This June 17, discover the secret nooks and crannies of the South End as residents open their doors and unlock their fences for this year’s South End Garden Tour.
The tour is centered on gardens and green spaces in and around the Eight Streets, Union Park, Old Dover, and SoWa neighborhoods. It will feature a mix of public and private spaces including private back yards, front gardens, community gardens, and neighborhood ‘pocket parks.’
Artists will return to the gardens this year to paint and the tour will be followed by a reception and sale of their wet works.
To prepare for the upcoming tour, The Boston Sun talked to two gardeners to learn a little more about their secret gardens.
Pocket Garden in Eight Street’s District
Hidden behind a white painted fence, with birds chirping, is an 18th century lead statue that sticks out and Sedgwick the dog claims his turf amongst the black eyed Susans, rose Campion, and roses.
Inspired by gardens seen on country house tours, the owner, Brenton Simons who leads tours in the United Kingdom and Ireland for the New England Historic Genealogical Society., has transformed his small South End garden with the assistance of garden designer Larry Simpson. The garden covers less than 200 square feet.
Simons purchased his 1847 house around the corner from Ringgold Park in 2015 and soon got to work to transform the corner backyard garden.
“It was a dead space before and I wanted it to be a little refuge in the city,” said Simons. “It is a little bit of the country in the city.”
His goal was to create a little shade and privacy, which is achieved with a cluster of river birches. In addition he is a bird lover and is working on installing birdhouses to bring more bird life to the garden.
Apple tree espaliers fan a large wall-length trellis and the raised beds have some of his favorite perennials including Solomon’s seal, Jacob’s ladder, sweet woodruff, brunnera, violets, and forget-me-nots.
Vines in the garden include autumn blooming clematis, Jackmanii clematis, climbing roses, and American wisteria.
“It is still a very young garden so I’m still experimenting on what works and what doesn’t,” said Simons.
A 30-year on and off resident of the South End, Simons said that when he moved in here he wanted to make his garden a centerpiece of his apartment and has had his past gardens on the tour before.
“The first summer here I took out everything that was here,” said Simons. “It was not a pretty yard before… and after I moved in I wanted it to be a focal point.”
Back Garden around the corner from Union Park
Standing in the Asian themed back yard garden, one wouldn’t even know that it is situated right behind one of the busiest thoroughfares in the South End.
A quiet sanctuary filled with contemporary art, simple greens and a red decking makes the garden the perfect gathering space for friends of the owner Harriet Finkelstein.
“I used to have a dysfunctional garden,” said Finkelstein. “It’s a two level garden and I had a concrete cement wall that separated the upper level from the bottom level and there was one narrow stair that led up to the upper level and there was no incentive to go there.”
Then a few years ago she went on a garden tour and fell in love with one of the gardens.
“I really liked that garden,” said Finkelstein. “I love the simplicity of it and I was thinking about how dysfunctional my garden was and how I really wanted to have a garden that there was encouragement to use all parts of the garden.”
Finkelstein discovered this house in 2004 and noticed a statue of a Buddha in the outdoor space and she soon fell in love with the aesthetic of it. After failing to buy it from the owners, which she said is probably bad luck anyways, friends replaced it with her own Buddha.
The statue serves as the inspiration behind the Asian-inspired renovation, which was completed in 2010. From his perch, he overlooks an array of simple greens – Hayscented Fern, clumping bamboo, ivy, and the fading strap-like leaves of springtime daffodils.
A Kousa dogwood and a river birch remain from before the renovation and give the garden its cool shade.
“A lot of the gardens are very beautiful but they are high maintenance with weed pulling and I just want to sit outside and look at stuff,” said Finkelstein. “I don’t want to do anything.”
The red decking isn’t wood but material made from recycled plastic milk jugs. It’s durable and can be dyed any desired color.
Finkelstein is a collector of bold, contemporary art by self-taught artists, which explains the colorful wood, cut outs that cover the concrete block wall that hides the garden from the street level.
“When I did this garden I had this cinder block addition that was added at some point and I say ‘oh that’s pretty ugly’ and I said ‘It seems to me that could be a wall for art’,” said Finkelstein.
She used images from David Butler, an artist from Louisiana who had a yard full of art he created. Instead of having flowers he would use whatever he had available such as roofing tin pieces.
Finkelstein decided to take some of his images and blow them up and make the shapes out of wood. Together friends painted the images that are now hung on the cinder blocks.
To make the garden more serene, a small fountain bubbles up from beneath river rocks near the stairs that descend into her lower level of the apartment.
Since art is intertwined in Finkelstein’s life, almost every inch of her home is covered in artwork. If the weather permits, as in year’s past, she hopes to open her French doors into her home so that visitors can see a sampling of her collection.
“For me, I love coming out here, having my breakfast, sitting at the table with the chirping birds and my little Buddha and it’s like you wouldn’t know that you are behind a busy street,” said Finkelstein. “And then I can look in and see my art.”
Admission to the reception and sale is included in the tour admission. Tickets are $28 for members of The Trustees and $35 for nonmembers.
Visit www.thetrustees.org/segt for more information.