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Where We Live by John Silveira and Richard Blunt. Photos and commentary from Oregon and New England.

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Archive for the ‘Olmsted Parks’ Category


Boston Public Garden–An annual family visit to Mrs Mallard and her Ducklings

Monday, January 28th, 2013

Public Garden – The Original Plan

This is a draft of the original  plan for development of the Boston Public Garden. With the exception of some minor changes made to the Duck Pond over the years, this original plan remains relatively unchanged. In the lower right hand corner of the of the picture is the Beacon street/Charles street gate Mrs Mallard and her ducklings are just a few yards inside this gate on the left.


In Colonial times the 24 acres of sculpture, fountains, elaborate flower beds, and notable trees known, world wide, as the Boston Public Garden, was a malodorous salt marsh, and sewage dumping ground known as Round Marsh. In 1837 the city of Boston leased this patch of uninviting ground to a  group headed by Horace Gray, a wealthy Boston business man, and avid gardener. Gray petitioned the City for permission to transform the site into a this country’s first botanical garden. The  petition quickly became a political football and was kicked back and forth between the Garden proprietors and the City Council for nearly 20 years. It is recorded that private investors and city politicians wanted to carve the land into house lots. In 1856 the state intervened and appointed a legislative commission to resolve the dispute. The Public Garden act, a bill that proposed the land be devoted, forever, to public use and no other building other than a city hall be erected on it, unless it would support the Garden’s  horticultural purpose.   Before the bill could become law it had to be ratified by the citizens of Boston. So, the Act was submitted to Boston voters on April 26, 1856, and was passed by a margin of sixty to one. This was a mandate from the citizens of Boston binding city government to maintain the Garden as a botanical park—forever.

The final design of the Garden was done by George Meacham, a local architect. His plan was the only landscape design submitted in a blind competition conducted by the city. As the winner, Meacham was paid 100 dollars for his effort.  The various paths and flower beds were laid out by James Slade (Boston City Engineer) and the city forester, John Galvin. They also erected statues, and fountains at selected locations around the gardens. The first was a statue of Edward Everett Hale, son of Nathan Hail, best known for his Civil War novel “Man Without a Country.” On July 3, 1869 a bronze equestrian statue of George Washington was unveiled. This was a proud event for the city. A poor boy from Charlestown had sculpted the statue, the Boston Masons had constructed and raised the granite base, and a Boston foundry had performed the bronze casting of this magnificent work. Today it is acknowledged one of the finest equestrian statues in America.

Photo visits for Public Garden and the Boston Common are on  my schedule for early spring.   Botanical gardens are best photographed in the spring and summer when their flower plantings and trees are in glorious bloom, and the sun is shining. This gray, overcast,  morning was not going to reward me with that kind of setting. This visit is the Blunt family yearly pilgrimage to spend some time with my wife’s family–Mrs Mallard and her eight ducklings. We do this every year in rain, snow, or national disaster. From here we also planned to visit a long time friend and Backwoods Home associate, Ollie Del Signore for lunch. Finally, we would return our son, Michael to Salem State University for his final semester before he graduates.

Fascination with Mrs Mallard began long before my wife and I met. On her third birthday, Tricia’s grandmother gave her a copy of Robert McCloskey’s popular children’s book, Make Way For Ducklings. Published in 1941, the book tells the story of a pair of Mallard ducks who raised a family on an island in the middle of a pond at the Public Garden. Like most Bostonians, the various parks the Emerald Necklace are among our favorite places to visit. The Public Garden with its famous Swan boats, and bronze statues of Mrs Mallard quickly became Tricia’s favorite, and remains so today. Our first visit to this popular exhibit was shortly after it was set in place, in 1987.

 As we approached the Garden, Tricia, spotted  a young family crossing the foot bridge that spans the pond were the Swan boats are kept.”Let’s park the car and follow them,” she said. “They may be going to visit Mrs Mallard also.” I parked the car, grabbed my camera. and off we went to visit this famous duck family.

