Winthrop Square Shadows and Impacts on the Parks

Sunlight-Sensitive Park Resources and Shadow Impacts

  1. Sunlight-sensitive park resources are those resources which are dependent on sunlight to maintain the overall usability and/or health of a park space, whether it be for human activity or horticultural needs.
  1. As the city develops, the extent and duration of shadows cast increases. Direct sunlight exposure becomes all the more important as a resource for people and nature, particularly in the city’s central greenspaces, the Boston Common and Public Garden, which are used by millions of people each year as places to relax, gather with the community, walk to work, and recreate.
  1. In considering the impact of shadows on these parks, it is necessary to assess how they affect the growth cycle and sustainability of the parks’ natural features, as well as the comfort and enjoyment of their users.
  1. The issue of human use and comfort is particularly important during the cold winter months when there is less available sunlight, especially during morning and afternoon commuting hours, when thousands of people pass through these parks daily. Human-related sunlight-sensitive resources during the warm months include use of the wading pool at the Frog Pond in the Common and the lagoon and Swan Boats in the Garden.

Horticulture and Shadow Impacts

  1. Trees and turf need 4 – 6 hours of direct sunlight.
  1. Less sunlight = less photosynthesis = less energy for trees and turf to grow
  1. Full day and yearlong analysis of cumulative shadows show that the Common and Garden are under significant shadow pressure
  1. The Tremont and Boylston edges of the parks in particular experience significant shadow pressure
  1. When trees and turf are in the shadows of buildings, soil surface temperatures may not reach normal levels.
  1. A lag time in warmth, and a shaded condition that can keep soil wetter, favor disease development. This is a contributing factor in the root rot some trees have suffered in the Garden, and the decline and removal of trees in the Tremont/Boylston corner of the Common
  1. Shade impacts the success of seed growth, with colder soil temperatures slowing and shortening their growing period.
  1. Grass is less tolerant of shade than trees. It is easy to grow grass, and easy to kill grass.

Meet the Trees: The Beeches

Beech

In midwinter it is not uncommon to have intermittent mild days that tantalize us with reminders of spring. Walking through a park on a warm February day, we might even look to the trees for some confirmation that spring is around the corner—a swelling bud or hint of green, perhaps? Alas, all we’ll note are markers not of the season to come but of the season past: some branches retain from the fall a few straggling, brown leaves. In Boston parks, the only trees that do this are beeches and oaks—both in the same family: the Fagaceae. The botanical word for leaves that remain on trees well into or through the winter is marcescent (from the Latin marcere, meaning enfeebled or withered). Such papery leaves hold fast until the wind rips them free, or until the emerging bud of the spring leaf pushes them off. Scientists speculate that the abscission layer, which forms in most deciduous trees to cut leaves off in the fall, is delayed for some of the leaves of beeches, resulting in a characteristically half-dressed look. In the wild, American Beeches (Fagus grandifolia) form mature forest in parts of central New England alongside Sugar Maples (Acer saccharum). These forests are strikingly beautiful as the Beech often reproduces vegetatively, through sprouts from roots or from rooted branches. This can result in a mother tree surrounded by her offspring in a circle, or, if she is dead, a perfect circle of beech trees of uniform age—a fairy circle in the forest.

All but one of the beeches in our Parks, however, are cultivars of European Beech (Fagus sylvatica). There are some striking horticultural forms represented in the collection, including the Pendula cultivar, with weeping, sweeping limbs; the Rotundifolia, with dark blackish-green leaves and a beautiful, round canopy, and the Asplenifolia, or fern-leafed variety, with lacy cut leaf margins: and the Spaethiana,which holds its deep purple color longer and emerges in the spring with a rich burgundy color. It is fitting that the sole American Beech in our parks is found on the Boston Common, just north of the Frog Pond, as one looks toward Beacon Street.

