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By Paul V. Palange
Don’t you agree that it’s wonderful to live in New England?
The region is chock-full of places to see and things to do. The Ocean State is packed with cultural and recreational attractions, and our neighboring Bay State has an abundance of similar offerings. And all you really need to enjoy yourself is enough money to buy gasoline for your motor vehicle.
That point was driven home recently to my family when a close relative invited us up to Boston. After we arrived, he took us to an outstanding bakery in Brookline so we could fuel up to hike the grounds of The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, which is like an oasis located in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston. There is no admission charge to the 281-acre arboretum that is described on its website as “a living museum of plants.” How many plants? There are 15,000 plants, that’s right, 15,000 flowers, trees, shrubs and bushes. We didn’t see all of them, but we were glad we walked along a path lined with a variety of fragrant lilacs.
If you want to do more than enjoy the scenery, you can gather information from two types of display labels on or near the plants. There are trunk labels that provide common and scientific names, nativity and the botanical family to which the genus belongs, according to the website www.aboretum.harvard.edu. Also, there are stake labels in front of plants, providing nativity, common and scientific names. The website has more details about the labels and how to use the data to dig for additional knowledge.
You might want look at the website for information about guided and self-guided tours so you get the most out of your visit and also learn about events such as Lilac Sunday, which is held annually in May.
Besides the plants, there are locations where you can enjoy panoramic views of The Hub. We used paved paths to walk to the highest point and were rewarded with a sight consisting of hundreds of trees and plants that ended at the Boston skyline. I realize all of that fails the litmus test for even country fair excitement, but it was interesting to observe certain trees for the first time such as the ones with spike-like projections lining the trunks or the ones that have trunks that look like a bunch of vines. It’s kind of mindboggling that there are so many huge trees growing in the middle of Beantown along with rhododendrons growing out the cracks of rocks lining a cliff.
The arboretum, according to the website, was established in 1872, when the trustees of the will of James Arnold, a whaling merchant of New Bedford, transferred a portion of his estate to the president and fellows of Harvard. In the deed of trust between the trustees and the college, income from the legacy was to be used “for the establishment and support of an arboretum, to be known as the Arnold Arboretum, which shall contain, as far as practicable, all the trees [and] shrubs . . . either indigenous or exotic, which can be raised in the open air,” it’s stated on the website.
According to the website, Charles Sprague Sargent was appointed the first director of the arboretum in 1873, and he spent the following 54 years shaping the policies and programs of the facility, which has served as a model and benchmark for similar institutions in North America and beyond.
Much of Sargent’s success as director stemmed from his ability to raise the funds required to implement his plans coupled with a lease between the City of Boston and Harvard in 1882. According to the terms of the 1,000-year lease, the arboretum became part of the city park system, but control of the collections continued to reside with the staff of the facility. The city agreed to maintain the perimeter walls, gates and roadway system and provide police surveillance while the arboretum agreed to keep the grounds open to the public free of charge from sunrise to sunset every day of the year. As a result, the arboretum became part of the famous Emerald Necklace, the seven-mile-long network of parks and parkways that Frederick Law Olmsted laid out for the Boston Parks Department between 1878 and 1892.
The design of the arboretum grew out of Sargent’s close collaboration with Olmsted, who planned the path and roadway system and designated areas within the arboretum for specific groups of plants.
The arboretum continues to be open free of charge from sunrise to sunset every day of the year. The visitor’s center is in the Hunnewell Building at 125 Arborway and is open November through March from noon to 4 p.m. From April through October the center is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is closed Wednesdays. The visitor center is closed on holidays. The arboretum library is also located in the Hunnewell Building and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. It is closed on Sundays and holidays.
To drive to the arboretum, take Route 95 (Route 128) north to exit 15A, Boston/Providence Highway north. Follow through Dedham for 3.2 miles. At that point, the Boston/Providence Highway is also known as the VFW Parkway. After following that for 2.8 miles, you’ll reach a rotary. Go half way around rotary and take the second right to stay on the VFW Parkway. Go 0.6 miles and at the traffic light take a right at Centre Street. The driveway for the Weld Hill Research Building is about 500 feet from the intersection on the left. The main gate is located on Route 203 a few hundred yards south of its junction with the Jamaicaway. For details about taking public transportation to the facility, go to the website or Facebook page – Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University.
Remember, it’s always good to stop and smell the roses.