Hardy Hibiscus Bloom in August


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All this month you will see the large, showy flowers of Hibiscus throughout the Parks. One of my favorites is the New England native Hibiscus moscheutos. How cool is that – to have a native plant that looks like it belongs in a tropical jungle, or waving in a Hawaiian breeze.   The five petaled flowering Hibiscus moscheutos, commonly named Swamp Mallow or Common Rose Mallow, is a 3 to 5 foot tall, thick stemmed plant. Each flower has a prominent and showy, creamy white to pale yellow, central staminal column with both male and female flower parts. Hibiscus grow vigorously and robustly starting in mid-June, quickly sizing up and sending out its large leaves, and complex, galactic-looking flower buds.


Red Hibiscus moscheutos in the Rain Garden at Dewey Square

The flowers open and bloom for just one day, but because there are so many flowers, rarely a day goes by without a great show of color. We have a number of varieties of Hibiscus; a bright, cherry red selection of Hibiscus moscheutos in the Rain Garden in Dewey Square; the cultivated hybrids in the Fort Point Channel parks  including the popular Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’, with dark burnished leaves and a red glowing center; and the smaller, slightly more subtle species in the Wharf District Park. Near the “Harbor Fog” kinetic sculpture you can find the white Swamp Mallow paired with the tall, late blooming Ironweed. Vernonia  provides  a wonderful contrast to the Hibiscus.  The Vernonia  noveboracensis, or New York Ironweed, also a northeast native, is tall and lanky with a delicate array of purple blooms creating the perfect backdrop for the bold, husky Hibiscus.


Coolest looking Hibiscus flower buds


The wonderful Hibiscus ‘Kopper King” in The Fort Point Channel Parks

The roots of the Hibiscus are woody, fat and fleshy, storing lots of food for next year’s growth. These large roots allow the plant to overwinter in our cold climate, sustaining them through the long winters. These plants need moisture and are even happy in swamps and wetlands. This makes them a great choice for Rain Gardens, where they can withstand having ‘wet feet’ during heavy rains, and make a bold statement in late summer when other flowers are slowing down.

What’s in Bloom


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All About Allium

Every year around this time our Horticulturists encounter one question above all others: “What is THAT?” Of our most perennially popular plants, the genus Allium stands out as a public favorite in the Fort Point Channel Parks. We currently have nine unique varieties of these marvelous bulbs, all varying in size, shape, or color. After a hugely successful bulb planting last fall, we have been quite pleased to see some of these varieties in the parks for the first time, along with a number of other new bulb additions. You may notice a familiar savory smell if you happen past one of the broken stalks of these plants, commonly known as ‘Ornamental Onions’.

Within the genus Allium are not only the globe-shaped flowers that we have come to adore, but also many staples of our culinary tastes: onions, garlic, chives, leeks, scallions, and shallots. Most of our Allium bulbs have an inflorescence (or cluster of flowers) called an ‘umbel’, which is defined by a number of flower stalks of equal length emerging from a fixed point, which in this case is at the top of the stem or ‘scape’. This form gives these bulbs a dramatic architecture that is extremely unique in the landscape. Not only have we observed the value of our Allium varieties in terms of aesthetics, but they also have proved to be excellent attractors of pollinators! Here is a guide to our many Allium, see how many you can spot in the parks!

The Star of Persia (Allium christophii) has an open umbel, with many flower stalks comprising a very large and loosely-formed globe. These flowers are muted purple with a silvery sheen.

The Star of Persia (Allium christophii)

Allium ‘Firmament’ produces a dark silvery-purple flower with an almost flat bottom. This half-globe is about the size of a baseball atop a two foot tall scape.

Allium ‘Firmament’

Allium giganteum is one of the tallest ornamental onions, and has a similarly dense purple umbel as ‘Globemaster’ but is only half as large.

Allium giganteum

Allium ‘Globemaster’ is one of the most popular hybrids in cultivation. These don’t grow as tall as other Allium, but produce large dense lilac-purple flowers up to 10 inches in diameter.

