Dogwood Lane

The Quarterly Journal of the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum ___________________________________

Volume Four, Issue 3 - Spring 2022
The Evolution of a Landscape: a photographic journey of the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum
A cultural landscape captures and expresses a long and intimate relationship between people and their natural environment. The evolution of the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum landscape from wilderness to farmland to designed gardens and an arboretum has taken hundreds of years. The gardens created by Polly Wakefield during her lifetime, an important legacy on this land, continue to evolve after her passing. By creating the Mary M.B. Wakefield Charitable Trust, Polly ensured that her life’s passion and work would not only continue but also flourish.

In this issue of the Dogwood Lane Quarterly, a series of photographs and short explanations highlight the changes in the landscape before, during, and after Polly Wakefield’s life. Deer browsing, changing climate, hurricanes, pests and pathogens, changing tastes, landscape use, and funding all influenced the evolution of this landscape. In-depth research projects about the land and buildings here at the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum over the last 18 years provide us with a wealth of images and information about this special place - and is the pillar of this issue.

Note: We have included two historic aerials at the end of the quarterly to provide visual reference and orientation to the landscape features mentioned in this issue. They can also be viewed by clicking here for the 1951 aerial or here for the late 1980s aerial.
Witches' Garden with the Dragon Gate
Polly in her newly planted "Witches' Garden." Photo credit: Peter Del Tredici, Arnoldia
Created by Polly Wakefield in the 1980s and 1990s, the Witches' Garden displays her interest in dwarf conifers. Polly’s propagation work at the Arnold Arboretum spanned more than 40 years. During that time she met and learned from many very talented plant propagators including Al Fordham and Alfred Rheder. Both plantsmen experimented with and studied dwarf conifers. Dwarf conifers are cultivated using “Witches’ brooms” that occur on a variety of conifers and deciduous tree species.
They are caused by several factors that result in a great proliferation of shoots with short internodes that can look like a bundle of twigs or a witch’s broom. In other cases, they appear as ball-shaped dwarf plants growing in a tree. These ball-shaped bundles, or “sports,” are cut from the tree and grafted onto rootstock. The new plant retains the dwarf characteristics of the sport as it grows, creating a smaller version of the original plant. Polly likely started her dwarfs from cuttings and seeds in Al Fordham’s propagation classes.

Polly incorporated dwarf white pines, dwarf Norway spruce, western arborvitae, and a Korean pine in her witches' garden design. Later in the garden’s evolution, Polly added Korean maples, Japanese maples, and large leaf magnolias. By the time Polly passed away in 2004 the garden was in its prime.
The relationship between the plant material and the garden ornaments that included a gate flanked by two enormous dragon mouths (complete with metal tongues) and a small pagoda was well balanced and created a lovely and unique designed garden space with color and texture.

Over the past 10 years, the dwarf pines began losing the competition for sunlight. Most conifers prefer full sun and without it, they begin to decline rapidly. Removing the white pines will dramatically change the look and feel of this garden space. With this in mind, Wakefield staff members are beginning to think about alternatives that will keep the garden in balance and growing in the future.
The "Witches" Garden seen here two years after installation, and more recently at the right when this garden was at its prime two years after Polly's death. This garden requires high maintenance- often a characteristic of dwarf conifer plantings which need to be skillfully pruned annually to control the pace of their growth. In fall, this "composition" created thirty years ago highlights its plant combination of the lush evergreen of the white pines, columnar arborvitae, and spruce with the stunning seasonal color of the Japanese maples and purple callicarpa berries. In late summer, the Dragon Gate is festooned with autumn clematis as shown in the most recent image below.
Front Garden 
The Front Garden is the only formal garden component known to pre-date Polly’s family tenure that began in 1931. The Wakefield Archives hold a wonderful pictorial history of this garden revealing the various tastes and styles of family members, designers, and change-makers of the time.
Over the years, the Front Garden was referred to as the Hedged Garden, Flower Garden, and Wild or Wildflower Garden. The most prevalent name used by Polly was the Front Garden. The Front Garden underwent many changes over its almost one-hundred-year existence. What has remained constant is the location, footprint, and present configuration of garden rooms. Features were subtracted and added. The vegetation changed due to the preferences of the owners and horticulture conditions.

