Dogwood Lane

The Quarterly Journal of the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum ___________________________________

Volume Three, Issue 3 - Spring 2021
Features and Objects, Part 1:
Elements Relating to Mary "Polly" Wakefield's Era of Land Use
This edition of Dogwood Lane is the first of a two-part series looking at the features, objects, and artifacts that help tell the story of Mary "Polly" Wakefield and the ten generations of the family that called this place home. This first part tells the stories of Polly's remarkable imprint on the landscape and its features. Part two, which will be published in August, will focus more on the objects and artifacts that reveal interesting details and tidbits of forgotten history about the lives of those who lived here.
The Story Of The Dogwood Allée
The Dogwood Allée, also known as the Fountain Path Allée, is one of the key axes of the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum. It extends from Brush Hill Road at the northeast end to the southwest boundary but not into the woodlands. It is a classic version of a formal "allée," lined on both sides with mostly one type of tree, in this case, Polly's kousa dogwoods. Allées are often laid out widest at the middle of their course, getting slightly narrow as the path extends to its terminus where a focal element is placed. This trompe d'oeuil "fools the eye," giving the impression the allée is thinner than it actually is, and that the focal object is more distant. The focal object at the north end of the Dogwood Allée is what Polly referred to as a "bird swing," a whimsical wooden structure constructed by Polly's carpenter. At the south end, the visitor's eye is drawn to a large urn with an evergreen backdrop of a large American holly. The main (southern) section in the heart of the formal garden intersects perpendicularly with the other key axis of the formal garden at a well-fed fountain. That axis extends straight out of the front garden to the fountain intersection and continues down the steps into the kalmia terrace, terminating at the female ginkgo tree.
Based on aerial photographs and notes, the allée is a relatively early characteristic feature in the design of the formal garden section. Aerials from the 1970s show it extending beyond the rectilinear outline of the formal garden almost to the southwestern border of the property. Initially, this outer portion was surrounded by active hay fields and Polly's young propagated nursery stock and was referred to as the “Rose Allée” because of the roses planted along the path beneath the dogwoods. In the decades that followed, propagated seedlings grew and were moved into formal nursery plantings north and south of the allée. It is unclear when the roses started to decline but the heavy shade from a windbreak of white pine planted parallel and south of the allée probably had a negative impact on the plants and possible blooms. Photos from the early landscape assessments for the Charitable Trust (circa 2005) show this section of the allée with lush grass, but at the time these trees were topped annually, a method of pruning detrimental for the health of the trees. 
In 2007, the white pines were removed. At present, the trees lining the allée have recovered from harmful pruning and dense shade the white pines cast and again have healthy growth habits. The attractive but dilapidated rope fence was restored as part of an Eagle Scout project in recent years. The roses have not reemerged, but pachysandra and quince shrubs grow in the understory of dogwoods. The grass still struggles to grow along the path frequented by visitors. 
The Story Of The Prostrate Redbud (Cercis canadensis 'Alba')
If you have ever been fortunate enough to visit the Front Garden at this arboretum in early May, you would have enjoyed the amazing display of spring ephemerals and early blooming trees and shrubs. You might have noticed the garden's formal layout, with beds laid out in a rectilinear fashion with the plant material on one side mirroring the other side, and hedges and bricks outlining straight walkways. A key element of the garden's design is a four-square planting of Cercis canadensis, also known as "eastern redbud" because of their tiny purplish-red blossoms that look like buds. In early May, the buds on these trees frame the quintessential spring display that is perfectly composed in this garden.