Allium ‘Globemaster’

Black Garlic (Allium nigrum) produces a somewhat flat umbel of dense white flowers, and grows up to two and a half feet tall. This unique species not only attracts plant enthusiasts, but it also seems to be popular with Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies!

Black Garlic (Allium nigrum)

Allium schubertii is one of the most unique ornamental onions, with huge fireworks of flowers sitting on very short scapes. This bulb’s rosy star-shaped flowers are attached to stalks of unequal length, giving it a loose form with a very large diameter.

Allium schubertii

The Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum) is our earliest blooming Allium, and a bit different from the rest of its showy globe-flowered relatives. This understated bulb has drooping white flowers that sit atop a single scape.

The Three-cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum)

Allium ‘White Giant’ grows up to five feet tall and has white flowers in a globe approximately 6 inches in diameter. This stunning variety blooms in late spring and is unfortunately finished this season, so if you didn’t get a chance to catch it this year make sure to mark your calendars for next year.

Allium ‘White Giant’

The last ornamental onion of the bunch is the Drumstick Allium (Allium sphaerocephalon), which won’t bloom for another couple of weeks. This Allium has a small egg-shaped flower head that starts off green and changes to wine-red over time. We just observed its first bud break today!

Drumstick Allium (Allium sphaerocephalon)

Green & Grow: Installing the Dewey Raised Beds and Rain Garden


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Green & Grow Apprentice Sam described his preparedness for Dewey installation week: “All those learning sessions in the classroom, how to do this and how to do that, and where to put things, that all paid off when we went to Dewey.  We already knew what we were doing, all we had to do was just do it.”  With help from our partners, Youth Build Boston, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), we constructed and installed a rain garden and 10 raised planting beds in only four days.

On day one, Tuesday, April 16, we met the awesome folks of Youth Build Boston and they showed us how to measure, cut, and assemble the 4’’x4’’ pieces of lumber to create beautiful raised beds. The beds were fully assembled by Wednesday.

Carla, of Youth Build, showing Randi, of Green & Grow, how to measure the lumber

Noelia, a Green & Grow Apprentice, cutting the lumber after instruction from Youth Build Boston’s Josh

Thursday was all about moving soil!  Each raised bed received 3 cubic yards of rich organic soil; it took us about 20 wheel barrow loads to fill each bed.  We then switched tasks and excavated an area of about 12 cubic yards of soil for the rain garden.

Sam and Randi, filling the raised beds and Hughes behind them with another load!

It was a lot of hard work; so, when Friday came—and there was still some digging to do—the youth were happy to see that help had arrived!  EPA volunteers arrived in droves, very eager to help.  Youth Build and Green & Grow folks were excited to teach the EPA volunteers about the project and the work they had been doing all week.  In Francisco’s words, “It felt good to show people what we’ve learned over the months, and to share what you’ve struggled with.  It feels good because they are learning, and we’re learning as they learn—the people from the EPA were wonderful.”

Special thanks to the EPA for helping us to build the rain garden

After all the rain garden plants (such as: Veronicastrum, Rudbeckia, Iris, and Fothergilla that like lots of water) had been installed, we ate a delicious lunch donated by Bon Me and celebrated Earth Day to the sounds of the EPA band, the Hazardous Constituents.

Green & Grow even hosted a table at the event, sharing their knowledge of worm bins with the visiting families.  We found out very quickly that a big green bin with holes punched in the side attracts children of all ages and our visitors were excited to learn how easy it is to compost in their kitchen.  Excited children left parents saying, “I think I’ll try this at home!”

Noelia, showing off our classroom pets, the worms

Earth Day was a huge success, thanks to all of the help we received from our community partners and the dedication and hard work of the youth involved in the project.  In Green & Grow Manager Kent’s words, “Being around so many hard working, positive, young people and doing something that is beneficial to the community, and cross-beneficial to the groups involved,  is so energizing—it’s so important that youth recognize their potential to have a positive impact on their community and the environment; and, I think we’ve demonstrated how capable young people are with this project.”