The only significant changes occurred due to the Hurricane of 1938. The estate lost forty trees in the hurricane including many along Brush Hill Road exposing this private garden space to automobile traffic. According to archival letters, Polly Wakefield’s parents decided to erect a tall hedge around the Front Garden, first trying arborvitae, and when that failed, installing yew hedges over a period of time. Throughout its one hundred years, it typified what is commonly known as a Classic Revival, Old Fashioned, or Grandmothers garden, a highly personalized space created for family members to enjoy. Timber from the hurricane was used to construct the summer house, shown below.
The state of the Front Garden in the early days of the Wakefield Charitable Trust prior to extensive rehabilitation. A Cultural Landscape Report by Maureen O'Brien, a student at Harvard University's Landscape Institute, informed the restoration.
The Front Garden is what is referred to in historic preservation as a character-defining feature of the Wakefield Arboretum. In 2017 the garden received a major restoration. The first order of business was to write a restoration plan. Using the Cultural Landscape Report of the Garden written in 2012 as a reference, historic photographs, plant material, and hardscape elements were all considered. New drawings were completed focusing on plant material that would provide bloom in early spring and fall. The declining redbuds were replaced along with brickwork, hedges, and decorative elements. Today the garden is no longer a private family space but provides enjoyment and respite for all visitors to the Wakefield Arboretum.
The Front Garden was not created by Polly Binney Wakefield but she made significant design additions and somewhat whimsically altered the plant material and ornamentation.
The progression of the Front Garden as it evolved. At top left, a beautiful decorative gate, paving, and topiaries that were the fashion at the time of this picture but no longer exist, probably in the 1950s. At top right, the Front Garden around the time Polly died revealing heavily deer browsed or failing plant material including microbuxus and prior to the replacement of the ornaments and fencing. The other two images show the same view northwest toward the mansion of the Front Garden restored to its glory and one of the most popular features enjoyed by visitors.
Above: Before and after - The yew hedge being pruned by Polly in the mid-1940s at its most dense, opaque, and handsome, and being pruned by summer interns in 2014 as part of the process of rehabilitation. Once an elaborate fence was installed around the entire formal garden to protect vulnerable plant material, this hedge and other yews and plant material began to recover from a period of heavy deer-browsing around the time of Polly's death.
Above: Before and after - The yew hedge viewed from within the front garden before the installation of the deer fence when the rehabilitation of the Front Garden began. The more recent photo below shows the impact of the full restoration with a dense hedge, new benches, and some key ornamentation or plant material removed, restored, or replaced in-kind.
Above the view from northwest to southeast to the carriage barn showing the chicken topiaries, Cunningham's white azalea, and the white 'Alba' redbud, Cercis canadensis.
Below, the view from southwest to northeast through the Cunningham's white azaleas toward the birdbath and mirror ornament with the pink and white redbuds in peak bloom.
Garden Rooms and Lattice Nurseries
Polly’s design work behind the mansion house began with the creation of the first dogwood Allee in 1958. The topography behind the mansion descends steeply toward the Neponset River at the northeast. Letters and documents in the Wakefield archives suggest that the steep slope was fashioned into terraces as early as the 1860s. According to Polly’s notes, these terraces were filled with Cherry trees into the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By the time Polly’s father inherited the property most of the cherry trees had died and had been replaced by Norway maples.
Ultimately Polly’s father removed the Norways to grow hay for his cattle. The old granite steps (seen in the picture to the right showing Polly's earliest planting, "The Dogwood") were left to mark the original path from the mansion house to the slated roof summerhouse that once stood below. Polly planted an allee of her kousa dogwoods to mark the granite steps so that the farmer’s horse would not stumble on them while pulling the hay rake.
Later Polly added a dogwood allee spanning from the Brush Hill boundary to the southwest boundary. She also created a configuration of garden rooms each with its own theme. The grasshopper terrace is named for its focal point — a grasshopper weathervane, which is a replica of the one at Faneuil Hall (shown at left).

