Dogwood Lane

The Quarterly Journal of the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum ___________________________________

Volume Three, Issue 2 - Winter 2021
Revelations as We Rebound
Over the past several years we have earned dual distinctions: being classified as a certified arboretum and as a historic site now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Owning both of these honors has enabled us to develop new narratives that combine local history with landscape, biography with vocation. The Davenport Estate Historic District and the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum occupy the same physical terrain, but reveal different sides of the fascinating stories that led to their creation. In this edition of Dogwood Lane we explain how we have dovetailed these two distinctions to offer the public a rich and unique place for learning and discovery. This past year, with the challenges imposed by the COVID pandemic, has been a test of our abilities to communicate the importance of both past and present; the word place has taken on new meaning as we have all learned to “go virtual.” It has also opened up new opportunities to reveal to an even broader audience the beauty of this landscape. As an organization dedicated to hands-on, experiential learning, it has stretched our own thinking about what it means “to participate.” 
Adapting Arboretum Educational Programming During a Pandemic
Education is a key element of most arboreta and public gardens. The pandemic has magnified the importance of that role as people flock to these outdoor “safe” spaces to spend time in nature. Even though many public gardens and arboreta were and are able to remain open to visitors during the pandemic, the majority of live on-site programming was and continues to be postponed. But like many things during this difficult time, gardens and arboreta have adapted and continue to serve people that support and benefit from their relationships to these institutions. The Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum (MMBWA) serves public education through our interpretive panels, informational brochures, tours and garden walks, and most importantly through children’s educational programs designed and coordinated by our staff members.

Central to our work is a commitment to foster a deeper connection between people and nature. Without that strong connection, people become physically and emotionally distanced from the importance of a healthy environment - which is vital to our own, and the planet’s, survival. While developing her plant collection, Mary "Polly" Wakefield was always testing the limits of a plant’s ability to thrive in the New England climate. In fact, one of her most important goals was to breed plants that were disease, drought and cold resistant. Working with Cornus kousa dogwoods, she was able to achieve that goal quite successfully. During the 40-year development of her plant collection, Polly consistently studied at and visited gardens and arboreta around the world. She was inspired by what she saw and went on to grow and learn from her experiences of these places.
As a certified arboretum, it is our mission to continue Polly’s legacy by providing classes, tours, internships, volunteer opportunities and educational partnerships with schools. The pandemic has forced us to adapt our programming to the limits of social distancing through online platforms, social media, journals and magazines. However, what originally seemed a major challenge, turned into a surprising opportunity to engage an audience beyond metropolitan Boston. We were not alone in this endeavor: several arboreta were the pioneers in “tree- focused” online programming.
The Morton Arboretum in Chicago, for example, used the opportunity to highlight their fantastic blog “Planted.” This program is a series of interviews ranging from plant collecting to childrens' play in the garden, and highlights the vast range of experiences that members of the staff can discuss and how they are learning from their connection to the arboretum.

The Arnold Arboretum in Boston moved their popular “Tree MobTM” to an online platform. According to Arnold Arboretum director Ned Friedman: “You can go to collections and see everything has a binomial (scientific name) and be around people who know the name of every cultivar, but that’s not the same as rejoicing in the biology and the stories of these plants.”