Green & Grow and the Dewey Demonstration Gardens Project


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In the words of Green & Grow Apprentice Randi “I feel really good about being involved in the Dewey project.  It’s nice to know that my suggestions will actually be used and that people are going to benefit from our work.”  Randi is referring to the nearly completed Dewey Demonstration Gardens Project. The gardens will serve as a dedicated learning and gathering space for visitors and the space will be used to share knowledge about sustainable urban gardening practices.

The Apprentices were first introduced to their roles in the Dewey project in December 2011.  Conservancy staff outlined the vision and the Apprentices set off to make it happen.

Before installing a single plant—we had to learn about the space with which we were working.  Looking across the bare earth of the western bed, we took measurements, made note of the pathway of the sun, how the surrounding buildings create shade, and studied how the wind moves through the garden.

The Apprentices taking measurements of the Dewey Garden. March ’12

Since our goals include demonstrating sustainable edible gardens, we visited the Boston Natural Area Network’s (BNAN) City Natives community garden space in Mattapan.  There we investigated different types of raised planting beds—special thanks to Erika for showing us the City Natives garden!

Erika, of BNAN, showing us their space in Mattapan. Feb ‘12

Another goal we have is to share information about at-home composting, so we investigated composting units at New England Grows Trade Show in February.  With a number of considerations in mind,  we investigated hundreds of composting systems online and met with horticulture staff frequently to get their expert opinions. (Photo Caption: Francisco, meeting with a salesperson at New England Grows Trade Show. Feb ’12)

Francisco, meeting with a salesperson at New England Grows Trade Show. Feb ’12

We finally decided on the units and are now inventing a plan for managing the three different products—you can learn more in this earlier post.

Choosing the plant materials was fun and insightful.  We learned about the effects of texture and color on garden patrons.  We worked closely with the Conservancy Horticulture staff to find and combine plants that both attract pollinating species and create human interest points.  Since visitors enjoyed the sunflowers that grew in the same space last year, we’re expanding the types that we are planting this year.  Look for Buttercream, Sunbright Supremes, Strawberry Blond, and Velvet Queens this summer.

Dewey Demonstration Gardens: Urban Composting Area


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As we mentioned in previous posts, the conservancy is developing a demonstration garden project at Dewey Square, with four components:

  1. Pollinator Garden
  2. Raised Edible Garden & Outdoor Classroom
  3. Rain Garden
  4. Urban Composting Area

Today’s topic is the urban composting area. To understand why we’re installing composting bins in the Dewey Demonstration Garden, we spoke with Jessica, one of our Green & Grow leaders.

Aerobin 400

Jessica, why composting? What does it do?

Composting is like recycling, only with organic ‘waste’.  We will take the organic debris we gather in Dewey Square and other Greenway locations and put the material in the compost bins in Dewey Square Park.  There, the naturally occurring bacteria and fungi break the materials down into rich organic compost.  The compost will be spread in the planting beds at in Dewey Square,  adding rich organic fertilizer to the soil.  Composting is a simple practice which dramatically reduces the need for landfill space (over 50%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA) Composting also reduces the production of methane gas from landfills when waste decomposes anaerobically (or, without air).  Composting uses air as tool to break down organic matter much quicker and with less odor.

 What are the composting bins that you’ll be using?

The three bins you will find in the urban composting area are:

  • the Joraform 270 (the silver/green tumbler),
  • the Aerobin 400 (the tall green stationary bin) and
  • the Earthmaker (the medium-sized black bin).

The Joraform 270 is a great solution for medium sized families with a small yard.  The Aerobin 400 was donated by Exaco and it’s a great solution for a large family with a backyard.  The Earthmaker was also donated by Exaco and it’s a great bin for a small family with a small yard.