The Friends of the Public Garden cares for 14 Beech trees in the Garden, some of which date back to the original plantings during the 1870s. These older specimens are special both because of their age and size, but also their placement—three of the oldest are near the Bagheera and Triton’s Baby’s fountains near the mid-block Charles Street crossing. One venerable specimen reaches out over the pathway and over the Bagheera fountain, with a large branch that has rooted in the bed beyond and is cabled to its multi-stemmed main trunk. This tree, which may be over 150 years old, is in its decline, but the Friends work seeks to prolong its lifespan. To do so, we may need to reduce the weight of the wood in the crown, since it has significant interior rot and is vulnerable to wind damage because of its weakened wood. Click here to learn more about load reduction pruning in the Public Garden, Boston Common, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

One striking feature of ornamental Beech trees is their bark, which is characteristically smooth and light grey, like an elephant’s skin. Their beautiful bark is unfortunately threatened by two major concerns: vandalism by humans, and a suite of fungal diseases. The Friends of the Public Garden works tirelessly on both of these issues. Together with the Parks Department of the City of Boston, the Friends strives to maintain these parks at the highest level of excellence, to inspire the public to love and respect these important public resources (and refrain from vandalizing them!) And most significantly, the Friends hires hard-working professionals who use the latest scientific practices of Integrated Pest Management to treat the beeches for fungal bark diseases, such as the phythoptera canker and nectria.

Across from the Hampshire House and Cheers, one finds a grove of Beech trees, planted in the 1980’s by two significant early Friends of the Public Garden, Polly Wakefield and Westy Lovejoy. Both woman were long-term members of the Board and Horticulture Committee. This cluster of trees, a testament to these two volunteers’ many years of service, is thriving thanks to the careful pruning, disease management, and judicious fertilizing the Friends has provided over the decades. I like to imagine that in 150 years a new generation of park lovers will look up at the marcescent leaves and wonder when spring will ever arrive.

FOPG_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.

 

Photos by Claire Corcoran

2015 Members Reception Celebrates Trees and Friends Who Support Them

Thanks to all who joined us for the Friends of the Public Garden 2015 Members Reception at the Four Seasons Hotel! It was a night to celebrate trees and our Friends who support them.

Roughly 200 turned out to learn how they are helping 1,700 trees in the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall. The presentation, Digging In: Beyond the Roots of Urban Tree Care, was led by Lyn Paget, Swan Boats owner and Friends Council co-chair. Panelists Margaret Porkorny, longtime greenspace advocate and Friends Board Member; and Friends Project Manager Bob Mulcahy explained the trials and tribulations these trees face while living in the heart of Boston, and how the Friends efforts continue to help them persevere in a stressful city environment.

Friends of the Public Garden 2015 Members Reception
Margaret Porkorny holds up a beetle trap used to capture and track the elm bark beetle, a carrier of Dutch elm disease. She asks the audience to guess how many are on the trap. Comment on this post if you would like to take a guess.

Guests were invited to mingle over drinks and hors d’oeuvres following the presentation. Our special thanks to the Motor Mart Garage, our lead sponsor for this event.

Friends Members Reception is Digging in Beyond Roots of Tree Care

Public Garden_2015_Members Reception_Elizabeth Jordan

Digging In: Beyond the Roots of Urban Tree Care

Join us for a behind-the-scenes exploration into our 45-year efforts to help the trees of the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall persevere in the stressful environment of an urban park. Attendees will learn how these trees show us when they are in trouble and what methods are being used to care for them. Find out what a dramatic difference your support makes to the health of our park trees.

Moderator: Council co-chair & Swan Boats owner Lyn Paget

Panelists: Friends Board member & greenspace advocate Margaret Pokorny and Friends Project Manager Bob Mulcahy

Wednesday, October 7, 2015   6:30 p.m.
Four Seasons Hotel, 200 Boylston Street

Visit our online art auction page for this event to view objects made from Boston Common elm wood.

Event is free for members. Please RSVP by Friday, October 1 at info@friendsofthepublicgarden.org or call 617-723-8144.
Your membership can be renewed at this event.

Reception to follow program

Thank you to the Motor Mart Garage, our generous Lead Sponsor for this reception.

