Meet Michael Fenter: Park Stewardship in Action

Michael Fenter

Michael Fenter has been a Member of the Friends of the Public Garden since 2010. He learned about the Friends through Board member Margaret Pokorny when they were working on community projects together. The Mall is special to Michael and he considers it to be his “front yard”. He has lived in many cities and believes there is nothing quite like the parks in Boston. He enjoys seeing the seasons change in them and says, “the parks are an ever-changing living canvas of nature right in the middle of modern living.”

The parks mean so much to Michael that he has helped care for them by volunteering in a variety of ways for Mall projects, including fundraising efforts for a sponsored tree in memory of people who died from AIDS and ongoing litter and graffiti clean up. He also participates in his employers’ match program, ensuring that his contributions and volunteer hours go even further with a match from Microsoft.  He explains the Friends and sometimes hands out informational materials, as he responds to people’s questions while volunteering or walking his dogs along the Mall

“One way to enhance and restore these parks is to educate the next generation of stewards,” says Michael. He started an annual “Keeping It Clean” day for his nephews’ school where the children come and clean litter on the Mall from Arlington Street to the Kenmore block. They are rewarded with pizza and bowling for their volunteer hours! He believes these parks are a legacy for past and future citizens to treasure. “The main reason to join the Friends is because it is our responsibility to preserve these living treasures for the next generation,” he added.

Give Back to Boston parks on #GivingTuesday

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#GivingTuesday is a global day dedicated to giving back. Charities, families, businesses, community centers, and students around the world will come together for one common purpose: to celebrate generosity and to give. Make a donation to the Friends on #GivingTuesday, December 1. to support care for some of Boston’s most historic greenspaces – the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.  Each person who gives to the Friends on #GivingTuesday will be entered to win one of several prizes including, lunch for two at The Bristol at Four Seasons Boston, a $20 J.P. Licks gift card, and a $50 Maggiano’s gift card. We thank these community-minded establishments for giving to us to support this day of giving!

 

Meet the Friends: Tim Mitchell

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Beauty is everywhere in the three parks the Friends of the Public Garden work with the City to care for. We often see the beauty in the natural features of these greenspaces, but public art also calls one’s attention. The art caught Tim Mitchell’s eye and continues to attract this architect and ceramics sculptor to the Boston Common, Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall. He found out about the Friends through the Neighborhood Association of Back Bay (NABB), and has been a member for at least twenty years. When asked why someone might consider joining the Friends his answer is simple, “You should not just join, but also get actively involved in a specific project.” That is exactly what he did. Tim has served on our Board of Directors and is currently the chair of our Sculpture Committee.

For Tim, the parks act as a creative inspiration that continue to capture and hold his attention. Everything about the art in them, from the artists and craftsmen, to the actual pieces and narratives that the objects evoke, is what give the parks special meaning for him.

He is currently completing a six-month body of sculpture using two kilns that are large tunnel-like structures representative of Japanese-style kilns called Anagama, one of which can load about 1,000 pieces at a time.  In September he will start an artist residency with Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, Maine. There he will work on a historic brick-making project and a related contemporary art expression.

Tim recently donated a piece of his work to the Friends online art auction. The jar wth lid is stoneware with shino glaze to the interior and wood-ash glaze marks to the exterior. The lid is made of wood taken from one of the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial elm trees, across from the Massachusetts State House, during a preservation pruning on December 13, 2014.

Tim says if there is one thing people should know about the Friends of the Public Garden it would be the advocacy we do for all three parks, not just the Public Garden. He says people may also be surprised by the art in the parks, its “magnitude and provenance, all public…24/7.”

Friends Addresses Parks Care Issues at 45th Annual Meeting

Friends of the Public Garden
Boston Parks Commissioner Chris Cook addresses more than 150 attendees at Friends of the Public Garden 45th Annual Meeting (Photo: Michael Dwyer)

On Wednesday, April 8th, the Friends of the Public Garden held their 45th annual meeting. Over 150 members and neighbors gathered at the First Church in Boston to hear from the Friends and featured speaker Boston Parks Commissioner Chris Cook talk about the accomplishments of the past year and plans for the future. Open discussion and warm conversation made the 45th Annual Meeting a successful update on the Friends.

