The Friends of the Public Garden is expanding its Public Garden tour program in 2016 and is actively recruiting new docents to lead the tours. We are looking for men and women who are passionate about the trees, plantings, sculpture, and history of the Public Garden and who would like to share that knowledge and enthusiasm with others. Training will be provided. An information session will be held at the Friends office at 69 Beacon Street on Wednesday, February 24th at 1:00 p.m. For more information or to sign up to attend the information session, email email@example.com.
For November our Tree of the Month is the Oak, one of only a few local trees to be the last to lose its leaves. Well into the winter season, Bostonians will be able to look up at shivering branches almost uncannily cloaked with tenacious brown oak leaves.
Oaks are an astoundingly diverse group of trees – there are 600 species all over the world, and 90 species in North America. These mostly deciduous trees hybridize easily and are sometimes difficult to identify. The wood of oaks, as well as their acorns, is high in a type of polyphenol called tannin—the source of its strength, resistance to rot and insects, and the flavor oak barrels can impart to their contents (well known to lovers of “buttery” chardonnay).
Here on the Boston Common and in the Public Garden, Pin Oaks, Red Oaks, and White Oaks are among the largest trees. The Commonwealth Avenue Mall has over 30 specimens and four species of oaks, the Garden over 20 specimens and seven species, and the Common over 50 specimens and five species.
The tree fruit—mostly acorns—carpeting the forest floor this time of year is collectively called “mast”, from the same Old English word (“maest”) that gave us the word “meat.” Bumper acorn crop years are called “mast years” and are directly associated with huge fluctuations in wildlife populations, which can then have ripple effects on populations of other creatures like ticks that feed on oak-dependent wildlife such as mice and deer.
Early humans all over the globe ate acorns, after processing them in various ways (soaking, drying, etc). Until relatively recently in human history, acorns were a significant source of calories for humanity – by some estimates up to 10 percent.
When Europeans came to North America, the old growth oak forests here were an attractive natural resource, as oak was an important building material that had been mostly exhausted in Europe. Oak was used in shipbuilding, quarter sawn for oak furniture, and prized for barreling wine and spirits. The old-growth White Oak planks of the USS Constitution withstood so many English shells that the sailors nicknamed it “Old Ironsides.”
Oak forests still thrive in Southern New England, and are characterized by dry, sandy soils, other fire adapted plants such as blueberry bushes and various pine species, and hickory species. On Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket, the familiar low twisty maritime forests are also dominated by fire adapted oaks and their associated understory species and pollinators, some of which are rare and endangered species of moths and butterflies.
In some parts of New England, oaks face a new kind of threat – overgrazing by deer. Without many predators, deer populations have exploded in New England, and excessive browse of oak seedlings and saplings by deer is exerting pressure on successional change in the forested landscape.
As you walk through our three parks, look for urban wildlife feeding on acorns—squirrels are ubiquitous, of course, but you might also see crows, jays, ducks, geese, raccoons, opossums, and perhaps even foxes. Then take a moment to look up at the familiar lobed leaves that not so long ago shaded us on those hot summer days. We have so many reasons to feel grateful to the oak!
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.
Anne Swanson has been a member of the Friends almost since the early 1980s. Before joining, Anne volunteered picking trash up in the Public Garden. Through this activity Anne met other people just as passionate about the parks and discovered the Friends of the Public Garden. She quickly got involved and used her editing skills by volunteering to help with programming for the Victorian Promenade, created in the 1970s by the Friends to bring attention to the parks with a positive and festive event. Anne remembers The Victorian Promenades fondly: people dressed in period costume, a croquet game played in whites, and one year Henry Lee dressed in his great-grandfather’s military uniform! History was brought to life with the Promenades.