The Foot Bridge

Designed by Boston architect William Preston, this bridge was originally designed and built as a suspension bridge. Completed in 1867, the bridge was considered somewhat overbuilt by many Bostonians. The often referred to as “the smallest suspension bridge in the world. As reinforcements and repairs were made over the years, the Foot Bridge was transformed, and is now technically a girder bridge. The remaining spider-web cables are decorations. When we got to this point, the young family were leaving the bridge and heading for the Swan Boat docking area to feed a small flock of ducks that winter over on the pond.


The Book

Tricia, was given a copy of this popular book, by her grandmother on her third birthday. Since then the book has become a must have for every child born into her family. The book pictured below was given to my daughter Sarah on her first birthday by my wife’s mother and father. Over the past 25 years, a hard copy of this book  has been given to all of her nieces, nephews, grand nieces and nephews, and our sons Jason and Michael. Not counting children born into other families, my last count was twenty copies.

IMG_1249 copy copy

The Lagoon (Duck Pond)

Lagoon is a modern name. Many Bostonians still call it “The Duck Pond.” The pond’s original design called for a fountain in the middle, on the Boylston St side, and a point projecting from the Charles Street side. Both have disappeared over the years. This artificial pond was completed in the summer of 1861. It is about 4 feet deep with a clay base covered with gravel. It is interesting to note that pond still retains a relationship with it’s tidal origins. The water level rises and falls slightly, but noticeably, with the tides. The pond is drained and refilled twice a year with water from the Boston municipal system.


Mrs Mallard and her most Devoted Admirers.

Created by renowned sculptor, Nancy Schon  and placed along the path between the Duck Pond and the Beacon-Charles gate, this group of duckling statues has been a continuing success, and a special attraction for children. In 1991, Barbara Bush gave a duplicate of this sculpture to Raisa Gorbachev as a part of the START treaty. Scenes like the one pictured below are a, year around, daily event at this exhibit.

Meet Colby and Cooper

The two, Mrs Mallard, admirers in this photo are Tricia’s grandnephews. The little guy hugging Mrs Mallard is Colby, the oldest They are the sons of Tricia’s niece, Jennifer. The boys and their mother have their own copies of Make Way For Ducklings.  If you look closely at the love on Colby’s face you will understand why our family tradition will live on for many years.

High Five Mom.

Colby and Cooper 495

Pictured below is the seven Mrs Mallard admirers that we followed into the Garden. This scene is repeated over and over every day, by many families with children . Often, it is difficult to tell who is having the most fun, the kids of the adults.

Mrs Mallard

After spending an hour playing with Mrs Mallard and her ducklings, these children convinced the parents to take them to the boat landing to feed some real ducks


Equestrian Bronze Of George Washington by Thomas Ball


Bronze of Edward Everett Hale by Bela Lyon Pratt 


The Bottom Line.

The plantings and the statuary, in the Boston Public Garden, evoke a Victorian heritage. But the outstanding character for this garden, and the other parks in the Emerald Necklace is “public.” Their public character is not merely in their accessibility, but in the extraordinary role that Bostonians and the residents of surrounding towns play in their protection and preservation.


Olmsted Park—From Malarial Swamp to Popular Green Space.

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

In 1880 the growing pollution in the brackish water of a winding tidal creek forming a natural boundary between Brookline and Boston, concerned the townspeople that lived in this area . In Brookline, a three man Park Board was elected to work with the Boston Park Commission and Fredrick Olmsted to develop a plan for improving conditions in this small stream called the Muddy River. Olmsted developed a plan for “The Sanitary Improvement of the Muddy River. The Brookline Commission led by Charles Sprague Sargent (first director of the Arnold Arboretum) worked for fifteen years to make Olmsted’s plan a reality. Olmsted’s plan called for changing the meandering line of the river to more regular course. Both banks of the river from Longwood avenue, on the Boston side of the Necklace, to Olmsted park, were planted with native trees and shrubs. Most of the Muddy river that flows through the park was reworked. The large malarial swamp at the northern end of the park was dredged, and a out flowing stream was dug from  an ancient kettle pond at the southern end of the park, allowing water to flow to the dredged area to create Leverett Pond. The swamp was now transformed into a linear park with three major ponds connected by a natural looking but man-made watercourse. The park also features six granite pedestrian bridges, and several attractive walkways and natural stone walls. All of this is embedded in 17 acres of dense woods configured to shelter the park from the busy city that surrounds it. Unfortunately,over the years this chain of waterways has become clogged with silt and invasive vegetation grew up along it’s banks and in shallow water. These conditions have caused flooding along the river from Olmsted Park in Brookline to it’s outlet into the Charles River in Boston. The Muddy River is currently undergoing a restoration project to improve flood control and water quality. This was started in the 1980s when the State appropriated about one million dollars for the restoration of Olmsted, the Muddy River, and other parks in the Necklace. With the support of then- Governor  Michael Dukakis the Emerald Necklace Plan was completed in 1989. This plan, which is still in progress, represents a road-map for the long-term restoration of this majestic park system.