Friedman took the whimsical concept of a flash mob — a social media–driven spontaneous gathering — and applied it to public outreach to encourage interaction with the scientists, curators, and horticulturalists who work on the Arboretum’s 265 acres. “I just hatched it, I’ve never heard of anything quite like it,” Friedman said of the Tree Mob concept. “It goes at what I’m trying to do — move away from some of the formality in the collection that comes with a tour, a lecture, or children’s education.”1
The staff of the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum has taken steps to continue its educational programming through a range of platforms. Historically, Master Gardeners have been key players in many of the arboretum’s volunteer programs. During the pandemic, arboretum director Debbie Merriam engaged Master Gardeners to add detailed information to the plant database for the MMBWA plant collection (click here to see the Wakefield Arboretum woody plant collection on Plantsmap). During this successful endeavor, she developed working relationships with several Master Gardener program staff. These connections led to the production of a series of online Master Gardener credited classes that drew 100 participants to each session, providing great details on various subjects related to the plant collection at the estate. The course was so successful it was later provided to the general public, leading to substantive online conversations. The most important aspect of these classes is that students that would not likely travel to the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum had the opportunity to see the plant collection virtually and learn about a variety of subjects, from Polly’s propagation work to her interest in conifers. When pandemic restrictions are lifted, many of these Master Gardeners will begin to come to the MMBWA as garden volunteers.
Publications are also a useful tool to reach the arboretum’s audiences. Along with our own Dogwood Lane Quarterly, two articles were recently published by scholarly journals about the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum. Arnoldia, the Arnold Arboretum’s scholarly journal, published an article that focused on how arboreta were coping during the pandemic, including the MMBWA. The second scholarly journal to include an article about the MMBWA plant collection is the American Conifer Society's quarterly: Conifer. The article focuses on Polly Wakefield’s interest in conifers and the new dwarf conifer garden that is now a Reference Garden for the American Conifer Society. Both of these quarterly journals are nationally known and distributed, which increases the visibility and awareness of the unique collections at the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum beyond our local audience.
Short videos were also an avenue to engage audiences of all ages. The staff took the opportunity to make a series of two-minute videos that focused on many of the unique species in the collection. This series was very successful because it focused on seasonality of plants and were able to focus on the species that were in full bloom. The Dove Tree (Davidia involucrata) is one of the most spectacular trees in our collection, however the blooms last for less than a week. (View the video here.)
A two-minute video allowed staff to show off this spectacular tree during the height of its bloom. These videos can be viewed by anyone on various platforms, and there is now a permanent archived video record of many of MMBWA’s great plants and garden elements. 
Enjoying the Arboretum and the Animals in Small Numbers
Wakefield staff scheduled “Open Garden Days” which allowed visitors to wander the gardens and visit the animals in limited numbers. While many outdoor spaces were overrun during the pandemic, we allowed small groups of visitors to spend time in the garden at safe distances wearing masks. We noticed that normally when the garden is open to the public, visitors typically come, walk around, and depart within an hour or so. During the pandemic, small groups that arrived were often multigenerational and stayed for the entire duration of open hours, sitting in the garden and enjoying the serenity and beauty with their families. 
Personal reflection - How I came to love and work with plants
In 2000, I sold my bakery business after 14 years of late nights and long days. I wanted to do something different and had been interested in plants for quite a while. I decided to apply for an internship position at the Arnold Arboretum. I was already 40 years old but was accepted along with the recent college graduates and “twenty somethings” and began my wonderful journey into the world of plants. As an intern I was exposed to every aspect of what an arboretum is and how it functions. The Arnold is world-famous and has one of the most important plant collections in the world. Because of its connection to Harvard University, there is a wide range of plant research being conducted in the laboratories and greenhouses. As interns we were introduced to researchers, plant propagators, curators, plant record keepers, botanists, archivists, arborists and horticulturalists, all working to maintain and learn about the ecosystems that make up our planet. Polly Wakefield benefitted from the value of educational opportunities at the Arnold, taking classes and attending lectures for many years. She also understood the importance of the incredible horticultural library and left them a substantial bequest.
-Debbie Merriam, Arboretum Director
The Evolution of the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum Educational Programs
As stated in the above article, education and programs for the public are integral parts of being a certified arboretum and at the heart of its mission and vision. The evolution of the programs at the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum, as “a living landscape” with a commitment to “participatory learning for all ages,” has its roots in Polly’s own education as a horticulturalist, landscape architect, activist, and a citizen of the earth. During the second half of the twentieth century, her teachers and “heroes” were utilizing methods and forging initiatives that would greatly influence Polly’s life and help shape the programs this organization has developed in its first fifteen years.

