Dogwood Lane

The Quarterly Journal of the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum ___________________________________

Volume Four, Issue 2 - Winter 2022
Polly Wakefield: A Lifelong Commitment to Community and the Environment
Mary “Polly” Wakefield led a fascinating life that not only included creating a very special landscape here at the Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum and protecting it for generations to come, but also devoting much of her life to protecting and beautifying other historic and ecologically significant elements of the Massachusetts landscape. This quarterly journal only begins to scratch the surface of Polly’s commitment to her community and the environment. 

As a young woman, Polly found her true calling in protecting special places. Like others before her, Polly’s passion for and understanding of sense of placehelped protect and restore many wonderful places that we enjoy every day. Polly’s involvement with the Noanett Garden Club was only the beginning of her associations with important conservation organizations and efforts, including the Blue Star Highway Committee, The Friends of the Public Garden, and the effort to stop the construction of the Southwest Expressway through the Fowl Meadow.
Over the last few months, we have found ourselves volleying comments to one another from our offices in the farmhouse, or sharing hand- or type-written documents we found in boxes of Polly’s papers shedding new light on the many causes that she fought for. As staff members, it has been a true feeling of discovery and camaraderie in yet another difficult COVID season.
It is also with deep sadness that we dedicate this quarterly to another important figure whose foresight, imagination, and perseverance helped shape this place and the work we carry out, as well as the entire Milton community. John Cronin, former Town Administrator, and a true leader and gentleman passed away on January 27. We will miss him dearly.
The Cultivation of a Future Activist and Community Organizer:
Polly's Experience with Noanett Garden Club, Garden Club of America, and the Blue Star Highway Initiative
By Erica Max
Polly Wakefield's evolution from debutante in the depths of the Great Depression to activist in the 1970s was deeply influenced by the immense social and technological changes and significant world events that occurred during her youth. It was a time of enormous upheaval. Communities were grappling with unfamiliar impacts of industrialization on cities and suburbs alike. The invention of the automobile was creating a myriad of unforeseen consequences including the need for road development and strategies to address litter and advertising excesses, as well as concerns about safety. The whole world was facing the looming threat and impact of another world war.
It was in this climate that young Polly, who had fallen in love with nature and trees during her forays into the Public Garden near her family's Boston home on Marlborough Street, would choose her life's path. Her pedigree assured her of a place in the "Social Register," and, based on our recent research, likely provided an entre to some of the key organizations and figures that would greatly influence her evolution into a horticulturalist, propagator, environmentalist, and conservation pioneer. The choices she would make about organizations to which she would devote her time would facilitate her development into an active and inspiring public servant.
The "Mary Binney" that would later become an influential horticultural leader, advisor, and activist, was born out of her involvement and eventual arduous commitment to several organizations, the first being the Noanett Garden Club, which she joined at the young age of 28.
Started in 1923 and headed for the first decade by her relative Louisa Frothingham, this very special club brought Polly into a fertile incubator with women who would influence her throughout her lifetime including Mrs. Walter Hunnewell of Wellesley's renowned Pinatum and Amelia Peabody, accomplished philanthropist and sculptor from Dover, who would create several of the animal sculptures Polly displayed in her garden. Like other early garden clubs, the members' initial activities focused on gardening and expeditions to outstanding gardens and notable natural areas such as the Harvard Forest and Rhododendron Swamp in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. The Noanett Club joined the Garden Club of America (GCA) in 1926 at a time when its primary focus was conservation and this became an important focus for Noanett.

A publication entitled A History of Conservation and National Affairs & Legislation The Garden Club of America outlines the premise that led to its creation: "The founding of GCA in 1913 (three years before the creation of the National Park system in 1916) was not a random occurrence. The founders of GCA, as gardeners, were in a unique position to reflect on the natural world and man’s influence, for good or bad, on it. As women of intellect and education, they decided to band together, pool their knowledge and resources, and act. It should be remembered that conservation as a founding idea was a novel concept and it is a credit to the imagination and sensibilities of the founding members of GCA that preservation of the natural world should be a goal.”
Within the context of Noanett, Polly would be witness to GCA's significance and potential influence. Polly would also devote her efforts to another national garden organization to which Noanett was a member: the National Council of State Garden Clubs (NCSGC and later known as the National Garden Clubs), an organization "dedicated to preserving our earth’s natural resources through community civic beautification and environmental conservation."