Although these trees are laid out in a classic formalistic mirror planting, with one in each corner of the square- two of our "redbuds" are actually an 'alba' variety that bears tiny white blossoms instead of pink, giving the garden more of a chessboard layout. The Front Garden was created by Mary "Polly" Wakefield's aunt, Mary Sturtevant, around 1910 and later enhanced and altered by Polly throughout her time here. Not a long-lived tree, the redbuds in the front garden were likely 60 years old when it was decided that they should be replaced "in-kind" with comparable plant material. While all four trees showed distinct signs of decline, one appeared especially compromised. It lies prostrate at the south end of the four-square and appears in some ways quite dead. Yet, upon closer examination, it is apparent that this plant is in fact very much alive, with a vigorous trunk growing straight up out of the original (and now prostrate) tree trunk. Why was this tree not replaced? While the guidelines of the Landscape Rehabilitation and Maintenance Plan indicate the removal and replacement of trees in this condition, historical consideration, albeit whimsical, outweighed strict adherence to the plan in this instance. 
As part of an overall assessment of the condition and design of the landscape Polly left behind upon her death in 2004, Erica Max, then working as a fellow for the organization, conducted a series of first-person interviews with John Hurley, Polly's long-time groundskeeper. John shared intriguing nuggets about different aspects of the property, its history, and landscape. 
With regard to the prostrate redbud (shown above before renovation of the Front Garden), John was adamant: "That was Polly's favorite tree. She loved its determination and defiance. It's been lying prostrate like that for (then) 25 years and she insisted that it should stay until it died on its own." So when the time came to consider replacement of many of the declining, deformed, diseased, or otherwise distressed trees that had been documented and assessed as part of the initial 5-year landscape rehabilitation, the staff determined this is one of the very few that should be left extant, at least for the moment, considered a "characteristic feature" of Polly's landscape. Now forty years after the tree originally began to fall down (photos show the tree once supported by crutches), we believe a younger tree has grown out of the older tree or a younger leader has grafted itself to the original trunk and roots, and overall, the tree is perhaps the most handsome of the four. However, given the impeccable transformation of the landscape due to the overall rehabilitation, it can be a confusing aspect for our visitors to see this tree lying prostrate, so signage will be installed this year to share this charming insight into Polly's vision. 
The Characteristics of a Colonial Revival Garden
The design and plant material in our compact garden and hedged "Front Garden" is characteristic of a “colonial revival garden” popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, which blended formal elements including parterres, axial paths, symmetrical beds, and rectilinear paths, planted with perennial plants, flowering shrubs, and canopy trees chosen to create year-round interest and multilayered beauty, often against a backdrop of a surrounding hedge or wall.
The Story of Ornamentation in the Garden
Over the last six years, visitors to the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum have begun to see the return of Polly’s extensive collection of garden ornaments. It is not clear where Polly found her inspiration for this collection. Perhaps inspired by visits to gardens all over the world, Polly developed a varied and fascinating collection of garden ornaments that add color and whimsical nature to the arboretum. In her 1983 “Garden Notes,” Polly mentions that many of the animal sculptures (birds, bears, lambs, etc) were made by Amelia Peabody, a fellow Nonanet Garden Club member, plant conservator, and steward of Powisset Farm (which she bequeathed to The Trustees upon her death in 1984.)
After Polly passed away in 2004, many garden ornaments began to deteriorate, particularly the wooden elements of which there are hundreds. Fortunately, there is an excellent photographic record of the ornaments as well as many “spares” stuck away in the attic of the carriage barn. 
A series of colorful gates were also added into the garden. Polly had a great deal of fencing in the garden to keep her dogs in or out of certain spaces. These garden gates added color and texture to each space — they also act as a focal point to draw your attention down the various vistas and garden spaces. A garden feature or focal point captures the visitor’s attention, and from there serves to lead their eyes around a space.
These might be almost anything in a landscape - a boulder, a large tree, a bench, a statue, pathway, or water feature. It helps those enjoying the space to not get lost in the features and design, but rather see the landscape as one fluid concept. Polly understood this concept as a trained landscape designer.  