JoraForm 270 Composter

What are the ingredients for good compost?

Good compost is made from whatever organic materials you have to compost!  Oxygen is the most important ingredient in compost—all those helpful organisms need air to breathe, which speeds the process and limits any odors.  The compost materials should be made up of a 60/40 mix of brown and green organic matter.  Brown matter, like leaves, paper and small branches give the compost volume and structure.  Green matter, like lawn clippings, weeds, and food scraps, give the compost nutrient value.  What is more important to know, however, is what NOT to put in compost.  Things that should never go into compost are meat, eggs, cheese, beans, fish, and anything oily or fatty.

How long does it take for finished compost?

That all depends on the temperature and the abundance of active biology inside the compost heap or bin.  It can take anywhere from 30 days to a couple of years to produce viable compost.  The more organisms munching away, the faster the compost can be created.  We hope to compare how fast each system works and we’ll keep you posted on our findings.


How much do you use for planting bed?  Can you put it on your lawn?

We’ll use whatever compost we make right in Dewey Square, or if there is extra we’ll use in other parks along the Greenway.  Compost makes a really great top dressing for garden beds and lawns.  We treat our beds with compost at least three times a year; before we plant, during the growing season and then again in the fall, after the show is over.  Compost is great because you know it’s safe for the people in the gardens and our neighbor, Boston Harbor, which can be negatively impacted by inorganic fertilizers.

What’s In Bloom

The Greenway, like many other parks and gardens, suffered a bit of disappointment after the chilling temperatures earlier this week. While fruit growers brace themselves against the possibility of devastating crop losses, ornamental horticulturists are lamenting the loss of Magnolia blooms, Crocus, and Cherry blossoms, among other flowers that eagerly opened with the premature warm spell. The Boston Globe ran an article earlier this week discussing our unusual winter and early spring, and some of the effects that have already been noticed.

Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata)
In the Urban Arboretum we observed the very first blooms opening on our beloved Star Magnolia (Magnolia stellata) late last week, but only two days ago the flowers were looking less than optimal.

Star Magnolia first blooms opening last week

Star Magnolia frost-damaged flowers

Narcissus ‘Monal’
Our bulbs have fared well after the temperature low. Our early spring Crocus are fading, but our Daffodils are still standing, and only a few varieties have begun to bloom. We are anticipating a lovely display in the coming days and weeks, especially through the Fort Point Channel Parks. ‘Monal’ is an early-blooming variety coming up along Purchase Street this week, with yellow flower petals and a vivid orange cup.

Narcissus ‘Monal’

Cherry Trees (Prunus x yedoensis)
Our Cherry trees have retained their blooms, though they are a bit dulled after the frost. Our Okame Cherry is nearing the end of its blooming cycle, but the Yoshino Cherry Trees (Prunus x yedoensis) were filled with flowers earlier this week in Chinatown. The Yoshino Cherries in the Fort Point Channel Parks are lovely to behold as well, though not as lush this year as they were last year.

Yoshino Cherry blossoms in Chinatown

Dewey Demonstration Gardens: Pollinator Garden


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As we mentioned in a previous post, the conservancy has embarked upon a project to develop a demonstration garden project at Dewey Square.  There are four parts to the project:

  1. Pollinator Garden
  2. Raised Edible Garden & Outdoor Classroom
  3. Rain Garden
  4. Urban Composting Area

Sunflowers at Dewey Square, Summer 2011

We’ll be exploring each of these project components in greater depth. To learn more about the four-season interest garden, we stopped by to talk with Darrah, part of the horticulture team at the conservancy.

Darrah, what’s the goal for the demonstration garden?

We want the garden to serve as a great example of a sustainable and beautiful urban space.  We have raised vegetable beds, pollinator plants to attract beneficial insects, native plants of the Northeast USA, unusual edible plants and shrubs, and even wildlife habitat. The goal is to create a space that is visually lively all year round and provides an educational playground for sustainable garden practices.   With that combination, we can create a learning laboratory for our Green and Grow apprentices, interns and members of the public who enjoy the Greenway every day.