And the founding statement for the GCA organization mirrors what would become a description of Polly's life work: “To stimulate the knowledge and love of gardening among amateurs, to share the advantages of association through conference and correspondence, in this country and abroad; to aid in the protection of native plants and birds, and to encourage civic planting,”1 and the NGCs "conservation pledge" seems like it could have been her mantra: "I pledge to protect and conserve the natural resources of the planet earth and promise to promote education so we may become caretakers of our air, water, forest, land, and wildlife."2
By the time Noanett joined the GCA (in 1926), President Woodrow Wilson had called upon GCA to encourage everyone to organize and plant vegetable gardens in support of the war effort, women had been granted the right to vote, and family automobiles were becoming more common. The GCA had formed committees to address conservation of forests, birds, and native plants; and to address the new "menace" of billboards and “urge restriction of all outdoor advertising to commercial districts where it will not injure scenery, civic beauty or residential values, and to educate the public so far as possible, in roadside cleanliness and beautification.” Noanett Garden Club’s members participated in conservation activities, clearing brush and invasive plants, planting wildflowers at Moose Hill Bird Sanctuary, and later entered into the fight against Billboards in 1939, continuing the effort for decades. These themes would resonate with Polly and sow her commitment to the efforts of conservation as well as initiatives such as the Blue Star Highway system, and her later opposition to the I-95 interchange through the Fowl Meadow.

Prior to joining Noanett, Polly attended Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture for Women in Groton, MA, started by Judith Eleanor Motley Low. Through her association with Lowthorpe, Polly would develop valuable ties to some of the high-caliber instructors drawn to the school by Low’s connections to Boston, especially the Bussey Institute and Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University and Fletcher Steele, who would later do significant work in Milton including the Spaulding garden (and possibly here at our arboretum although it is not documented.)
With the world focused on WWII at the time she joined Noanett, Polly, like many women, was already hard at work at the Milton property doing work in the landscape that would normally have been completed by men. In 1944, the New Jersey State Council of Garden Clubs created "a living memorial to the men and women of the Armed Forces" of the state, beautifying a 5½-mile stretch of U.S. 22 by planting over 8,000 dogwood trees. Cornus florida, or white flowering dogwoods, were chosen because it was considered the state's most beautiful native tree.  "The ‘Blue Star,’ taken from the blue star in the service flag, was chosen to symbolize the memorial because it was used during World War II on flags and homes of families that had a son or daughter in the service." In January of 1945, this stretch of highway was designated "Blue Star Drive."
The New Jersey State Highway Commissioner, Spencer Miller, Jr. called upon garden clubs in other states to follow their lead, asking the National Council of the GCA to not only participate in this memorialization by designation of the highway but to carry it further pursuing a general beautification program through memorial plantings of native trees and shrubs, special features such as roadside rest areas, bird sanctuaries, playgrounds and through the elimination of blighted areas. The National Council echoed his ideas stating, "We urge strong protective measures also, through planning, zoning, and voluntary cooperation in improving roadside standards. The Blue Star Memorial Highway should serve as a demonstration area for ALL approved practices in Conservation, Horticulture, Safety and other fields of Garden Club interest," and quoted Miller’s statement, "But if we fail of full realization, we can at least go forward with the knowledge that we are helping to redeem our times and to build a civilization which is fit for free men, for we shall be helping to build America the beautiful."3
By 1946, another national garden organization, the National Council of State Garden Clubs (NCSGC and later known as the National Garden Clubs), was also making a call to action, suggesting that the project provided the opportunity for the State Garden Clubs to utilize the roadsides for some type of a living memorial of native material designed and developed in such a way as "to recognize the genius and contribution of each state or Garden Club." The goal went beyond placing markers. The broader objective encompassed not just memorialization, but also beautifying roadsides, improving vehicular safety, while also providing sanctuary for native plants and animals. In a 1948 address, Mrs. Vance Hood of Boonton, New Jersey, the first Chairman of the Blue Star Memorial Highway program articulated that "The project was organized as a demonstration of roadside beautification, to show what could be accomplished through united strength, as a protest against billboards, to educate the public to higher standards of roadside development."4 As these clubs began to take on a more affirmative and demonstrative posture, the project was viewed as affording an opportunity for the members of NCSGCs to demonstrate what can be done in the area of citizen-government cooperation.  Mrs. Hood acknowledged, "Today the citizen too frequently feels a sense of frustration in his or her inability to do anything constructive about many of the perplexing problems of our time except send letters of protest to Congressmen or Legislators or exercise the primary right of petition." Responding to this call, the NCSGCs began to sponsor a nationwide effort to create the Blue Star Memorial Highway program to pay tribute to the Armed Forces that had defended the United States.4
For whatever reason, whether it was because soldiers, including her brother, were returning home, or because the project provided the ideal combination of horticulture, concern about beauty, conservation, and safety, as well as constructively confronting the growing problems born out of the development of a growing highway system, Polly embraced the challenge and brought the idea to the Massachusetts Federated Garden Clubs. By 1948, she was part of a committee creating a planting plan for the landscaping of a two-mile stretch along the Newburyport turnpike from Lynnfield toward Peabody. The committee emphasized their long-range planning and commitment to restoring native species such as tupelos and native plants with significant wildlife benefits, and seasonal appeal such as flowering crab apples, dogwoods, mountain laurel, highbush blueberries, and azaleas. Committee members included her mentor Dr. Donald Wyman of the Arnold Arboretum and John McMannon, a representative from the state Department of Public Works.