Polly used the device of a visual and distant focal point in the design of the Dogwood Allée. At the end of the allée closest to Brush Hill Road, a large granite slab holds what Polly called “a bird swing,” a unique garden element she designed (see above article about the Dogwood Allée.) Shaped like a pagoda, the delicate bird swing is brightly colored with tiny swings perched on each floor of the pagoda. This garden element can barely be seen from the center of the garden, yet the brightly colored object draws the visitor from the far reaches of the garden to view this feature. At the other end of the allée a huge urn is perched on a granite stand drawing your eye in its direction.  
The Front Garden contains a series of finials with circular ornamentation that sit on top of posts surrounding the garden. Some of these finials contain complex interlinked designs. This garden element has a personal connection to Kennard Wakefield, Polly’s husband of more than 30 years. The interlocking circle finials represent Kennard Wakefield’s interest in sailing. They represent his family’s private signal since 1820. The signal would have been stitched onto the sails of his boat or flown as a small flag as an identifier of the sailor.  
Polly then moved beyond the signal to develop a series of lanterns that were placed throughout the landscape. The lanterns were painted a series of colors related to where they sat in the garden and the other hardscape involved. In interviews with Polly's carpenter, he recounted how Polly would ask him to fashion wood ornaments based on her designs including the amazing Dragon Gate at the entrance of the Witches Garden shown above. The twin dragons flanking the gate even had forked tongues, currently being replaced.
Polly’s fondness for birds and animals of all kinds is highlighted in many of the garden rooms. Many of these animals were cast from cement and surprise the visitor as they move through the landscape. Pelican fountains, playful bears, and a grasshopper weather vane all become part of the scavenger hunt to see the added elements in the garden.  
The Story of the Camellia House and "Pit" Houses 
As an avid plant propagator, Polly Wakefield developed certain strategies to propagate her plant material. She turned her family’s chicken house into a mist house for propagating cuttings. She built several pit houses, which are semi-subterranean glass-covered greenhouses in which to store and grow plant material. She also built a camellia house directly connected to the rear porch of the 1794 Davenport mansion house which she used as a passive solar-heated space to grow plant material. This camellia house utilizes the characteristics and properties of the pit house concept but allows the plant enthusiast to stand and walk about in the space.  
Collecting camellias was a hobby of many landscape gardeners beginning in the Victorian age. Several New England camellia houses exist at historic properties today including the Lyman Estate greenhouse in Waltham and the Eleanor Cabot Bradley Estate in Canton. Camellias are not “hardy,” meaning they cannot survive the cold winter temperatures in the New England climate, but they add great color and texture to the gardens during the summer months. Gardeners keep the camellias in the houses in the winter then move them in pots out into the landscape in the summer months. Polly collected camellias for many years and used her camellia house to store them in the winter along with other tender plants.  
The concept of the camellia house works so well because like the pit house, the main structure is subterranean – sunken 4-6 feet into the ground. The structure’s roof is made of a glazed light-emitting material to allow for solar radiation during the day without the risk of the plants being burned by the sun. Without additional heat, Camellia or pit greenhouses can keep the temperature just above freezing about 32 to 42 degrees during the winter months. On many cold days, we have tested the temperature of the pit house and it has not dropped below freezing, even if the temperatures outside are at 10 degrees! Polly Wakefield’s award-winning collection of camellias has dwindled over the years due to age and disease. We are currently working to rebuild the collection. In addition to storing the new camellias in the winter months, the camellia house is used to overwinter many of our young propagated trees, including kousa dogwoods. The Camellia house has been adapted by adding a 9-inch layer of wood chips to the floor to help keep the propagules warm on especially cold days.  
The Story of Our 4-Square Planting of Metasequoias
Four Dawn Redwoods (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) anchor the arboretum’s collection in what is called a four-square planting with each defining the corner of a garden room called the Kalmia Lawn. They are some of the most majestic and unusual trees in this landscape. They are deciduous conifers, which means that while they bear cones like typical evergreens, this is a species that sheds its needles in the fall and grows new needles in the spring. These trees have lovely bark with structures known as armpits that sit below each branch. Polly Wakefield received one of these trees as a wedding present when she married in 1952. It is not clear where or how she acquired the other three, but they are great additions to the collection and design.  