The evening began with a greetings and updates from the Friends Board Chair Anne Brooke, and Board Directors Patricia Quinn and Jeannette Herrmann. Elizabeth Vizza, the Executive Director of the Friends, presented a summary of the work that the Friends completed over the past year. She began by thanking members and the Boston Parks Department for their contributions in making 2014 a successful year for the organization. This year, the Friends pruned 330 trees and protected 1,100 from disease. More than 30 sculptures in the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall were cleaned and two of the sculptures, the Leif Eriksson statue and the Robert Gould Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial, underwent major masonry conservation work. The Friends also launched the off-leash dog program on the Common and continued improvement work on the Boylston Street border of the Public Garden. The $4 million multi-year Brewer Fountain Plaza and parkland renovation, the group’s largest capitol project to date, was officially completed at the end of 2014. Ms. Vizza also outlined the Friends plans for the future, including working with the City to revitalize the Boston Common.

Parks Commissioner Chris Cook followed Ms. Vizza’s presentation. He made note of the important strides that the Boston Parks and Recreation Department is making in the upkeep of the City’s greenspaces. Cook’s announcement that a second park maintenance shift will be added this next year, which will be stationed in the Boston Common, was met with applause. Cook also announced that the just-released Mayor’s budget included funding to fix the sidewalk on the Tremont Street border of the Common in front of the Visitor Information Center, which for too long has been deteriorated with major, and in places dangerous, cracks. The budget also includes several other top priorities for the Common and Garden that were suggested by the Parks and Recreation Department and the Friends.

Following his remarks, Cook opened the floor for a Q and A session. He shared valuable information in response to questions, which ranged from “When will the broken fence in the Common be repaired?” to questions about how parks management can address climate change. Cook stressed the importance of the relationship between the Parks Department and the Friends, saying, “Many hands make light work.”

The evening concluded with a reception where attendees mingled with fellow Friends members and discussed the topics of the evening.

How Trees and Shrubs are Weathering Winter

Photo: Caroline Phillips-Licari
Photo: Caroline Phillips-Licari

“I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says, “Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.”-Lewis Carroll.

The historic amount of snowfall this winter looks beautiful in our parks, but poses some challenges to trees and shrubs. Some obvious impacts are snow and ice breakage. Species with brittle wood, such as elms and zelkovas, can lose limbs from the weight of the ice and snow, especially during windy snowstorms. Another common impact is from salt, which is commonly spread on roads as ice melt. Salt gets into the water that is taken up by the trees, and can also be blown onto trees by the wind. Most trees cannot tolerate much salt exposure without suffering significant dieback. Some other impacts of the wintery weather are less obvious. Prolonged very cold temperatures can cause root dieback, although the amount of snow we have had does provide insulation. Most winter damage to plants is not caused just by the cold temperatures, but by fluctuations in temperature. Trees can develop “frost cracks” caused by the winter sun, along the trunk of the tree.  And evergreen trees are susceptible to “winter kill”, which happens on sunny winter days, when the sunshine tricks the tree into trying to photosynthesize. The problem is that when the ground is frozen, the tree cannot draw water up through its roots, which is required for photosynthesis. This results in dieback of the tree.

Fortunately for us, the ongoing tree care that the Friends provides in our three parks creates resilience to stress in the trees. The pruning that we’ve undertaken in all our parks reduces the likelihood of snow and ice breakage, and stimulates the trees to grow more vigorously, which enables them to withstand the stress of the cold temperatures. One unknown of this historic winter of deep snowpack – estimated to be the equivalent of 4”-7” of water – is whether our trees will become susceptible to soil and tree-related diseases that are caused by excess water in the ground.

Nevertheless, and although it is hard to believe now, spring really is right around the corner. The trees will shake off their dormancy and many will burst forth their flowers, followed by their new, pale leaves.

Claire_Corcoran_photoClaire Corcoran is an ecologist and member of the Friends of the Public Garden Board of Directors. She is a self proclaimed “tree hugger” and dedicated advocate for greenspace in Boston and beyond. Claire lives in the South End of Boston with her husband and three children.

Claire also wrote the recent post, Explaining the Odd Shape of Trees in Winter – Load Reduction Pruning. 

