Book Reviews, Boston/Cambridge, Gardens, New England Gardens

Book Review: Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill: Creating Green Spaces in Urban Places

July 14, 2013

book-cover

Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill: Creating Green Spaces in Urban Places written and published by the Beacon Hill Garden Club with photography by Peter Vanderwarker and Thomas Lingner/The Able Lens (2013)

On the third Thursday in May members of Boston’s Beacon Hill Garden Club welcome garden enthusiasts to their neighborhood to attend one of the city’s most popular horticultural events, the Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill tour. The first tour, held in May of 1929, included eleven “backyard gardens” and successfully raised more than one thousand dollars for civic initiatives. Eighty-five years later the tradition continues offering a unique opportunity to visit intimate private gardens otherwise concealed from public view while supporting environmental projects.

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Photo by Thomas Lingner

The hidden gardens of Beacon Hill are diminutive in scale, irregular in size and most often shaded. It is these challenges and limitations and the design elements that are used to ameliorate them that provide the framework for Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill: Creating Green Spaces in Urban Places, the fifth in a series of publications written collaboratively by members of the Beacon Hill Garden Club.

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Like the gardens themselves this is a small book full of surprises. At 88 pages in length the full-color hard bound volume features more than fifty gardens exquisitely photographed by Peter Vanderwarker and Thomas Lingner. Although they share common features the gardens vary in character through the use of thoughtful and creative design elements tailored to accentuate their individuality. These elements, around which the book is structured, include paving, wall treatments, changes in levels, gates, doors, ornaments, furniture, light, color and plant material. A list of plants that succeed in the gardens is provided.

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Photo by Thomas Lingner

Each chapter of Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill: Creating Green Spaces in Urban Places highlights a single design element. Introductory text and a series of photographs follow illustrating the use of that element in multiple gardens. This technique provides a new lens in which to view the gardens as an ensemble of individual spaces within the context of the larger Beacon Hill community. By focusing on design elements rather than individual gardens the book provides a useful template for solving problems in other highly constrained urban spaces.

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Photo by Thomas Lingner

The ability of gardens and landscape to foster community is further illuminated in an introductory chapter detailing the history of the Beacon Hill Garden Club as a civic and philanthropic organization. Committed to improving the urban environment through horticulture and education members of the Beacon Hill Garden Club are involved in a wide range of landscape projects and have designed and currently maintain four downtown Boston gardens. These include the Old North Church garden in the North End and the grounds of the Peter Faneuil House on Beacon Hill.

The net proceeds of Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill: Creating Green Spaces in Urban Places as well as the annual Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill garden tour are donated to local, state and national horticultural and conservation organizations with a focus on urban landscape within Boston and beyond. Since its formation the Beacon Hill Garden Club has donated more than one million dollars to such organizations providing support to important landscape projects and initiatives that include the renovation of the Brewer Fountain and Liberty Mall on the Boston Common and the replacement of willow trees on the Charles River Esplanade.

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The Brewer Fountain on Boston Common

The book concludes with a brief history of Beacon Hill, a neighborhood of 9,000 residents that is described as quirky, convenient, livable, neighborly and sustained by its gardens whose natural beauty provides quiet space “remote from the hustle and bustle of city life.” A street map of the neighborhood is included as well as a list of active club members with gardens featured in the book.

Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill: Creating Green Spaces in Urban Places is thoughtfully written, beautifully designed and expertly photographed. The book succeeds on multiple levels and is both a guide and visual record of the gardens of Beacon Hill as well as a resource for the creation of similar spaces in the urban environment.

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Photo by Thomas Lingner

To order a copy email the Beacon Hill Garden Club at info@beaconhillgardenclub.org. Please include “Book Order” in the subject line.

The review appeared in Leaflet A Massachusetts Horticultural Society Publication, July 2013.

Copyright © 2013 Patrice Todisco – All Rights Reserved 

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No Comments

  • Reply College Gardener July 17, 2013 at 2:25 pm

    I will have to have a look at that book – and tour those gardens next year!

    • Reply Patrice Todisco July 20, 2013 at 8:05 pm

      It’s always fun to attend the garden tour and there is also a luncheon. The book is lovely with lots of photos and insight into what makes these gardens so successful.

  • Reply Of Gardens July 18, 2013 at 1:57 am

    The Hidden Gardens of Beacon Hill is an even I look forward to every year. It is always a wonderful collection of gardens, and, just as described in the review, the limitations of the gardens create the wonder.

    • Reply Patrice Todisco July 20, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      Thanks for your comment. The BHGC does a great job and the book is a wonderful resource and guide to the gardens.

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