When Polly Wakefield died in 2004, processes were set in motion to assess the varied and significant resources she left. The newly formed charitable trust initiated its work to address years of benign neglect of the systems and buildings, build an organizational structure, document and catalogue the numerous collections including the plant collection, solidify a clear mission and vision statement, and establish programs that supported that mission. Before her death, Polly stipulated that she wanted the trust to “preserve and maintain the grounds as a public garden and arboretum for the education and appreciation of the members of the public who are interested in the variety of shrubs, trees, and plants which grow there.” 
One of the first things the trustees did was to conduct an assessment of the 22-acre Wakefield property in order to gain an overview of existing site conditions, document Polly's design and horticultural intentions, and to establish an overview of the landscape's character, vegetation and management issues. Once complete, the assessment informed the organization with its decision-making regarding how it would develop its own mission and programs going forward. At that time, the highest priorities were stated as 1) preserving the landscape and its garden, 2) rehabilitation of the principal buildings, most notably the Mansion House, Carriage Barn, Farmhouse, and Red Cottage, and 3) developing an educational program. The very first educational partnership was a graduate studies program at Boston University, through which graduate students in the American Studies department carried out research assignments that deepened our understanding of the land history, buildings, and biographies of those who lived here. It was anticipated that future program development would serve elementary and secondary schools along with the general public.
Also notable, an important early priority was preserving Polly’s legacy of active horticultural/arboricultural experimentation. Polly had been inspired by the Arnold Arboretum, where she maintained close involvement throughout her life. Polly took numerous classes there in the 1950s and 60s and became interested in propagating and growing the trees in her arboretum from cuttings and seeds collected from the Arnold Arboretum. Although she was curious and wanted to experiment, she was not systematic in her collection and did not keep careful records, although valuable notes and records continue to emerge to this day. Although she structured her gardens as a series of rooms, Polly was not interested in having her gardens be overly formal, and she let plants grow naturally. She wanted the gardens to have a wild look, and stated that her gardens were not intended to be a “show place.” 
Polly maintained meaningful associations with several of the Arnold Arboretum’s Directors and staff, but one that was especially influential to her connection to her land and plants was Dr. Donald Wyman, who for decades led “field classes," later referred to as “Friday Morning Walks.” On these informal outdoor walks for which he became renown, Dr. Wyman would spend two hours leading a limited-size group about the arboretum grounds, studying various plants of interest as they were coming into bloom and discussing their relative merits. He would also share special insights on the plants’ culture and pruning. It is worth noting that in the listings for these talks, special mention is made that both men and women were welcome. These field classes incorporated an aspect of a garden tour, which Polly would adopt in her own garden when she hosted garden groups and for which she created her highly informative “Garden Guide,” which later provided essential insights to her garden design and intent after her death. In addition, Wyman’s attention to bloom time and merits informed Polly’s selection of dogwood specimens for seed and cutting selection that she would utilize in propagating her own dogwood cultivars. This attention to the cyclical and seasonal aspects of the Polly's original collection continues to this day as the basis for our phenological research and educational initiatives.
“On his (Donald Wyman's) last walk, on May 29th, 1969, the entire Arboretum staff, former staff members, members of the Arboretum’s Visiting Committee, his associates in professional organizations, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, the Boston Horticultural Club, the American Horticultural Society, and the American Association of Botanic Gardens and Arboreta were all in attendance. Also in attendance was Mary “Polly” May Binney Wakefield, a member of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society’s Library Committee and Sheila Connor, cataloger at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. They met during this last Friday morning session and Sheila Connor would join the Arboretum staff the following year. Their (Polly and Sheila's) friendship would continue until Polly’s death in 2004. In 2005, the Horticultural Library of the Arnold Arboretum” was endowed by a gift from the Wakefield Estate. Sheila Connor retired as Horticultural Research Archivist on April 30, 2012.” -Photo and excerpt from Donald Wyman archives, copyright, The President and Fellows of Harvard College.
Less than two years after Polly’s death, the trustees organized a “visioning session” bringing together visiting experts representing horticulture, historic site stewardship and interpretation, and education to help the Trustees determine the direction of the organization going forward. The insights that came out of that productive and powerful “meeting of the minds” greatly influenced the organization’s subsequent programmatic development and its self identity as an education-focused organization. With the mission of the organization centered on “participatory learning” experiences for all ages, the organization sought to forge connections and build relationships with schools and educational partners.
Fortunately for the organization, it was able to pursue this through a network of collaborations that included the science director of the Milton Public Schools, who instantly recognized how the resources of the landscape could be powerful drivers for science education. After-school programs were developed that provided opportunities to explore nature, the pond and stream, time to play games, and enjoy “unstructured" play.