Polly Binney Wakefield with representatives of the military and DPW at the dedication of the Salsbury Marker in 1954 designating a then "new" section of Route 1 (now I-95).
Still a youthful 34, Polly Binney fully committed to the project, and had become the State Chairman of the Massachusetts Blue Star Highway project by the time she became Mrs. Kennard Wakefield in 1952. She would devote the next 25 years to realizing its creation, answering the NCSGC’s call to “recognize the genius and contribution” of Massachusetts garden clubs. The Blue Star Highway initiative would eventually span more than thirty thousand miles nationally with over 400 Memorial markers along its course, "each with its plantings to mark the route and remind the traveler of our debt of gratitude to the men and women who have served in our defense.” The entire project was planned and executed in cooperation with the various States' Departments of Public Works (DPW). Under Polly's direction, the Massachusetts sections grew to include 75 miles of interstate routes 95 and 495, created by members of the Garden Clubs in the Garden Club Federation of Massachusetts with extensive plant donations from many of Polly's horticultural partners including Weston Nurseries and the Arnold Arboretum, and in concert with oversight and assistance from the state's DPW and current Public Works Commissioner, an honorary committee member. Here, it's worth noting that Frank Sargent served in this capacity for two years, 1964-1966, after being on the committee during key years in the development of state and interstate highways. Based on notes and pictures, as well as the proximity of the residence of Frank Sargent's mother-in-law, Mrs. Edward Fay on Green Street, and her membership in Noanett Garden Club after 1957, we know that Polly had some level of an acquaintance with the Sargents. 
(Later, as a Governor uniquely familiar with the challenges presented by this frenzy of highway development due to his DPW work, he would enact a moratorium on the completion of the massive interstate highway network and cancel construction of the Southwest Artery, a fascinating and interconnected tale described in the following article. For Polly, her early efforts on behalf of Blue Star Highway and Memorial Planting, and Sargent’s predecessor Governor Volpe's interest in a mid-20th century embrace of highways were at odds. She abhorred the plan for the superhighway to be paved through her beloved Fowl Meadow, and was poised for the battle - her apprenticeship was complete. She was now a seasoned and vocal advocate for careful and responsible development that considers all the interrelated factors necessary. She was proud to assert that the memorial highway in Massachusetts had accomplished its goals, and was considered "an outstanding example of a highway that is safe and attractive through the careful development of its freeway and the protection of its view.”)
From Polly's own pamphlet entitled, "Plantings on the Blue Star Memorial Highway in Massachusetts 1949-74," we learn a great deal about the challenges, successes, disappointments, and impact of the Blue Star Highway initiative. As is the case with other writing by Polly, this text belies a broader understanding of horticulture and landscape architecture than probably intended as she shares this anecdote: "People who come to Massachusetts for the first time are often surprised by the severity of the climate, the extremes of below-freezing temperatures that may last for weeks (sometimes without a protective covering of snow) and the long periods of drought with often occur during the hot summers, added to its proverbially stony soil, make survival difficult enough for plants without the addition of the searing winds that sweep down highway corridors at all seasons. Plants that grow along the Blue Star Memorial Highway have all these elements to contend with. Those which are added after the highway is constructed, are chosen not only for their aesthetic value and their hardiness but for their practical value as well. Plantings are made to prevent soil erosion, to provide ground covering that does not need mowing, to form shelterbelts and buffer strips to hide unattractive sights; to frame views; to lessen the noise of the traffic; to cut down the glare of oncoming headlights or to accent intersections and the edges of curves. In short, when well planned and executed, good highway planting can add immeasurably to the interest, variety, and beauty of the highway as well as to its safety and economy of maintenance."

