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Here’s a really good post from Claire Corcoran, who’s a Boston ecologist and member of the Friends of the Public Garden Board of Directors. I’ll be posting photos of the ancient Shaw Memorial elms (they date to colonial times, and are two of the very oldest trees on the Common) soon; in the meantime, Claire’s piece is an excellent read.

Friends of the Public Garden


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 Mall, and the Public Garden, 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…

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For the last two years, Toby Wolf and I have been working for the Friends of the Public Garden in Boston, developing and implementing plans to renovate the Boylston Street Border, a 10.5′ wide planting strip along Boston Public Garden’s perimeter, between Arlington and Charles Street. It has been an exciting project to shepherd along: we have improved drainage (one puddled area was so bad we called it The Marsh), transplanted mature trees and shrubs to improve their growing situations, added bench pads and benches so visitors can enjoy the garden from among the plants, and we have added in a wonderful array of small trees, ornamental shrubs, a few perennials, and quite a few spring bulbs and ephemerals. Our idea has been to work with the existing rhythm of the border plantings, and to augment it in a way that increases screening from the street while it adds a pleasing show to walkers both inside and outside The Garden. With a Pilot Planting done last year and Phase Two just completed, we have finished the border’s western half, and it looks great:

Boylston Street Border Pilot Area, Boston Public Garden, renovated in 2013 and blooming in Spring 2014.  First we had all trees and shrubs pruned, and then we transplanted broadleaf and needled evergreens, added benches, improved drainage, and augmented existing plantings with more evergreen and deciduous shrubs, hosta and astilbe, and thousands of spring bulbs and ephemerals.  Renovation will continue until the entire 840-foot long border has been rehabilitated.

Boylston Street Border Pilot Area, Boston Public Garden, renovated in 2013 and blooming in Spring 2014. First we had all trees and shrubs pruned, and then we transplanted broadleaf and needled evergreens, added benches, improved drainage, and augmented existing plantings with more evergreen and deciduous shrubs, hosta and astilbe, and thousands of spring bulbs and ephemerals. Renovation will continue until the entire 840-foot long border has been rehabilitated.

As I say, the project has been funded and made possible by the Friends of the Public Garden, who are a delight to work with.

And now I have a new, quite personal project with the Friends, and it’s a doozie: I’m going to be running the 2015 Boston Marathon as part of Team Friends! For the next five months I’ll be training and raising funds for the Friends and their work in Boston Public Garden, Boston Common, and on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. It’s going to be a great adventure; I have wanted to run a marathon — this marathon — since I was twelve, when I started running. I had to shelve that ambition when I had eye surgery at age 25. Twenty-nine years later (you do the math), this past June I began running again, and realized that my ambition hadn’t died. The Friends offered the opportunity, and I’m taking it. What could be better than to run, raise funds for a cause I truly believe in — the care and fostering of green urban parks in general, and the Public Garden and Boston Common in particular — and get to participate in one of international running’s most renowned events?

For the training period, I’ll be posting photos and notes on some of the parks’ holdings of trees and shrubs, as well as the stray hardscape feature as well. As is the way with any park or garden, life moves right along, and change happens from moment to moment, month to month; I’m looking forward to tracking some of that change in this blog.

If anyone reading this post would like to support my marathon efforts, the Friends and I would welcome any donations. The Friends have raised a high bar for my fundraising; I’m aiming to reach the $10,000 mark by January 1, 2015, so I can concentrate from then on in on training and the race itself. To read more about the marathon and Team Friends, and to make a donation, click on this link.  All donations are fully tax-deductible (great for year-end accounting!); any corporate donation over $1,000 will get a company logo weblink on the Friends’ website (great advertising!), and unless you want to, you won’t be put on any solicitation/mailing lists. I will be so grateful, and so will the Friends.

(Even if you choose not to donate now, please watch this site; you should see some cool examples of well-tended trees in the next few months.)

RS beech buds

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Word just came in today from Dan Tremblay of Broad Oak Tree & Shrub Care in New Hampshire about the death last week of Jeff Ott, a Portsmouth arborist who was dedicated to trees and the teaching of best arboricultural practices.  Jeff wanted landscapers, landscape architects, and contractors to know what it took to plant and tend a tree properly, and understood that he was in a position to teach them.  

Here is a link to his obituary:  http://www.jvwoodfuneralhome.com/sitemaker/sites/WOODFU3/obit.cgi?user=1340230Ott

All condolences and sympathy to his wife and family.

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ImageLearn when to hire a pro for your home landscape at Scott McPhee’s Elm Bank workshop.  Photo courtesy of Bert_M_B via Flickr.

