Part science, part art: enhancing the Greenway’s horticultural collection

4, Feb, 2010 Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy

Ask any gardener and they will tell you, horticultural collections take time to get established. As living, breathing creations they require maintenance, study, and experimentation. Part science, part art, caring for the Greenway’s newly created horticultural collection is the challenge Tom Smarr (Greenway Superintendent of Horticulture) has gladly taken on with the help of his professional staff. The following 2010 horticultural update was excerpted from Tom’s public presentation to the Greenway Board of Directors and Greenway Leadership Council on Tuesday, February 2, 2010.

Routine maintenance and care with organic practices continues to be the primary job of the Conservancy horticulture staff. To keep up the lovely, manicured appearance of the 13.2 acre Greenway, we are constantly weeding, transplanting, deadheading, edging, and supplementing the soil with nutrients. In fact, soil fertility is the foundation of the parks’ success and one of our most important, though nearly invisible, tasks.

This spring we will begin supplementing our routine care with smaller projects and renovations that address bare spots and irrigation issues. Additionally, we will begin adding plants that extend four seasons of interest to each of the Greenway parks.  For instance some areas of the Greenway have great autumn and winter interest, but lack spring and summer blooms. We want to make it a park for all seasons and here’s where we’ll start:

North End Park (facing south, before highway ramp) showing bare spots and invasive plants

Just south of the North End Parks, a piece of land between the ramped walkway and the Rosa rugosa (rose shrubs) at the edge of the highway ramp has become disorganized with significant loss of plants, invasion of undesirable plants, and lack of structure. We will add plants with four-season appeal and more blooms to complement the gorgeous ash trees that show beautiful autumn color.

Wharf District Park facing south towards State Street. Future site of Harbor Islands Park Pavilion.

Construction of the Harbor Islands Park Pavilion is scheduled to begin in April in the area north of State Street and our staff will be busily transplanting the displaced plants to other spaces in the Wharf District Parks, filling in areas where other plants have failed such as the beds along the surface streets.

Bare site in the Wharf District Parks to receive displaced plants from Harbor Islands Park Pavilion construction.

Mothers’ Walk Wall in the Wharf District Park will be enhanced with colorful plantings.

Displaced plants and new native plants with texture and variety will be added in the Wharf District, concentrated along the  Mothers’ Walk Wall to add beauty, color and interest along this frequent rest stop for families playing in the Rings Fountain or visiting the New England Aquarium.

Fort Point Channel Park north (between Seaport Boulevard and Pearl Street) showing late summer foliage but little early-summer and winter interest.

In the Fort Point Channel Parks, we will be addressing some of the most significant bare spots on the Greenway that occur early summer and winter. For instance the beautiful display of spring daffodils ends by late May and we will supplement these wide swaths with late spring/early summer blooms that will provide continued color into the early fall displays.

Detail of spent daffodils in Fort Point Channel Park north (between Seaport Boulevard and Pearl Street).

In Dewey Square Park (between Summer and Congress Streets) we will continue the work we did last year in the beds lining the large lawn. Low, wet spots caused by compaction and soil issues can be found on many sections of the greenway, especially the Dewey Square/Fort Point Parks. In the case of the western bed, we remedied the situation by consolidating plants with proper spacing and added water-tolerant plants such as day lilies and lobelia (cardinal flower).

Before; detail of low wet spots on Dewey Square Park (western bed) taken winter 2008.

After; detail Dewey Square Park (western bed) after redistributing plants; taken May/June 2009.

To support the message of the seasonal Boston Public Farmers Market at Dewey Square, we will continue to add more plants that have a connection to food. Examples include ornamental, edible plants such as herbs, sunflowers, bee balm, lavender and coneflower.

Lavender grows on the eastern bed of Dewey Square Park.

Lastly, in Chinatown we will be replanting the triangle shaped beds. Poor soil, pedestrian trampling, and shade (yes, there is some shade in Chinatown!) create an inhospitable environment for the sun and moisture-loving irises originally planted there. We will pay close attention to the symbolic meaning of all new plants added to these beds so that they fit with the modern Chinese style of this neighborhood park.

Damaged bed in Chinatown Park showing failed irises.

Example of thriving iris planted with appropriate sunlight levels in Chinatown Park (photo by Kathleen Lynch, CRJA).

Our work will never be over and will continue to be a challenge for many years as we learn how plants respond to this extreme urban environment. Our horticultural staff receives great satisfaction from this challenge and takes pride in being stewards of the parks, our parks.