The pamphlet also elaborates on the massive scale of Polly's Blue Star initiative in Massachusetts over the course of those three decades. The plantings, which included masses of ground cover, thousands of bulbs, and hundreds of flowering trees to create "an effective drift" of color, also served the purpose of cutting down the glare from oncoming headlights to make night driving safer, and stabilize slopes to prevent erosion. By 1954, the plantings included sassafras, shad, sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum), native dogwoods and hawthorns, flowering crabapples, red and white pines, maples, ashes, oaks, willows, serviceberry, inkberry, laurel, chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia and melanocarpa), Genista tinctoria, hypericums, bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), and masses of lowbush blueberry sods. As gifts of plants for the new highway came from the Arnold Arboretum and garden clubs in the 60s, the plant palette expanded further to include over 150 trees and shrubs selected for their ornamental value and hardiness including rare varieties such as Prunus maackii, unusual varieties of cherries, ash, mountain ash, lilacs, ninebarks, and viburnums. The planting of the roadsides in Hopkinton was the most stunning accomplishment. Faced with the more difficult task of planting in "low wet areas, hills, and dramatic outcroppings of rock through which the highway" had been cut, Polly conferred with members of the Roadside Development section of the DPW about the soil and climate variations unique to the site and consulted with Edmund Mezitt of Weston Nurseries located nearby. In addition to advice, he contributed $50,000 of plant material chosen to blend with native vegetation and adapt well to the site including paper birch, swamp, and pinkshell azaleas, fothergillas, and varieties of Rhododendron carolinianum and maximum. The vestiges of plantings along I-495 are still visible today and represent wonderful examples of the Blue Star Memorial project, and are "a true example of citizen-government cooperation."5
In thinking about the massive accomplishments of the Blue Star program, it is important to remember that it was not until the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 that a program was established for funding and building the first highway systems we know today.  Roads were being built at a rapid pace to accommodate the expanding use of automobiles. The popularity of this new mode of transport had created a host of unforeseen considerations - the need for "on-ramps and off-ramps," need for rest stops and fueling stations, the need for updated road construction standards for faster yet safe roads, a system to connect the states - "interstate highways," and a means to address the proliferation of billboards and litter. The campaigns "Keep America Beautiful" and "Don't Be A LItterbug" were devised to combat this suddenly occurring blight. 
By the 1950s, the GCA Conservation Committee already had a long list of accomplishments to its credit and began focusing on new areas of concern, stating it now had to facilitate translation of "the principles of conservation into personal action, and thus encourage others to recognize our responsibility for our natural resources.” GCA leadership was testifying on Capitol Hill in the late fifties about “Problems Encountered by the Massive Broadcasting of Highly Toxic Pesticides.” Spurred on by the extraordinary success of Rachel Carson’s landmark book Silent Spring, this was an issue that was resonating with garden clubs nationwide and was of great concern to Polly Wakefield. The GCA's position was that “The majority of insecticides often used as massive sprays from planes, kill birds, fish, animals, and insects of all kinds – good as well as bad. We should make our voices heard in Washington.” Clubs began to study this issue and individual members including Polly organized voluminous mail campaigns to legislators raising concern about damage to wildlife resulting from the use of highly toxic chemicals in spray programs as well as the need for state billboard legislation. The GCA advocated this strategy: first, rouse the public, then educate, and finally, take adequate action.  As one member reported, “This we must do, or our grandchildren will spend their lives regretting our apathy.”6
Soon after, “Lady Bird Johnson’s Bill,” the Highway Beautification Act, was signed into law in 1965, calling for the removal of billboards, roadside junkyards and much outdoor advertising, and encouraging scenic enhancements, and flower plantings along roadways. The GCA was urging Polly and its member clubs to extend their efforts into legislation and national affairs, and she responded by pursuing the successful ratification of Bill S. 1044 in 1968 which designated the over 70 miles of Massachusetts highways she’d worked so hard to enhance as "Blue Star Memorials." This would be the first of her several legislative efforts which included tireless letter-writing campaigns to ensure national ratification of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
