Frederick Law Olmsted, America’s master urban landscape architect, designed and oversaw the creation of the Emerald Necklace park system in Boston from the Fens to Franklin Park. The Fens, established in 1879, is the first and oldest of these parks. Walking through the Fenway Victory Gardens you see representations of the trees that Mr. Olmsted selected specifically for the Fens along the Muddy River including Silver Maple, Willow, White Pine and Oak. Take a tour of this beautiful collection within the garden perimeter.
A. Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
This Heritage tree along the Gardens’ main path is believed to be one of the oldest specimen trees within the Victory Gardens. Once joined by a partner willow (sadly felled by Hurricane Irene in August 2011), the tree is estimated to be anywhere between 50 and 75 years old – an advanced age for this relatively short-lived variety.
B. The Grove Collection
The trees that line this side path leading down to the Muddy River contain lovely varieties that reflect plantings popular during Mr. Olmsted’s time including Eastern Hornbeam, Hackberry, and a number of Oaks, as well as the towering Dawn Redwood and three European Euonymus.
C. Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides)
Planted in 2000, the stately Dawn Redwood sits along Row Z. A native of central China, it was once thought to be extinct until its rediscovery in 1943. The then-Director of the Arnold Arboretum funded a project to send seeds back to the U.S. for planting. In 1948 these seeds were distributed across the country to institutions and arboreta for planting. The Dawn Redwood is the shortest of others in the Metasequoia genus; yet it can grow to heights of 165 feet. The tree is deciduous, shedding needles in fall with fresh, new ones appearing in spring.
D. European Euonymus (Euonymus europaeus)
This tree is known as the European Spindle-Tree, so named for its hard wood once used to fashion spindles for spinning wool. The three trees in the Grove section are most likely species E. Hamiltonianus. These ethereal trees have many distinguishing features including pink seed flowers that cover the tree in early summer; a silver, boldly patterned bark; and a multi-stemmed trunk twisting into interesting shapes. In autumn, the leaves and seeds will turn bright orange and red before shedding.
E. American Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
First cultivated in the U.S. in 1636, this native, flexible wood was once used for barrel hoops and cabin flooring. Also known as nettle tree and beaver wood, it will grow to 40 to 60 feet at maturity, displaying gracefully arching branches and a rounded spreading crown. Its gray bark develops corky ridges and a warty texture. Insignificant, greenish flowers appear in spring (April–May) which give way to an abundant fruit crop of round, fleshy, berry-like drupes maturing to deep purple. Fruits are attractive to a variety of wildlife. Winter birds, especially the cedar waxwing, mockingbird and robin will consume the fruits and disperse the seeds. The tree also attracts many butterfly species including the mourning cloak, American snout, hackberry, and the tawny emperor.
F. The Meadow Collection
This is the main area where a number of significant Victory Garden events take place: our annual FensFest, Fenway Movie Night, and casual picnicking and gatherings. The Meadow provides a display of traditional Fens area trees including Black Tupelo, Eastern Hornbeam, white pine, and both Red and Silver Maple. If you’re fortunate to be visiting during June you’re sure to be intoxicated by the perfumed scent of the Linden trees in this area.
G. Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonica)
Garden folklore holds that former Victory Garden President, Richard D. Parker, planted these trees during his tenure. Katsura are native to Japan. Delicately leaved, the trees have magnificent form, providing ample shading. In the fall, the air is sweetened by the scent they emit – either cotton candy or burnt sugar (a continuing debate!)
H. The Cottonwoods (Populus deltoides)
Lined up along the Muddy River, the Cottonwood trees provide a dramatic framing of our seven acres. Well-suited to be grown along riverbanks and marshy areas, they are the fastest growing trees in North America. (A young tree can add 6 feet or more in height each year.) The trees can grow to well over 100 feet tall, sometimes reaching 190 feet in the East. They are also valued for their use as a windbreak. In spring, the female trees undergo extensive shedding of seeds that appear as cotton tufts.
I. Tamarisk (Tamarix ramosissima)
Located along Row X, this tree (also known as Salt Cedar) is unusual in that it features juniper-like foliage yet is neither an evergreen nor a conifer. The tree produces true flowers in early to mid-summer when its arching branches carry plumes of feathery pink, five-petaled blooms.