The Pelican Garden had several small pelican sculptures and elements. These gardens were bounded by a series of yew and tilia hedges creating intimate garden spaces. The hedges have been replaced along with many shrubs. The trees have remained the same. Because Polly planted many large trees in her landscape, some of these trees have been removed to allow understory plant material to thrive.
Polly also incorporated two plant nurseries into her design called the lattice nurseries. She used these nurseries as holding areas for newly acquired or propagated trees and shrubs, presumably to protect them from rabbits and other browsing species. A series of images of the lattice nurseries show the original purple lattice fencing adorned with many unusual lantern features. Ultimately, some unique plant species remain in the terrace gardens, whether intentional or not. They include a Rheder Wingnut, Japanese maple, cucumber magnolia, and sawara cypress.
By the time the Trust was established in 2005 the lattice fencing and many of the unique garden ornaments were in serious disrepair. As with other areas of the garden the replacement of the fence and garden elements was based on a series of considerations. For the lattice nurseries, longevity and ease of maintenance of the fencing material were of utmost importance. Keeping this in mind the decision was made to recreate the lattice fencing in the exact footprint using cedar. Currently, many of Polly’s garden ornaments are slowly being replaced using photographs and ornament remnants.
An early view of the Kalmia Terrace from the Fountain Path - this centrally located and key designed space was often used for family gatherings and used for Polly Wakefield's memorial service in 2005. It is one of this Arboretum's most stunning "rooms" flanked by a four-square planting of dawn redwoods, "green walls" of kalmias (mountain laurel), and a now mature ginkgo as its focal point, seen here as a young tree.
The above images show the dilapidated state of lattices and the once magnificent undulating yew hedge that once delineated some of the garden rooms (shown in its prime at the top of this section). Below is a contemporary image showing the newly refashioned lattice enclosure and replacement yews that will eventually be shaped into a waving shape.
Dwarf Conifer Garden
Since the creation of the trust there have been several new gardens added to the landscape. The steep slope directly behind the mansion was covered with an erosion control plant , stephanandra, heavily deer browsed yews, a massive Norway maple and a few dwarf conifers. After the exterior renovation of the house was completed in 2017, an entire dwarf conifer collection was added behind the mansion. A highly visible site in the landscape, this area was perfect to showcase the intriguing and diverse features of dwarf conifers. Steps and pathways were replaced, the stephanandra and Norway maple were removed and several tons of compost from the Wakefield composting system were added. Today the garden includes over 25 species of dwarf conifers.
The mansion as it appeared at the time of Polly's death prior to repair of the roof, cornice, and chimneys, replaced flashing and downspouts, and repainting by preservation painters who determined the historic color using a paint chip viewed under a microscope. The lattice dog-run enclosure and stephanandra were removed enabling the creation of the Dwarf Conifer Garden.
Wetland Garden