In Massachusetts, Polly's committee was also grappling with the confusing re-numbering of the highways to create an elaborate interconnected system of highways or interstates with even-numbered roads traveling east to west and odd-numbered roads traveling north to south. By 1967, it was clear that no part of Route 1, which had been the site of Massachusetts' first Blue Star plantings "would ever permit the full realization of the objectives of the Memorial in Massachusetts." Some of the extensive plantings Polly had organized were inadvertently or intentionally clear-cut, and commercial development had been allowed. The significance of the Blue Star Highway began to fade. Polly shared her disappointment: ”Much of the celebrated plantings have been displaced by highway "improvements"(safety fencing, incursions on the center strip and general reconstruction.)" Nonetheless unsinkable, Polly's committee devised an important off-shoot that would sustain the program: "Blue Star By-ways." The plantings of this initiative, mostly located at Massachusetts' signature rotaries or parkways, enabled the model to persist and gain even greater and sustained notoriety. In many cases, these Blue Star By-way plantings are done by prominent garden clubs who also commit to their maintenance (e.g. Chestnut Hill Garden Club maintains the stunning Blue Star plantings near Putterham Circle). Because they are located in neighborhoods, and sometimes even sited in settings of natural beauty and public engagement, they can be enjoyed during a pause or at least at a lower speed while driving.
The Fight to Save the Fowl Meadow, and so much more… 
By Mark Smith
On the heels of Polly’s work on the Blue Star Highway Program she was compelled to get involved in another highway project - this time in opposition. 
Two hundred yards downhill to the west from The Mary May Binney Wakefield Arboretum are several thousand acres of marshlands and wetlands called the Fowl Meadow.  When Isaac Davenport built his mansion here in the late 18th century, the meadow, the Neponset River, and Mt. Wachusett on the western horizon were all visible from the lawn of the mansion. 
Fowl Meadow
The Fowl Meadow is a beautiful expanse of wildlife habitat, home to dozens of species of birds, mammals, amphibians, and fish - from great blue herons to river otters - including numerous threatened or endangered species, including the Blue Spotted Salamander and Least Bittern.  The area is rich in historical and archeological resources that date back 10,000 years to the Paleo Indian Period. The Neponset River flows through the meadow which stretches nearly 8 miles through Milton, Canton, Westwood, Norwood, Dedham, Sharon and Hyde Park. 
In addition to providing wildlife with critical habitat areas, the wetlands of the Fowl Meadow serve as an important flood control barrier along the Neponset River. After heavy rains, the wetlands soak up excess water and then release it slowly over the course of several weeks. This sponge effect helps to reduce the peak river levels during floods, helps recharge underground aquifers, and prevents water from rushing downstream – potentially causing property damage downstream in Hyde Park and Dorchester.  The wetlands of the Fowl Meadow are a key part of the Neponset River watershed that recharge numerous wells that provide drinking water for tens of thousands of people who live in Canton, Dedham, and Westwood. (NepRWA). 
The Neponset River runs through Fowl Meadow.
Beginning in the 1960s in the name of progress and urban renewal, the state highway planners proposed to extend Interstate 95 all the way into Boston instead of ending at Route 128 (as it does today). The proposed highway, what became known as the Southwest Expressway, would have paved over much of the Fowl Meadow and created a major interchange on top of Paul’s Bridge, a historic bridge located at the bottom of Brush Hill Road where it meets the Neponset River.
The new expressway was to be an eight-lane, mostly elevated extension of I-95 from Canton that would go through Readville, Hyde Park, Roslindale, Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and the South End. The highway was to meet up with the Inner Belt (another proposed highway linking Boston to Cambridge and Somerville) as a five-story interchange near where the Reggie Lewis Track Complex in Roxbury is now. The design also included a by-pass that would spill 40,000 cars into the South End every day.  
Proposed highway off-ramp into the South End
As word spread of the proposed highway project, people began to mobilize. It prompted citizens both inside and outside of Boston to start to work together to stop the proposed highway expansion. Eventually, neighborhood-based groups from the affected communities came together under the name of the Greater Boston Coalition on the Transportation Crisis (GBCTC, or GBC for short).  