Around the same time, a movement to bring students outdoors was started in the Boston Public Schools (BPS). An emphasis was made by educators to provide a progression of teaching science in a more realistic environment. For more than a decade, the MMBWA staff has forged close and productive collaborations with key BPS educators; teachers saw the value of creating an environmental education curriculum that could serve hundreds of elementary students by providing an “an outdoor classroom in a real world environment.”
As emphasized at the early visioning session, Polly’s legacy of championing horticultural and environmental education and experimentation provided the guiding principles as the organization developed. It ultimately led to the recent certification of the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum as a level ll arboretum through the Arbnet certification program, an internationally recognized program which sets the standards for arboreta around the world. A crucial criterion for certification is education and research related to horticulture. Some of these programs include a fully searchable plant records data base, a long- and short-term land management strategy, a plant collections policy, DNA research into the Cornus kousa collection in collaboration with the Arnold Arboretum and Connecticut College and phenological data collection for the past 5 years. 
While the study of nature as a component of scientific education can be tracked back centuries, the notion of “environmental education” developed more recently emerging in tandem with growing concerns about deleterious human impact on the planet due to harmful emissions and use of pesticides and the founding of Earth Day, a day of education about environmental issues.2
It is clear that Polly was integrating the varied sources of information about the larger environment from her travels to arboreta around the world, her propagation classes at the Arnold Arboretum and her experimentation with kousa dogwoods at her home in Milton. During the 1960s, as Polly was actively re-shaping the landscape of her family’s estate from pastures and hay fields to a planned garden, important thought-leaders like Rachel Carson and others were shifting the focus of conservation efforts to community-based environmental education. Polly Wakefield may also have been influenced by the work of the important activists and naturalist of the time, including Carson, J.I. Rodale and Aldo Leopold. Some of her writings, which we are still unearthing and documenting, suggest she had strong convictions about actively enhancing the understanding of the human connection to nature as illustrated in this powerful quote that was found among her notes:
“America is rapidly becoming a nation of spectators and a nation of consumers. To maintain the American tradition, we must return to participation and creativity. Milk was’nt (sic) born in a bottle, nor eggs in a carton nor beans in a box. Let us organize to re-establish the contact between the land and the people.”
- Mary May Binney Wakefield, ca. 1965
How another pandemic contributed to the development of outdoor learning
Ironically, important movements promoting “outdoor education” resulted from another pandemic. In the early 20th century, when tuberculosis killed one in seven people in Europe and in the United States, outdoor schools proliferated, first in Germany and then around the world. These outdoor schools were located in dense urban areas and served populations that lived in overcrowded settings deemed to be at risk for tuberculosis.3 The impulse to offer urban populations access to fresh air, sunlight, nature and the outdoors coincided with important urban reforms, including the Playground and City Beautiful movements, which led to the creation of parks and open outdoor areas for public enjoyment.
Expanding the Definition of “Experiential Learning”
Just as we have learned how to share the history and biographies of the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum, we also continue to learn how to carry out our education-focused mission in new ways, utilizing both virtual and actual strategies that share and communicate our work with the public. As mentioned previously, forced to adapt like everyone else these past 12 months, we’ve taken our actual programming — which was designed to carry out our mission of hands-on experiential and participatory learning — and made it virtual. Not without its own limitations and challenges, we’ve learned that virtual programming in a real way makes our educational programming even more tangible — allowing a world-wide audience to participate that otherwise was only accessible to people who lived nearby. We have received response from people in different parts of the country — and even other continents — who have visited us online or who participated in a virtual workshop or seminar. 
Providing an online format to our programming also enables us to take people “behind the scenes” to reveal through photographs what is “off limits.” While not too glamorous, the basement of the Isaac Davenport mansion tells a fascinating story of the evolution of energy and home-heating technology over the last 150 years. The coal bin in the mansion’s basement, which powered the state of the art coal burner featured at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, is still chock full of coal, left there when the occupants installed a more modern coal burner that was converted to an oil burner in the early 20th century. And now in its place, a century after it was installed and which made the coal obsolete, is a brand new German-made Visemann burner, the most efficient made. 
(Photos above: coal burner, coal bin, and new burner.)
The tack room and horse stalls of the Carriage Barn are more examples of places we can now reveal to the public that before the pandemic were inaccessible due to safety codes. They are like time capsules, left largely untouched since the last horses resided here. More importantly, they tell the story of a different era when carriage houses replaced barns, reflecting the transition of land use in this area from family farming to the large country estates of the landed gentry. This is also true of the Davenport family, who started the family in Milton. In the 1860s, Isaac Davenport Hayward, the grandson of Isaac Davenport, hired architect William Pitt Preble Longfellow to design the new carriage house structure in addition to alterations to the mansion house extant today. When one stands in the Carriage House’s horse stalls, it is easy to imagine the sights and sounds of putting the carriage horses in for the night.
Going forward, we plan to continue to use our online platforms to reveal in greater detail the numerous aspects of this historic and horticultural treasure that otherwise would remain out of sight. For example, we can now share many of the varied collections and personal objects that have been catalogued and documented - art, furniture, jewelry, books, artifacts, etc. - through online workshops and lectures, revealing to an ever-widening audience aspects of the lives of those who called this place home, from 1706 to 2004.
Stay tuned...
Throughout the shutdown, we have offered "virtual tours" using a variety of formats including instagram, facebook, our monthly newsletter and zoom meetings. Enjoy browsing through some of the images we shared. All images below and above are "clickable" if you prefer to view a larger version.
Articles written and edited by Erica Max, Debbie Merriam, and Mark Smith.
Layout by Erica Max.
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