What is currently known as the Wetland garden has not been discovered as a named garden in the Wakefield Archives. Judging from aerial photographs, this wetland was constructed between 1950 and 1970, most likely as part of a system developed by Polly to slow the flow of water through the landscape to protect her kousa collection. It still holds the same purpose today. In storm events, the wetland rapidly fills with water protecting the kousas below from too much moisture. This may have intentionally been left as a wild space with few purposefully placed plants. Today, it is one of the few areas of the garden that contains many native plants. Three mature Nyssa sylvatica (black tupelo) surround the pond along with a flowering dogwood, high bush blueberries, hawthorns, and red twig dogwood. At the time of the creation of the trust, this wetland area had long been used as a dump. It contained miles of barbed wire, old bedsprings, tires, and other metal trash. The cleanup was undertaken between 2016 and 2018. Several dumpsters of trash were removed and invasive species were ripped out. The Wakefield volunteer arborist pruned all the trees and several native wetland plants were added.
The Arboretum's Allées
Students of garden design and landscape architecture learn about an important stylistic design feature that became a characteristic element of European parks and exists today in many of this country's great gardens: the Allée. The French term "allée" derives from the Middle French "alee" which is translated as "alley." The term was first used in this context in 1759 and refers to a walkway or path lined with trees of the same species, a monoculture. This use of a double row of a single species of trees is a formal design element that frames and extends the view along the path to emphasize something in the distance, or extends the view to the horizon.
The Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum has two allées that are distinctive and considered character-defining features of this cultural landscape. The best known is the "Fountain Path" or "Dogwood Allée." Lined on both sides almost entirely with Polly's kousa dogwoods, is the arboretum's key axis, and like the entry lane has become a signature of our annual Dogwood Days and the property as a whole.
Configured and planted fifty years ago using carefully chosen young plants Polly Wakefield had propagated from seed collected at the Arnold Arboretum, this allée was planted on a northeast to southwest configuration.
When created, it extended into the formerly agricultural fields where the young trees were afforded uniform sun exposure and quickly grew into a stunning effect. Later, Polly created a swale parallel to the allée and planted white pines as a windbreak that cast the "rose garden" section of the allée into deep shade. In the late nineties and at the time of Polly's death in 2004, the now mature dogwood trees were regularly topped to reduce their height. Starting in 2006, the trust stopped topping the trees and began a long process of rejuvenative pruning. The white pines were removed to allow the dogwood trees and grass panel a chance to recover.
The lesser-known "Norway Allée" is comprised of two rows of mature statuesque Norway maples with log benches at both ends. Standing within the space delineated by the trees gives the feeling of a cathedral and evokes a truly contemplative experience. When brought "into" the space, one young visitor said it felt like a theater. It was likely at its peak in the late 1990s when all of the trees were healthy and in good form. Both the fountain path and Norway Allée conveyed a most powerful sense of place at the time of Polly's death. With the decline of a few of the Norway maples that make up the allée, the form has lost some of its "presence."
While allées are aesthetically stunning and powerful, their homogeneity is the subject of significant debate among horticultural experts for a variety of reasons.
By design, the planting of a monoculture is risky as the planting is vulnerable to unanticipated disease or pest infestation targeting that species. In an instant, the entire feature can be decimated or destroyed. When an individual tree or a few trees die within the allée, arborists wrestle with another aesthetic and technical dilemma. Replacing individual trees "in-kind" in the shade of a well-established mature canopy is challenging at best and requires some special strategies to hope for success (such as thinning the crown of the other allée trees, or staggering the planting outside the original line).