Of special interest to those that frequent Olmsted Park was the restoration of the Babbling Brook section of the Muddy River, which flows inside the park from Willow Pond to Leverett Pond. Other improvements to the park include: the transformation of a parkway originally designed by Olmsted as carriage road  into a bicycle and pedestrian path, and the recreation of Allerton Overlook. This semi-circle walk descends into the park onto the bicycle and pedestrian walk and provides a scenic view of the banks and islands of Leverett Pond. Two influential and productive Town of Brookline park advocacy groups, the High Street Hill Association, and the Friends of Leverett Pond have been very active participants in the implementation of Master plan in Olmsted Park. For the past two decades these groups have held neighborhood celebrations, park clean-ups, and pruning workshops. They have also worked to increase awareness of issues of park stewardship.

I made two walking tours of this park in late September. The first walk was a pleasant experience on that  warm sunny day, but I wasn’t impressed with the basic simplicity of the park. I felt that it lacked the spender of  other parks that Olmsted designed.  I decided to visit the Olmsted National Historic site, which is in the same neighborhood. I wanted to learn more about what was Olmsted’s intention when he designed this park. I found what I was looking for in a report that he wrote on the design of Franklin Park. In this report he wrote: “The urban elegance generally desired in a small public or private pleasure ground is to be methodically guarded against. Turf, for example, is to be in most parts preferred as kept short by sheep, rather than lawn mowers; well known and long tried trees and bushes to rare ones; natives to exotics; humble field flowers to high bred marvels; plain green leaves to the blotched, spotted and fretted leaves for which, in decorative gardening, there is now a passion.”

Olmsted’s designed this park to create a countryside setting in middle of an urban setting.  In this park and others like it, he designed broad spaces of growing grass, broken groves of trees. Throughout the park a visitor experiences the reflection of foliage on bodies of water to produce an element of in intricacy. This effect was similar to parks on estates that Olmsted had visited  in England. He called this style of park design, pastoral.

My second tour was during Boston’s busy evening rush hour. Walking through this park, even during this hectic time of day, is an exercise in peaceful relaxation. The noise and confusion of city is left at the entrance. On my first tour, I was  preoccupied with looking for some sort of majestic grandure. As a result, I failed to recognize the familiar pastoral eloquence that made growing up in this area such a wonderful experience .

I entered the park at the north entrance near Brookline Village, and walked along the pedestrian path to Allerton Overlook.

Allerton Overlook

Behind this vista of trees is Leverett Pond. For most of the year this overlook offers a spectacular view of the pond and it’s islands.

This granite  foot bridge gives access to the park, over the river outlet from Willow Pond to Leverett Pond.

Two Views of Leverett Pond facing north toward Brookline Village.

Daisey Field

Originally, Olmsted designed this area as large meadow surrounded by woods. It has since been redesigned into playing fields to serve community groups for little league, soft ball, soccer and touch football.

Muddy River/Babbling Brook Area

The babble has been restored to this section of the river.

Wards Pond

Wards pond is an glacial “kettle hole” formed at the end of the last ice age. In this scenic , heavily wooded area I found a quite wilderness just yards form the busy rush hour traffic surrounding it.

Wards and Willow Pond Granite boot bridge

There several gravel walking paths in the park that invite the visitor to safely walk through heavily forested areas. The path that I took led me to this recently restored foot bride and back to the paved pedestrian path.

The park is open an well maintained during the winter months. The cold weather and the snow add very different but unique beauty to this place. I visit  the Boston/Brookline area several times during the holidays. During these visits, I will return to this and other parks in Necklace and share the experience with you.



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