The Public Garden: A Botanical Oasis Giving “Lungs” to Boston

Learn About Two Historical and Eco-friendly Attractions Located in the Heart of Boston

In an urban environment, when walking to work, school, or to pick up groceries many people stroll through green spaces, because of the beauty and nature-like feel it brings to city life.

Green spaces are popular gathering places especially in Boston like the historic Public Garden located in the heart of the city.

“People go out of their way to walk through green spaces to get places, simply because they are green spaces,” Liza Meyer, project manager of historic parks in Boston said.

The Public Garden is a popular green space and one can always find people gathering to take pictures, having a cup of coffee or reading a good book. In addition, the garden is also known as a popular tourist destination.

“I think the Public Garden is a wonderful place in Boston,” John Lynch, a visitor to the garden said. “It is a great spot where the city slows down and people can really enjoy this special place.”

The Public Garden is just one of many green spaces throughout the city and not only is it known for its history, but also its benefit to the environment.

It is not something to take lightly, just because it’s been around for so long, said Liz Vizza, executive director of the Friends of the Public Garden said.  She added that it is important to have such a green space as people need an oasis.

First established in 1837, the Public Garden stretches for 24 acres and is known as the first public botanical garden in the United States, bringing life and color to the city.

If Boston did not have green spaces,” Vizza said, “the city would be an impoverished place, unlivable and a sad state.”

Green spaces also add a new form of architecture to the city, rather than the traditional concrete.

“Without these green spaces it would be more of a concrete city rather than a community of neighborhoods and balance,” Lynch said. “These spaces really break up the urban environment and put some of the human need for nature into the city.”

The Public Garden provides more than culture and beauty, but helps prevent diseases, improves health and gives people breathing room, Vizza said. “The garden can be home and it is important to have lungs in the city.”

To keep the Public Garden beautiful and up to people’s standards, intensive maintenance is required. Sometimes, keeping the garden beautiful and maintained can go against the greenness of the garden.

“There is a combination of what it provides that’s really positive and what it takes to make it the type of environment that it is,” Meyer said. “The Public Garden comes with a very high maintenance cost.”

Meyer discussed how even though gardens benefit the environment, green spaces like the Public Garden give and take away from the environment.

Maintaining the lawns is rigorous and has potential environmental effects such as the use of gas to power lawn mowers and the use of fertilizer chemicals, Meyer said.

Among the Public Garden’s main attractions are its flower beds, which take a high maintenance toll.

“The flower displays and what people expect requires very intensive maintenance and if people lower their expectations then it could change, but I don’t think we should take drastic steps to lower the maintenance, as it will come as a cost to the park,” Meyer said.

Meyer noted the Boston Parks and Recreation Department takes steps to make sure they use the most sustainable practices. For example, only the best irrigation system is used so to ensure no over-watering and the grass stays green.

“We are very careful in what we recommend in fertilizing, making sure we are testing the soil and not putting anything in it that’s not needed,” Meyer said.

The Public Garden also has many other green elements, like the well-known Swan Boats.

First started in 1877 by the Paget family, the business is now run by Lyn Paget, the fourth generation to manage the boats.

Besides being unique, the boats also contribute to the garden’s greenness. Each boat is run by pedal power leaving no carbon footprint. The boats sit on two pontoons that are 30 feet long and sits up to 20 passengers on six benches.

“In any other environment they probably wouldn’t be as unique or magical in the way that people find them to be, but the garden is such a picturesque place to take the ride,” Paget said.

Riding on a Swan Boat provides a relaxing and peaceful experience, where people can enjoy nature.

“Part of this experience is there are times when you are on the boat and you don’t see a single building, because of the trees, island and bridge,” Paget said. “As a child, you have a different vantage point and you really come into an oasis.”

The garden is not just for adults to enjoy, but also children. It becomes a play area and a way for them to escape the city atmosphere.

“It is also good for children to enjoy the open space with cleaner air and ability to run around and explore,” Lynch said.

It is a one-of-a-kind environment, which is hard to find in the historic city of Boston, and, as Meyer said, “there is nothing else like the garden and given its age is has been a hallmark of the city park system and is essential to receive the degree of its attention or we would lose its character and its spectacular.”

“It is filled with history and makes you feel that you are part of the old charm of Boston,” Lynch said. “You see people just cutting through, people sitting and relaxing and tourists enjoying the park.”

The Public Garden is a place anyone can escape to and free their minds.

“I think these spaces can be a nice destination to relax and escape from the urban environment,” Lynch said. Green spaces can be relaxing, even just for a few hours to take the time and read a book, he noted. As Meyer said, “[Without green spaces] Boston would be infinitely less livable.”

~Allyson Koerner