In the case of our Norway Allée, the species is now considered an exotic invasive plant, and even just planting a Norway maple at this point would be questionable if it were not part of a characteristic feature. The approach of replacing with an alternative species that have a similar character is not always possible and risks destroying the allée's overall symmetry. Eliminating the feature completely and recreating it with another species is also another approach, albeit extreme. With the Arboretum's mature canopy outside the Norway Allée, the prospect of this strategy succeeding is dim as well.
The Pond
Outside the formal area of the Arboretum, the feature that has the most intriguing and mysterious history is the small pond located along the stream at the south end of the property. Based on aerials and public GIS aerials, the pond seems to have been created around 1970. Conversations with former groundsman John Hurley suggested that Polly Wakefield had originally designed the pond with one island-like peninsula. He said that it had been created along the course of an existing stream and situated at the point of a naturally occurring depression and wet area. It has naturalized over the past fifty years and functions as a healthy pond ecosystem. Fed by the stream at its east side, the water circulates within the pond before exiting across the pond where the stream continues through the property before eventually spilling into the fowl meadow and Neponset River downhill to the northwest. The pond area is considered a wetland resource and is regulated under the Wetlands Protection Act.

When the staff was doing its initial assessment of the resources at the property, they learned that in the 1990s, Polly Wakefield became alarmed that the pond was filling up with sediment from upstream, possibly run-off from Route 138 and the steep landscape of the Blue Hills beyond. She endeavored to get the Mass DOT to build a cistern to capture the sediment before it made it to the pond. At the time, she went to the elaborate lengths of having the pond completely dredged to refresh it. The sediment was excavated and spread out on the large lawn surrounding the pond. Soon after, the cistern was built upstream along route 138 to capture road silt, allowing filtered water to continue down the stream to the pond.
For the past several years, our staff members have observed erosion along the banks of our woodland stream, again resulting in large accumulations of silt and sand in our small pond leaving it with three small mound-like islands. It seems apparent that the creek's course was altered, perhaps in conjunction with the construction of the cistern or with the development of the adjacent properties. The build-up of sediment eroding from the stream banks was decreasing the amount of water in the pond and degrading the aquatic habitat for many of the wetland fauna, including frogs, fish, and crayfish. Along with three recent mature tree blowdowns (perhaps associated with changing climate trends), the course of the stream had become fragmented and its force weakened. Together, these factors were also contributing to another problem: the more stagnant water and water pools created a perfect habitat for mosquitos.
Last summer, the staff met with Norfolk County Mosquito Control (NCMC) to discuss possible ways to address the exceptionally bad mosquito infestation created by an especially wet summer. The NCMC professionals mentioned a state-funded program to excavate and clean sites to address rainwater blockages and backups that created breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Fast forward to March 2022, and our site was fortunate enough to welcome a 5-person crew from NCMC which spent a week excavating sediment and plant material from the pond, clearing related ditches and channels by hand, and shoring up banks to impede future erosion. During the excavation process, great pains were taken to preserve and protect the pond’s ecosystem including the frogs and crayfish. After this more recent dredging, the pond is renewed - its water is clear and reflective, and the abundant aquatic animals can be seen from the bank as the aquatic plants that they use as protective camouflage begins to grow back.
The aerials below illuminate the dramatic transformation of this 22-acre property during Polly's time here. In the top aerial, thought to be circa 1951, the Davenport Mansion, Front Garden, and Carriage Barn can be seen at the mid-right, along Brush Hill Road. The lane extends to the Farmhouse between the orchard and agricultural fields. While the stream is visible, the Pond and Wetland Garden do not yet exist.

The lower aerial was likely taken in the late eighties showing the Mansionhouse, Front Garden, and Carriage Barn again at mid-right. By this time, Polly had created her formal garden terraces and the Dogwood Allée, elaborate nursery plantings that included very young plants in a "striped" nursery, and an elaborate watering system and swale to feed the large man-made pond at the center, later abandoned and now the Wetland Garden.
We want to hear from you! We appreciate your feedback about our quarterly. Please let us know what research and articles you have found most interesting.
Wild Fruits: Thoreau's Rediscovered Last Manuscript
Each quarter we will suggest a new book that focuses on topics including horticulture, climate change, ecology, and the intersections of humans and nature. At the end of the quarter, a presentation will be given on the book and readers will be asked to participate in the conversation about the topic.
When Thoreau passed away in 1862 he left behind a mass of papers that would eventually be published as Wild Fruits. According to the book's editor, Bradley Dean, Wild Fruits represents Thoreau’s sacramental vision of nature- a vision compelling in part because it grew out of an approach to the natural world at once scientific and mystical. This book is beautifully written and helps us appreciate the incredible variety of native plants that can provide sustenance here in New England. On the first page of Wild Fruits Thoreau remarks, ”We cultivate imported shrubs in our front yards for the beauty of their berries, while at least equally beautiful berries grow unregarded by us in the surrounding fields."

This book will provide the backdrop for a series of programs at the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum that focus on native plants in New England. On July 26 there will be an in-person/virtual book review and discussion and a native plant walk around through the woodlands at the arboretum to gain a greater understanding of the role of native plants in the ecosystem. Our July e-newsletter will provide schedule information for this session. 
Articles written and edited by Erica Max, Debbie Merriam, and Mark Smith.
Layout by Erica Max.
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