Explaining the Odd Shape of Trees in Winter – Load Reduction Pruning

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I am an ecologist and unapologetic tree hugger, and I spend much of my time in parks looking up at the trees’ canopy. Now that the autumn leaves have mostly fallen from the trees in the Common, the Public Garden, and the Mall, the natural forms of the trees are revealed. Some of them are beautiful and iconic of the species – the classic vase-shaped form of the American Elm, for instance, which is instantly recognizable from any distance. The bushy, spreading form of an open-grown Red Maple is distinctive, as is the characteristic branching of the Horsechestnut tree, which always reminds me of an athlete flexing his muscles. The old Japanese Pagoda tree’s graceful lines are more akin to a ballerina than a weightlifter. During the dormant season, the many varieties of “weeping” forms are clearly visible as their branches trail down towards the ground – cherries, willows, and beeches. But you may notice something else as well – some of the oldest, most venerable trees appear to have been lopped off at the top! Why on earth would an arborist prune a tree in such an unsightly way?

The answer is relatively simple, but might not be immediately obvious. The very largest trees in these parks are approaching the end of their natural lifespans, which vary from species to species but which don’t generally exceed 200-300 years. Many of these older specimens have some hidden rot in their heartwood, which leaves them potentially vulnerable to damage from high winds during New England’s famous nor’easters, thunderstorms, and hurricanes. Extreme weather events are expected to increase in intensity and frequency as the effects of our changing climate are manifested in our region. To protect against blowdowns, the Friends of the Public Garden has been implementing a strategy called “Load reduction pruning”. Many trees have been pruned to strategically reduce the weight of the canopy. After our last major wind event, we only lost one large limb in the Public Garden, which is a great accomplishment after a high-wind storm!

In most trees this load reduction pruning is hardly noticeable to the untrained eye, but there are a few trees in which it’s quite noticeable – some of the oldest trees in our parks, including the two elms that frame the steps in front of the State House, and one of the oldest weeping willows by the lagoon in the Public Garden. In these cases, the pruning allows the trees to persist despite extensive age-related dieback in the canopy, and for much of the year, to most passers-by (who are not gazing up at the canopy), the tree serves the general purpose of a tree, albeit with somewhat odd proportions. It is only when the leaves have fallen that the odd proportions are fully revealed. I like to think that we value the lives of the older trees perhaps more because of the many years they’ve seen, and tolerating (and understanding) their odd shape in the winter is a small price to pay to have these familiar Boston arboreal citizens persist into the 21st century.

Claire_Corcoran_photo

Claire Corcoran is an ecologist and member of the Friends of the Public Garden Board of Directors. She is a self-proclaimed “tree hugger” and dedicated advocate for greenspace in Boston and beyond. Claire lives in the South End of Boston with her husband and three children. 

Celebrating Completion of $4M Revitalization of Brewer Fountain Plaza

Snip20141119_44This month the Friends completed its $4 million project to revitalize Brewer Fountain Plaza and the surrounding parkland on Boston Common near Park Street station. The City led the effort to restore the fountain, which was re-dedicated in 2010. The Friends launched a companion project to revitalize the plaza and entire parkland leading up to the State House and along Tremont Street, which over the years had fallen into a state of disrepair. This multi-year effort implemented by the Friends is the largest single project undertaken in the 44-year history of the nonprofit’s work in caring for the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall in partnership with the City’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Over 260 individuals, foundations, and corporations contributed to this community effort.

In warmer months, café tables and chairs, piano music at lunchtime, a reading room, and quality food have made this one of the most popular outdoor gathering places in the city for residents and visitors. Highlights of the project include granite paving, refurbished grass areas, and the addition of 44 new trees.  Other improvements include irrigation to sustain prime grass areas; improved lighting; new curbing; repaved walkways; and better drainage. The final piece of the project along Lafayette Mall restored roughly 350 feet of historic cast iron fencing to the Tremont Street park edge for the first time in more than 100 years, between Park Street Station and West Street. The original fence was removed in 1895 for subway construction.

Read previous blog posts on this project: 
Discovering Premier Seating on Boston Common
Brewer Fountain Plaza: A Fountain-side Retreat on Boston Common
What’s happening on Brewer Fountain Plaza on Boston Common?