Rabbit Proofing the Kelleher Rose Garden

By Beth Treffeisen

Hidden behind a lush green yew hedge, the James P. Kelleher Rose Garden is Boston’s very own secret garden. During the warm summer months the garden blooms with over a thousand roses, making it a destination not only for Bostonians and from visitors from across the world.

But one cute and fluffy animal is threatening the livelihood of the rose garden – bunnies. Although these adorable creatures can be found throughout the Emerald Necklace, there is one place that gardeners do not welcome their grubby paws and that is within the Kelleher Rose Garden.

In order to help protect the roses from being eaten by rabbits the Boston Parks and Recreation has committed $170,000 from the 2018 City of Boston Capital budget to upgrade and rabbit-proof the garden, which is located in the Back Bay Fens.

“There are a lot of roses lost and we are spending a lot of money on rose replacement,” said Karen Mauney-Brodek the executive director of the Emerald Necklace. “I know this is going to be a welcome change.”

Currently, a patchwork of fences from chain link fences to chicken wire now lines the garden, making it unsightly.

“The things have become damaged and people have put more to thwart the rabbits. There can be up to four in one spot,” said Kyle Zick the landscape architect. “After discovering this we thought how could we make the garden rabbit tight?”

Rabbits can squeeze themselves into holes as small as one inch but baby rabbits can fit into holes even smaller than an inch.

The project team is proposing a chain link black ballast fence that has one-inch holes that will surround the garden. Beneath the fence a concrete slab will be dug into the ground to prevent animals from digging underneath to get in.

A new yew hedge will be planted in front of the fence with a goal of eventually hiding the fence once it grows tall enough. The yew hedge will grow to be four feet high and then maintained to stay at that height. Zick believes it will take about eight years to grow to that height.

Until then, Margaret Dyson the director of Historic Parks, Boston Parks and Recreation proposed planting climbing roses to help cover up the fence from within the garden.

To make sure rabbits really don’t get in, Zick even has plans to rabbit-proof the gate. He is proposing having a mesh gate with a sweep to close the gap between the gate and the ground. They will also put wooden leafs to close up the holes in the door.


“I don’t think we will ever get to a situation where there will be no damage,” said Dyson. “It is so pervious now it is hard to know what the garden will do when it’s protected.”

Mauney-Brodek chimed in and said, “Right now it is the perfect home for a rabbit.”

In order to ensure the safety of the garden, there will be no construction happening within it. All of the work will be done from the parameter in dedicated spots. There are crab apple trees in the surrounding area that are struggling.

“The crab apple trees have a good amount of rot and I’ve seen good sized limbs pulled off,” said Nathan Frazee the project manager from the Boston Parks Department. “There will be certain groups and areas the construction workers can go; they won’t have free reign to go everywhere.”

The public bidding process will begin this winter with construction expected to start in early spring 2018. They anticipate reopening the park late spring 2018 and hope to have it ready by the annual Mayor’s Rose Garden Party that happens in June.

Frazee said they are a little over budget but don’t think it will be a problem reserving the funds to make this project happen. He said originally it was budgeted just for aesthetic repairs and general maintenance of the garden but after they learned about the rabbit problem they wanted to include a fix to that too.

The Kelleher Rose Garden dates back to the early 1900s and used to be home to wetlands. It was transformed as part of the Emerald Necklace when Frederick Olmsted designed what was once foul tidal marsh into a clean, scenic estuary. In 1910 the damming of the Charles River blocked the tidal flow changing the landscape. In 1931, Arthur Shurcliff a landscape architect designed a circular formal rose garden opposite of the Museum of Fine Arts where the general public as well as rose enthusiasts could learn about rose culture and enjoy the flowers. The garden was a success and expanded in 1932 with a rectangular section.

In 1975, the garden was named the James P. Kelleher Rose Garden to honor the Boston Parks and Recreation Department’s Superintendent of Horticulture.  In the early 2000s the garden was going into decline and an effort between the Boston Parks Department and the Emerald Necklace Conservancy worked to restore the garden back to its historical character. Now, this work will make sure to continue to save the hard work that gardeners do each year to make this garden come to life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.