What’s the process you followed to choose the right mix of plants?

I started by thinking about bold colors, four season edibles, and structure, factoring in the garden site limitations as well as the ecological principals we wanted to illustrate.  I worked with our Green and Grow apprentices to select pollinator plants and annuals, including 12 varieties of sunflowers.

By pairing selected color combinations with bloom sequences, heights and textures, we soon had a full palette of plants.  Then, I brought out my red editing pen and put on my maintenance hat. By carefully considering maintenance needs, budget and plant availability, I refined the initial design to a workable plan.

What role is the seemingly crazy weather playing in all of this?

The weather has not affected the planning process very much yet.  I am sure it will have an impact on what plants are ready at the nurseries in mid April.

Tell us a bit on how you came to work at the conservancy?

I worked at a wonderful rare plant nursery on the west coast for ten years, then 8 years working in private gardens and estates in Seattle, Maine and the North Shore.  I was ready for a change of scene, and keen to work in a more public arena. The Greenway parks are new, still changing and developing, offering me an excellent opportunity and challenge to work in a dynamic, urban, and energized environment.

What’s your favorite plant(s) that you are looking forward to seeing in the demonstration garden?

There is never ONE favorite ! Look for dahlias, cardoons, new butterfly bushes and maybe a giant pumpkin as the season progresses.

Growing Greener with Green & Grow


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In the White Mountains

During February vacation week, the Green & Grow Apprentices embarked on an unforgettable three day excursion to the White Mountains of New Hampshire where they climbed mountains, met with National Forest Service Professionals, explored their sense of self, and conquered their fears.

Day 1
We loaded up the van and headed to the Highland Center Lodge in Crawford Notch, NH.  It only took us a few hours to get there but the scenery change was drastic and inspiring.  The Apprentices’ were very excited when we arrived at the foot of the mountains,

“It felt good to leave the city and see something new—even when I go to my home country (Honduras and El Salvador) it’s still very urban, this was like the countryside, really rural.”— Diana, age 18

“I’ve only seen mountains on TV, I didn’t think that I was really going to a mountain to hike up it, it was kind of like being in a movie. “ –Francisco, age 18

Apprentices upon arrival

Apprentices upon arrival

After unloading our gear we met with the United States Forest Service professionals (USFS) at the Highland Center Lodge.  They have really cool jobs like Wildland Firefighter, Wildlife Biologist, Recreation Planner, and Hydrologist. They told us about their jobs: what they liked most, what inspired them to choose their career, and what kind of education, experience and training they needed. We also learned how each of them contribute to the health and stability of the National Forest.

Later that evening, we geared up for a night hike and hit the trail behind the lodge. One of the apprentices reflected on the night hike,

“My experience in the woods tonight was both physical and spiritual.  It made me think about how the Native Americans used their ability and experiences in the wilderness to direct and navigate their way through the forest.  I also connected with the experience of the American slaves and how they used the stars to move them toward their destination of freedom.”  – Sam, age 18

Day 2
After a big breakfast in the lodge, we started our hike up Mount Willard. The hike is about 3 miles and has a 900 foot elevation gain.  At times, we weren’t sure if we could make it.  Noelia said,

Today I had the best experience of my life.  I have never climbed up a mountain and the first time couldn’t have been better.  I was with people I trust, knowing that if I fell they would help me. …The best part was being with people I have grown so close to and also the fact that we sledded down the entire mountain!”  – Noelia, age 18

Hiking up Mt. Williard

Hiking up Mt. Williard.

We made it! Clouds all around.

We made it! Clouds all around.

Sledding down Mt. Willard!

Sledding down Mt. Willard!