One of Anne’s favorite things about the three parks the Friends cares for is their deep and rich histories that few parks can claim. The Public Garden’s origins as the first public botanical garden in the country, and the efforts of Bostonians to ensure that it would remain a public garden, make it special. The Boston Common boasts centuries of history, but the Shaw/54th Regiment Memorial stands out. Anne says, “One can’t look at it [Shaw Memorial] without thinking of its historic impact.” The piece created by celebrated American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens commemorates the first regiment of African American soldiers who fought in the Civil War. The Commonwealth Avenue Mall is her backyard, an essential part of the Back Bay community. Another volunteer effort of Anne’s was creating cards for the Friends that featured historic etchings of the Mall. Anne has spent countless volunteer hours on behalf of the Friends and is a member of the Board of Directors. As a board member she loves working with a dedicated group of people sharing a common mission and finds the way it all comes together to be fascinating.
A sense of community is what inspired Anne to volunteer and to be committed to the preservation and enhancement of these parks. She wants everyone to know that anyone can be a part of this community that cares for the parks. She recalls one of her favorite memories that depict the passionate commitment of this group: elm trees were ailing, and back in the 1960s Ted Weeks, Dan Ahern, and Stella Trafford worked tirelessly to save them by injecting disease-fighting fungicide into the trees using bicycle pumps. These veteran park lovers mentored the present group of stewards who are now reaching out to educate future generations through events such as Duckling Day and Making History on the Common. For Anne, the preservation of these parks is essential for their “function beyond greenspace by fostering community filled with history that accumulates to a spiritual quality.”
During the month of August we will be finding out if our Friends and followers have an ear for music with a “Name that Tune Tuesday!” promotion.
How it works:
Visit our Facebook page on Tuesdays to watch a short video featuring the Berklee College of Music pianist of the week performing at Brewer Fountain Plaza. “Like” the post and message the Friends of the Public Garden Facebook with the title of the song. If you submit the right song by 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday, your name will be entered into a drawing for a Boston Common book. Please provide an email address to be contacted if your name is drawn, and please only suggest one song per week.
The winner will be informed no later than 5:00 p.m. the following day. The winner’s name and correct song title will be posted on Facebook.
Each week the contest winner will receive a book about the Boston Common, which provides a wealth of information about America’s first public park, including details on Brewer Fountain Plaza.
Please note that Facebook has no affiliation with this contest.
Summer has begun which means the outdoor work of the Friends sculpture care program is in swing. Mr. Hale (pictured) in the Public Garden is one of eight pieces conservators are caring for this year as part of the Friends Sculpture Care Program. Another 10 pieces of public art are in the process of being cleaned and maintained. This work is not only necessary, it is also newsworthy. The Boston Globe recently ran a piece about the behind-the-scenes efforts involved in caring for these historic works of art in the article, “They get the gunk off Boston’s outdoor treasures.”
Love for our special historic parks inspires many to become members of the Friends of the Public Garden. It was certainly a driving force that prompted Sherley Gardner-Smith, a passionate Master Gardener and lover of nature, to become actively involved in our organization more than ten years ago. For Sherley, however, the other driving force that led to her involvement was a little closer to home. Her husband Fred has been involved with the Friends for many years, and was the first person to introduce her to our work and us.
Anyone who knows Sherley knows of her boundless energy. Happily, we are the beneficiaries of that energy through a number of Friends initiatives that she has become involved with. She has a keen interest in plantings in the parks and is a past member of our Horticulture Committee. In 2014, she became a member of our Communications and Outreach Committee. In that role she volunteered to test a natural science curriculum designed for use in the Public Garden with several local school groups. Children were able to observe natural occurrences and use them as the basis of scientific discovery. It may come as no surprise that this former teacher was attracted to a project that helps students find a new and deeper appreciation for a Garden she loves so much.
Her advocacy for learning continues in what may prove to be her most significant undertaking yet on behalf of the Friends, as co-leader of the newly launched Public Garden Tour Program. Sherley, along with Sidney Kenyon, is overseeing more than a dozen docent volunteers who lead tours of the Public Garden. The pair have spent hours coordinating trainings and implementing the program with the assistance of Friends staff.
We asked Sherley what our parks mean to her, and she said, “Enclosed in the sanctuary of the Public Garden, under the canopy of the magnificent trees, surrounded by the vibrancy of the flower beds, one can contemplate nature with solitary reverence or share in the beauty with fellow citizens.”
We thank Sherley for her many volunteer hours and for taking an active role in sharing her love for our parks with others.