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.

Meet the Trees: Mighty Oaks

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

Forget to read last month’s tree, the Dawn Redwood? Read it here!

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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.

Imagine Parks, Imagine Boston 2030

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

The future of Boston parks and public spaces is counting on your imagination!

The City of Boston is developing Boston 2030, its first citywide plan in 50 years. We are calling on all parks advocates to share your voices about the importance of parks for the City, and in particular ideas for protecting and enhancing the Boston Common, Public Garden, and Commonwealth Avenue Mall as the city grows. Boston 2030 is developing a vision and creating a roadmap to realize this vision in time to celebrate Boston’s 400th birthday in 2030.

How to participate?

SHARE your vision by answering a few questions at imagine.boston.gov.

  • This is your chance to let the City know that your life in 2030 will be better with great parks and public spaces!
  • If you have a big idea for our parks that will make Boston a better place to live in 2030, submit it!

ATTEND an Open House!

Boston 2030 Open House
Date: Monday, November 16
Time: 4:00 – 7:00 pm — drop in anytime
Location: Bruce C. Bolling Municipal Building
2300 Washington Street, Dudley Square

For more information on Imagine Boston 2030, please visit imagine.boston.gov and follow @ImagineBos on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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.”

Request for Online Art Auction Items

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The Friends of the Public Garden invites local artists to donate a piece of work for an online art auction fundraiser to be held from October 7-21, 2015. Included in this auction will be artwork made from a fallen Boston Common elm tree and other art objects (paintings, ceramics, etc.) donated by local artists.

Proceeds from this auction will support the work of the Friends of the Public Garden to protect and enhance the Boston Common, Public Garden and Commonwealth Avenue Mall.  Each year, the Friends ensures that the critical natural and structural features of the parks receive the vital care they need, including over 1,700 trees; more than 40 pieces of public art; and several newly restored turf areas. For more information about the work of the Friends, visit friendsofthepublicgarden.org

Each auction item will have its own page on the auction website, including information about the artist and links to the artist’s website or other online information (Facebook, etc.).

If you are interested in supporting these green spaces with a donation of an auction item, please contact Mary Halpin at the Friends of the Public Garden at mary@friendsofthepublicgarden.org or 857-239-8937.

The Auction Committee will review all proposed donations before accepting the item and reserve the right to decline a donation. The Friends is a 501c3 organization and all donations are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.

It’s Hot, Humid, and the Public Garden Tropical Plants Love it!

This summer has been hot and very humid, one might even say tropical.The tropical plants in the Public Garden fit right in this year!

IMG_2451 Tropical plants have been present in the Public Garden for most of its history. According to the book, the Public Garden Boston published by the Friends in 2000, they were first planted by William Doogue in the late 1800’s. The palms and other plantings were stored in the greenhouses and brought out to be placed in the Victorian-style garden. Doogue’s horticultural displays stayed true to the Victorian style, however not everyone loved the non-native species. Many considered it odd to have such plants in the Boston Public Garden. However, these plants appeared year after year to continue the tradition and to further educate people on plants from around the world. IMG_2442 Today, the tropical plants continue to educate and honor a tradition started by Doogue over a century ago. A new executive assistant in the parks department, Josh Altidor, has designed beds that attest and expand this practice. The Boston Globe recently featured Josh in a story about this year’s plantings. IMG_2444 IMG_2449 IMG_2447

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.