Later that afternoon, Sheela, a Hydrologist with the US Forest Service got us involved in the water quality monitoring she and her team are conducting.  The monitoring helps to advise the USFS so that they know how the water systems are affected by forest disruptions. The information also helps the USFS make informed decisions regarding forest management.

We tested the water for pH, turbidity, buffering capacity and, conductivity.

Day 3
We woke up early to pack our bags, eat breakfast and hit the road back to Boston, but not before visiting another really cool component of the White Mountains National Forest, the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest. Amey, a Forestry Technician, showed us the facility and how Hubbard Brook helps the USFS determine healthy practices for the forestry industry. For example, they break Hubbard Brook Forest into miniature watersheds, manipulate them and compare the results.  Examples of forest manipulation are: clear cutting, thinning, harvesting rows of forest, or even buffering the watershed by leaving a strip of forest along the stream. Over the past five decades, the forest has consistently collected all kinds of data. Amey shared some of the data with us and explained how forests are important water filters. Without them, we wouldn’t have much, or maybe any, clean drinking water!

Asha collecting a water sample.

Asha collecting a water sample.

There were many highlights throughout the trip, but one of the most rewarding outcomes was the team building that resulted from the three day trip.  In Noelia’s words,

“We were all really close before, but now I feel like we’re one big family.” – Noelia, age 18

The Team at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest

The Team at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest

We’d like to thank the US Forest Service for the funding and support that made our trip possible.  Also, thank you to Forest Service staff members, Sheela, Amey, Clara, Justin, and John for spending time with us and sharing your stories.  And thank you to the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Youth Opportunities Program for lending us hiking gear! We had such an amazing time, and you all made it possible!  We’d love to come back to visit in the spring!

Dewey Demonstration Garden Takes Root


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Despite the on-again, off-again coming of spring, the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy is continuing efforts to enhance the west garden beds of Dewey Square Park. This work, started last year, but delayed in the fall, builds on our existing practice of organic landscape management.  We’ll be telling the story over the next few months as the Conservancy staff works with a number of non-profit partners to install improvements which include:

  • a four-season colorful pollinator garden
  • an outdoor classroom with a demonstration table and raised edible garden
  • a rain garden
  • an urban compost bin area

Our partners include our Green and Grow teen program, the North Bennett Street School and YouthBuild Boston. We’ll be posting additional updates on each of the elements in the coming weeks.

What’s in Bloom


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Spring has officially arrived on our calendars, as well as in our landscape. Our earliest blooming plants, the hybrid Witch-hazels and Snowdrops, are at the end of their flowering cycle for the season, but our spring-bloomers are eagerly beginning. The next few weeks will bring a profusion of brightly colored bulbs, and some of our daffodils have already started to bloom through the Wharf District Parks Promenade. 

Daffodil (Narcissus ‘Tete-a-tete’)
Narcissus ‘tete-a-tete’ is a very early-blooming miniature daffodil with buttery-yellow flowers.



Red Maple Tree (Acer rubrum)
Red Maple trees are often praised for their gorgeous fall color, but their delicate, bright red flowers are equally valuable in the landscape. From the North End Parks through Fort Point Channel, our Red Maple cultivars have come into spring bursting with vibrant blooms.

Red Maple Tree

Red Maple Tree

Golden Glory (Cornus mas)
Our Cornelian Cherries are full of tiny, star-shaped yellow flowers in the Fort Point Channel Parks. This selection is called ‘Golden Glory’, and is said to be the best flowering cultivar.

Golden Glory

Golden Glory

Okame Cherry Tree (Prunus ‘Okame’)
One of the most beloved spring-flowering trees is the Cherry, and we have a few outstanding specimens that are not-to-be-missed this spring. Our Okame Cherry trees (Prunus ‘Okame’) are fully in bloom in the Urban Arboretum. These rosy pink flowers were attracting a swarm of pollinators earlier this week, and we hope that you’ll take a moment to enjoy them, too!

Okame Cherry Tree

Okame Cherry Tree

Okame Cherry Tree

Okame Cherry Tree