Proposed route of I-95 through Fowl Meadow and Boston neighborhoods
When the highway’s proposed route was unveiled showing the route passing through the Fowl Meadow, residents in the suburbs surrounding the area began to strategize as well. A staunch conservationist, Polly Wakefield rolled up her sleeves and got to work, alarmed at the proposed destruction of the Fowl Meadow just below her home. Polly joined a small group of neighbors in Milton, mostly women, including Hannah Bigelow, Elizabeth Houghton, and John Hemenway among others began to write letters to key figures in state government in opposition of the highway’s expansion. 
Engineered route through the Fowl Meadow
Through her civically-minded work on other projects in the 1950s, like the Blue Star Highways (see related article) and the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, Polly had built an extensive network of relationships within state government and academia. 
In June of 1965, Polly communicated with various officials on both state and federal levels to advise them of the threat posed by the Massachusetts State Department of Public Works’ proposed routing of the I-95 extension through the Fowl Meadow.

Despite their advocacy and pleas to save the Fowl Meadow, the project appeared fait accompli. 
In a letter Polly wrote to Harvard Law School Professor Charles Harr in January, 1966 she warned: “The threat to the Reservation is no longer a potential one, it is an actual one…The Southwest Expressway has been recommended to proceed throughout the entire length of this portion of the Fowl Meadow along its easterly bank. This callous disregard for the beauty of this extensive natural open-space watershed area is only exceeded by the complete disregard for human safety.” 
Beginning in 1966 the destruction in Boston’s neighborhoods began before the final route of the proposed highway was formally approved. More than 500 homes and businesses between Forest Hills and the South End were destroyed to clear the way for the Expressway. This included the clearing of Jackson Square and Roxbury Crossing.
Proposed route of the inner beltway
As houses were bulldozed and neighborhoods cut in two, grassroots resistance intensified. The first organized response was a “Beat the Belt” rally in October 1966. In the fall of 1967, citizens from Jamaica Plain and Roxbury came together to organize the community to stop it. 
Community members organized to put "People Before Highways" and "Beat the Belt."
Fearing the Fowl Meadow might be next, Polly intensified her advocacy as well, contacting people in the Johnson administration. In a 1966 letter to First Lady Ladybird Johnson, she emphasized the social benefit and value of the Fowl Meadow’s open space for generations to come. Her letter to the First Lady quotes Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas’ Wilderness Bill of Rights: “Wilderness areas are, or should be, teaching areas. Every county in the land should have at least one and cities too, where it is too late to save a nearby swamp, a meadow, a stand of woods. An outdoor teaching area is...priceless.”7
She continued, describing to the First Lady the meadow’s multiple benefits, including open space and recreation, habitat for wildlife, and flood control for thousands of homes in adjacent communities. Despite the highways impacts on these and other attributes of the meadow, she was most concerned about the loss of wilderness and natural beauty: “In my comments to you I shall confine my comments to the contamination, defamation and desecration of one of the most beautiful and extensive wildlife areas in eastern Massachusetts.” 
According to the Rev. Thomas Corrigan, who became chairman of the Greater Boston Coalition on the Transportation Crisis, “the highway builders made a decision that provided the final element for the protest movement. Until that time, it was still largely an urban movement. Unless the suburbs were drawn in, the highways would continue to move toward the city.” Looking back at the effort, Rev. Corrigan reflected on what cemented the urban-suburban alliance that became such a powerful social movement: “Then the DPW moved ahead with plans to build a segment of the highway through a wildlife sanctuary in the suburbs.  In one stroke they brought to our organization the conservationists and the environmentalists — the middle- and upper-class suburbanites who had in existence a powerful lobby at the State Capitol.” 8
Recently, Ellen Anderson, a Boston resident who was friends with the Milton group, recalled a story from that time: “Here is an interesting story told to me by Elizabeth Houghton: She says that she and her group in Milton, of which Polly was a member, were very close to Jesse Sargent, Frank's wife. He was waffling about what to do and she was firmly against the whole Southwest Expressway. Elizabeth says Jesse was the one who finally prevailed with him. All of those women worked to keep Fowl Meadow and the Neponset River protected until they died.”  
