees about the legacy of outdoor art, Dr. Dearinger shared the little-known history of some of the important pieces of sculpture.

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The evening concluded with a reception where longstanding and new Friends enjoyed the opportunity to meet.

Photos: Michael Dwyer

 

Boston Common Receives Lime Treatment

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The white dusting appearing on the grassy areas of Boston Common over the next few days is not made up of snowflakes that we traditionally expect to see this time of year. Warmer temperatures have made it possible for us to fit in one more needed treatment to help trees, turf and soil on the Common. The treatment will support better root growth and development, provide plant nutrients, increase disease resistance, and correct several conditions that are causing additional stress on the plant life in this heavily used urban park.

The Public Garden Just Got Benched

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Taking a seat on the sidelines in the Public Garden just got better with the addition of three new benches! This installation marks the $85,000 Phase III of our Boylston Street border project.  We invite you to have a seat, enjoy the view, and let us know what you think.

Thank you to our members for their support that makes this and other improvements possible.

If you are interested in sponsoring a bench, with your or a loved one’s name on a plaque near it, in America’s first public botanical garden, please contact mary@friendsofthepublicgarden.org to ask about bench sponsorship opportunities.