Dawn redwoods have an unusual history. These trees are native to China and were thought to have been extinct, only identified in fossil records in Central China. However, a forester named Zhan Wang found a stand of trees in a valley of Hubei province in Central China in the 1940s. After several years of research, Chinese botanists announced in 1946 that the tree had not gone extinct. This discovery sent a wave of excitement through the botanic community worldwide. Along with several other renowned arboreta, the Arnold Arboretum sent a collecting team to China in 1947. Dr. Merrill, who was the Arboretum Director at that time, funded the expedition for $250. Botanists collected seeds and brought them back to the US. The arboretum then distributed seeds to other arboreta and gardens around the world. Because of the rarity of this plant, the Chinese government began the process of establishing a committee for their protection, which still exists today.  
The four-square planting of dawn redwoods in our arboretum had not received necessary pruning and maintenance for many years. In 2018, we were able to enlist the volunteer services of tree arborist and climber Greg Dorr to work on our collection. He was very enthusiastic about the opportunity to work on these 60-year-old specimens. Greg spent several days carefully removing deadwood and pruning back other trees that were impinging on their growth. 
One of the most unique features of these trees is that, unlike the majority of conifers, dawn redwoods have the capability to grow new branches along the trunk if branches are broken, or if trees in the vicinity are blocking light and then removed. Along with the pruning, we made the decision to remove a large Korean Evodia (Evodia daniellii), also known as the bee tree, that had been planted just a few feet away from one of the dawn redwoods. Decisions to remove trees in the collection are not made lightly due to the fact most of the trees in our collection were grown from seed or cuttings by Polly herself, and this evodia was one of a matched pair planted at either side of the steps descending to the Kalmia Lawn. However, the collection has reached a point where some trees must be removed to benefit the overall health of the collection. Once the Evodia was removed the dawn redwood began putting out new branches.  
The dawn redwood is a monoecious plant, meaning that it possesses both male and female parts and separate male and female cones occur on the same tree. The male parts tend to form in groups while female cones grow singularly. The cones emerge in the spring and the seeds set in the summer.  
Our trees produce a prolific number of flowers and cones. Both flowers and cones are very showy, however, they are hard to see due to the fact they are so high up in the canopy. When the cones fall to the ground visitors quickly begin commenting on them for their beauty and uniqueness. Because our trees are prolific at producing seeds and cones we often hunt to find “volunteer” Metasequoias in the garden. The first such volunteer emerged from the steps of the mansion house around 7 years ago. It is interesting to think about the circumstances that led to the germination of the seed in this unusual spot. The tree was left to grow for several years then removed during construction on the mansion. It now has a new home at a plant enthusiast's home. Then, in the spring of 2020, there was a sudden change in the abundance of dawn redwood seedlings in the garden. They began poking their unique forms out of the stone dust paths of the garden. They will be allowed to continue in the spots where they germinated and be transplanted after a year or two. 
The Story of Our Sheep and Llamas, Chapters One and Two
As we tend to our three Shetland sheep, laden with full fleeces and prepare for their annual shearing on June 5, it seems appropriate to share the history of sheep on Polly's landscape.
After Polly's death in 2004, much of our work as a staff was like detective work, with clues about different aspects of the place strewn throughout these 22 acres. Some of these abundant clues related to the fact that Polly had had sheep at the property for some time. There was a structure known as the Sheep Shed, vestiges of fences and phantom gates (no longer associated with an enclosure), a shoot from the barn that opened into the "Paddock Nursery" and remnants of hay in the barn, as well as carefully stored processed fleeces from her sheep and a spinning wheel.