Motor Mart Garage

Friends of the Public Garden Launches Tour Program

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Bobby Moore (third from right) hosted a tour of the Public Garden for volunteer docents. (Photo: Caroline Phillips-Licari)

More than a dozen people have recently taken a very special interest in the Public Garden and have been studying this iconic greenspace for hours on end. What they are learning about America’s first public botanical garden is not for a class or research for a book. This studious bunch is the inaugural group of volunteer docents of the Friends of the Public Garden that will be serving as guides for a new tour program.

Walking a route that encompasses the northern half of the Garden, tour participants will gain a deeper understanding of the Garden’s special place in the history of Boston and the country. Hour-long tours will include interesting facts and anecdotes about history, horticulture, and sculpture. Casual visitors of the area are likely to find a new appreciation of its significance and neighbors who use it frequently are likely to discover at least a thing or two that might surprise them.

Docents have spent many volunteer hours learning about the Garden and working to craft their tours. In February, their training began with a Friends-sponsored lecture, Searching for the Histories of the Boston Public Garden by Boston University Professor Keith Morgan, held at Suffolk University. Friends President Emeritus Henry Lee gave a talk at the Friends office that traced the Garden’s history as well as the founding of the organization and highlights from its 45 year work in caring for the Garden in partnership with the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. Additional information sessions included trees and plantings by Friends Project Manager Bob Mulcahy; the history of the Swan Boats by fourth generation owner Lyn Paget; and the Garden’s sculpture including the Friends sculpture care program by Friends Collections Care Manager Sarah Hutt.

(Photo: Caroline Phillips-Licari)
(Photo: Caroline Phillips-Licari)

The group also attended two special training sessions. The first (pictured above) took place at the City’s greenhouses, where the City’s Superintendent of Horticulture, Anthony Hennessy and his team hosted the group. On an unseasonably cold day in March, docents were delighted to shed their coats in the 80-degree warmth of the greenhouses to learn about the plantings that would be in the Garden, and throughout the city, in the weeks to follow.

Volunteers were visibly enthralled as Anthony announced, “Right now, there are 35,000 tulips waiting to burst into bloom once the snow melts; most beds have 500 tulips, but the “footbeds” surrounding George Washington have 3500-4000 tulips in them.”

The second session was a guided tour of the Public Garden by Bobby Moore, longtime member of the Friends board and chair of the Public Garden Committee, who also owned a tour company and is an experienced guide. She recalled the years when she would take her toddler-aged children for walks through the Garden, a short stroll from her Beacon Hill home. Moore’s deep love of the Garden was palpable as she shared stories of the poor condition of the Garden in the1970s. Moore told the docents about broken fences and large amounts of litter, and of the important work of the Friends through the years to improve the Garden to where it is today.

Sidney Kenyon of Beacon Hill and Sherley Smith of the Back Bay are champions of the new docent program. They are committed volunteers with a deep love of the Public Garden. In their leadership roles, they are coordinating this inaugural class of volunteer docents that will be guiding groups throughout the summer in teams of two. The guides are eager to share what they have learned with others interested in gaining a deeper knowledge and appreciation of Boston’s special and most iconic greenspace, the Public Garden.

Register for a tour today.

A Holiday Message from Our Historic Greenspaces

Photo: Brewer Fountain by Elizabeth Jordan

If the trees could speak to you, which we have been told happens on occasion, or sculptures could share what they see from their unique vantage points, what would they say? They would be thanking you for the gifts you have given to our greenspaces this year.

We don’t think the trees, turf, sculpture and many special spaces within the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall would mind if we thanked you on their behalf. Speaking on their behalf is part of our mission after all, a mission we are so grateful you share with us.

Thank you for caring for these treasured places. We know that you love them – you show it through your volunteerism, advocacy, stewardship, and financial support – and they love you for it. How do we know? A tree told us.

This holiday season, dear Friends, we wish you and yours joy and peace. We look forward to working together with you in 2015 to continue maintaining and enhancing these irreplaceable gems in our midst.

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

tree_pruning_Dec_enews

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.