In the shrub pruning class I teach at the New England Wild Flower Society some student always asks me about pruning trees.  Unless we’re talking about nipping up the end of a low-hanging branch, or working on a small ornamental tree, for the safety of both tree and owner I usually recommend hiring a professional arborist to do the work.  For those who have questions about when to know what’s easily and safely done by Joe or Sally Homeowner, and what ought to be taken care of by an arborist, Scott McPhee of Hartney Greymont will give a talk this coming Thursday, July 11, called Trees In the Home Landscape.

Scott will discuss the tasks can be easily and safely accomplished by a homeowner, the tasks that really require a pro, and how to tell the difference.  An expert Hartney crew will demonstrate on a standing tree some of the principles that Scott is discussing, and then will demonstrate the tree’s removal.  It should be an excellent talk.

Location: Elm Bank, the headquarters of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, in Wellesley, MA.

Date:  July 11, 2013

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It’s that time of year again!  This Friday is Arbor Day across America, and for Massachusetts arborists it’s the Arbor Day of Service.  Arbor Day of Service is a program developed by the Mass. Arborists Association several years ago.  For it, the MAA “partners with local tree wardens, community leaders, and civic organizations to identify worthy projects in need of professional tree care”.  Tree companies and individual arborists pick the project they want to participate in, and donate their time to plant, prune, and care for trees on the selected sites.  It’s a great program; various organizations which otherwise might not be able to carry out the needed work at one time benefit from the Arbor Day of Service blitz approach, and the arborists team with one another to give back to their communities.   Last year the arborists donated over $250,000 in services in that one day to the communities and organizations they chose.

To read more about Arbor Day itself, check out the Arbor Day Foundation website.  To find out more about the MAA’s Arbor Day of Service, take a look at the MAA website, which also has a signup sheet if you’re a member and haven’t yet put your name in to work on one of this year’s projects.

The two projects I’m most aware of this year are at Tower Hill Botanic Garden in Boylston, MA (worth visiting whether you’re there to do pruning or tree care or just to enjoy the site and gardens) and at Boston Common, one of the nation’s oldest common open spaces.


I suspect this Boston Common pruning took place some time before the MAA started the Arbor Day of Service.   Still, it’s good to see the tradition circle back to the Common…

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…and go back to school for a day.  If anyone in the Massachusetts woody-plants world has not seen the latest in tree- and shrub-planting techniques, here’s your chance:  on September 27, Rolf Briggs and Matt Foti will be giving a workshop entitled At The Root:  Air Tools Workshop at the New England Wild Flower Society’s Garden In The Woods.   Matt and Rolf will discuss and show the best techniques for planting trees and shrubs fresh from the nursery (air tools not necessary for this), as well as how to use air tools to trench under trees, decompact soil, and transplant trees.

I have my reasons to promote this workshop (and it’s next-day partner, At The Root: Understanding and Managing Healthy Soils), and they center on the fact that every planting season I find myself coaching laborers on how to deal with the root balls of plants that we’re planting on my job sites.  The boss, not knowing or having taught his laborers the proper planting techniques, usually has priced the work based on a quick  installation (dig the hole, stick the plant in, cover up the root ball, basket, and burlap), and the laborers, knowing only the quick and dirty method, look sideways at me as I show them what I want them to do.  The guys do the work the way I want it, but really, the process would go much more smoothly, and more landscapes would establish and grow in better, if everyone knew , priced, and carried out the work in what are considered the most plant-friendly ways.

Some of the most effective tools available to see what can be considered plant-friendly, and to work in soil crowded with roots, are pneumatic air tools.  I believe that Rolf and Matt will be transplanting a tree bare-root, using air, which will afford workshop attendees a chance to see what a tree’s roots really look like when the soil is blown away.  It’s an experience that can change how anyone working with plants understands how a plant grows and anchors itself, and for that alone this workshop is worth attending.

Watering in a newly planted tree-form Taxus from Weston Nurseries.

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If you’ve been interested in the issues on this blog, you might well want to look into another blog, this one written by four horticulture professors.  They’re each based somewhere different — Washington State, Virginia, Michigan, and Minnesota — and they write with humor and expertise about plants and plant issues.  The Garden Professors started posting in July 2009.  They talk about root-washing, propagation, nursery practices, soil contaminants, slugs, rubber mulch — you name it, they’re addressing it.  A recent post highlighted the air-tool transplant of a beautiful 10″ caliper weeping white pine by a Michigan State University Nursery Management class and the MSU arborist. — take a look for some good pix and clear, personable, often funny writing about a great range of up-to-the-minute plant issues.

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