When asked about the animals, John Hurley, Polly's former groundskeeper, shared stories about how Polly acquired 25 Dorset sheep, in hopes of accomplishing a handful of goals. A good Yankee, Polly was resourceful and loathe to pay for services she could manage to get accomplished for "free," so her sheep provided the "lawn-mowing" she would otherwise need to pay someone to do - hence the need for a fencing and gate system to rotate the sheep to different areas. Having sheep and some agricultural woodlot crops (such as walnut trees) also enabled Polly to acquire an agricultural tax exemption from the town, a common practice among larger landowners. In addition, she was very fond of the animals and enjoyed visiting them with her husband Kennard.
She also took an active interest in spinning wool from her animals' fleeces. During the winter, the animals were sometimes penned in the back of the Carriage Barn, necessitating the ramp, shoot, and Paddock enclosure (when her sheep were gone, Polly later turned this into the "Paddock Nursery.) John Hurley also
shared a heartbreaking story of how, when her herd had dwindled to just one or two animals, a neighbor's dog killed these last, which infuriated Polly and made her very sad, especially after losing Kennard soon before. 

In 2011, the organization decided to bring sheep back to Polly's property and we acquired three adorable little lambs that we named Daisy, Maisy, and Binney.
Welcoming the new sheep.
Maisy, Binney and Daisy
We set them up in the Sheep Shed and gave them access to the orchard where we quickly learned how destructive sheep can be to trees. We also started frequently seeing the local coyotes lurking near the lambs, often during the middle of the day. We researched methods of protecting the sheep and installed solar-powered electric fencing around the perimeter of the orchard. At the time, book conservator and New Zealand native Rachel Salmond was documenting the site's book collection. She shared that in her home country, llamas are often used to very effectively guard sheep, so we started to search for a “guard llama” to adopt.
Jack arriving at his new home.
Jack with Dart, Binney and Ashe.
We found a man in Bridgewater who was looking to reduce the size of his llama herd and offered to let us buy Jack, one of his most docile male llamas. Jack arrived in a trailer in October of 2011 to assume responsibility for his young "herd." Within days, the coyotes were seldom seen at that end of the pasture. Jack's size, smell, and swagger were enough to deter the animals.

A year later, when the lambs had grown to full-size with mature fleeces we engaged Kevin Ford, aka "the Blade," to shear our sheep. We discovered that he knew the property because he had also sheared Polly's Dorset flock for years. We also learned that after the sheep are sheared, the llama doesn't recognize them, because they look and smell differently.
Over the next several years, hundreds of visiting students were delighted to feed him and the sheep out of their little hands and often said it was their favorite moment of their day-long field trip. Likely due to a genetic weakness, all three of our initial sheep died young, and in 2017 we acquired 3 new sheep: Dart, Bug, and Bug's mom, Ashe. Jack took on his new charges like a champ.

In January 2019, we were heartbroken to share the sad news of the passing of our beloved Jack the llama. He died as he lived his years here at the estate: surrounded by his flock of adoring sheep. Concerned for the welfare of the sheep, we set out to find a new llama and found a lovely older female named Navajo, but Navajo was accustomed to living with a herd, not welcoming visitors. Our llama farmer generously offered to loan us her most social llama, Gracie, to help Navajo learn about her "new job" as a guard llama and presence with visitors here. This gracious offer came with a marvelous bonus as Gracie had just had a baby, two-month-old, Betty.
On Feb. 1, 2019, the three llamas arrived and brought renewed llama joy back to the pasture. It was hard not to fall madly in love with baby Betty so soon we set up a "llama fund" to help us permanently acquire both Navajo and Betty.
Two years later, lovely Navajo and Betty (who will not be full-grown for another 1 1/2 years) are "filling Jack's hooves" and charming all and are becoming good guard llamas.
Learn more about the llamas at their Facebook page.
Articles written and edited by Erica Max, Debbie Merriam, and Mark Smith.
Layout by Erica Max.
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