Vacation Cancelled? Take a Trip to the Public Garden Instead

The Boston Public Garden is known for being a place to relax, unwind, and enjoy nature, and this summer, be sure to stop and smell the hibiscus.

For more than 100 years, city gardeners have prided themselves on ornamental planting displays for people to enjoy on strolls through the park.

“Visiting the seasonal floral displays are more than a photo op—they are a civic tradition,” according to a 2019 article on the Friends of the Public Garden’s website.

“Exotic” plants like palm and banana trees were introduced to the Garden by William Doogue, who was in charge of the Public Garden from 1878 to 1906, the article states.

“Confident of his credentials, Doogue wanted nothing less than to make the Public Garden a show piece of the city,” it continued. Greenhouses and nurseries were built across the city to grow plants for the garden beds each year, as well as other parks in the city.

This tradition continues today, and not even COVID-19 could get in the way of Parks Department Greenhouse Manager Winfield Clarke’s eagerness to plant this year’s beds, making the Garden feel like a tropical getaway.

Walk into the Public Garden now, and you’ll be met with bright splashes of red, yellow, pink and purple, as well as palm trees that are replanted each year. Clarke explained to the Sun that the palm trees are planted in the summer, then removed in September and transported to a greenhouse, where they are kept dormant until the next year.                 

Clarke, who is from Barbados, said that he wanted to incorporate some of his roots into the plantings this year, and create a tropical feel right in the middle of Boston for those who may have had to cancel vacations due to COVID-19.

He said plants like cordyline, ficus, hibiscus, alocasia, and even a banana and a mango tree are some of the many plants f eatured in this year’s beds.

He said that some of the plants were grown in the greenhouse, harkening back to Doogue’s days, and others were specially ordered from a nursery. The whole garden, which has nearly 60 flower beds altogether, took about a month for his team to complete, Clarke added.

While the virus did not stop the planting from happening, it did change the way it had to be done. The planting team had to work in shifts due to the virus, with three to four people working six feet apart to get it done. Clarke also said that hand sanitizer was readily available for the team to use.

“We try to bring something different each year to the garden,” he said, but this year called for something extra special.

“I wanted to do something different because of COVID-19 going on,” he said of this year’s plantings. “It gives people a nice thing to look at since vacations are cancelled.” He said he tried to include lots of color in the garden to make people happy. “Take a walk, enjoy it,” he said.

“The horticultural beds in the Public Garden are spectacular this year,” Friends of the Public Garden’s Executive Director Liz Vizza said in a statement to the Sun. “Despite the challenges of Covid-19, Winfield Clarke’s designs and the greenhouse team’s installation are delighting visitors in a year when we all yearn for this kind of beauty more than ever. Many thanks for the creativity that went into these beautiful displays!”

Clarke said with this year’s garden all planted and ready to enjoy, he’s already thinking about what to do for next year. Again, he said the design would be “totally different,” and will feature some plants that have been growing in a greenhouse from seed this year.

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