Aerial of the abandoned I-95 extension in Canton, adjacent to Fowl Meadow
In the end, a citizen lawsuit stopped the proposal. In a remarkable press conference, Governor Sargent went on statewide television the night of February 11, 1970, to talk to the people of Massachusetts about his decision to stop the highway project. Former Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation Jim Alioso describes the event: “What Sargent said that night provoked gasps among many who had never heard a Governor publicly admit error. ‘Four years ago, I was the commissioner of the Department of Public Works – our road-building agency. Then, nearly everyone was sure highways were the only answer to transportation problems for years to come. We were wrong. . . Are we really meeting our transportation needs by spending most of our money building roads? The answer is no.’”

“If you look at the proposed alignments of the two big projects sent to the dustbin by Sargent – the proposed Southwest Expressway and Inner Belt – it’s easy to see how destructive they would have been to the fabric and future of the city. Greater Boston would not be the place it is today had these mega-highway systems been built; indeed, many of the essential elements of its identity and sense of place would not exist.”
- Jim Aliosi 9
Boston and its suburbs would hardly be recognizable today had the highway been built.  The averted environmental and societal tragedy is a compelling example of the role citizens can and do play in protecting the natural and social environments that make our local communities beautiful and desirable.  Had it not been for the visionaries who worked together and fought the highway project, so much of Boston and its neighborhoods would have been irreversibly destroyed, including the Fowl Meadow. 
The Neponset River near Paul's Bridge in fall.
PS: Author’s note: I live in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston.  Had it been approved, the Southwest Expressway would have cut through my neighborhood a mere three blocks from my home. I cannot fathom the desecration — the word Polly used in her letter to the First Lady — to my current surroundings the highway would have caused.  I am forever grateful for the foresight, conviction and energy of so many people, including Polly, who took a stand to defend our neighborhoods and the habitat of those species who call their home the Fowl Meadow. 
A fall view of Fowl Meadow from Burma Road - photo by Deb Merriam
For a thorough and compelling account of the movement to stop the Southwest Expressway, see Karilyn Crockett’s book, People Before Highways.
Boston Public Garden in fall. photo credit: flicker
Polly Wakefield’s work on the Boston Public Garden
By Debbie Merriam
In early January of 2021, I took an evening walk in the Boston Public Garden. After having learned of Polly Wakefield’s participation in the renovation of this historic garden, I often visit to identify trees that she may have chosen in the 30 years she volunteered for The Friends of the Public Garden.  This January evening, my visit was especially wonderful due to the fact that there was a Barred owl sitting in one of the big willow trees along the edge of the pond. I thought this particularly fitting because not only was Polly involved in helping save this very special garden at a low point in its history, she was also involved in protecting ‘non-game’ wildlife species along with many other conservation efforts.   
The original design of the Public Garden was the result of an 1859 competition won by George Meacham
In 2022, the Friends of the Public Garden organization is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its founding. Polly Wakefield was instrumental in the work that was accomplished by the Friends.  Perusing hundreds of documents from our archives we discovered Polly’s hand-written notes of her personal recollections about the process of the renovation work that returned the garden to its early splendor. Also discovered was a copy of a letter written on Friends of the Public Garden stationary by Henry Lee, the Friends’ long-time director, recommending Polly for the distinguished award from the Garden Clubs of America which she later received. The following paragraph is an excerpt from that letter eloquently explaining Polly’s contributions: 

"Although I am familiar with her efforts in other areas such as the protection of non-game wildlife it is her contribution to Boston’s public garden to which I can speak with particular knowledge. In the early 70s the Garden had reached a point of deterioration so serious that many people feared for its survival. Already a founding member of the Friends of the Public Garden, Polly became the chairman of the Garden's Horticultural Planning Committee, a unique public-private board including representatives of the Friends, the Park Commission, and several other agencies. In this capacity she has worked with extraordinary skill and imagination, uniting the efforts of all involved and slowly restoring the Garden to its traditional role as a botanical showplace. No list of accomplishments would do justice to the time, attention, and leadership she has brought to this task undertaken amid other demands including the care of her own extensive garden in Milton. 
Some of the more evident improvements wrought by the committee include re-landscaping the two entrances, the return of the roses to the garden after a fifty-year absence, the tree planting of some 45 specimen trees, production of a descriptive brochure, and the preparation of a long-term plan for tree planting, the first I suspect in the garden’s history. It is not exaggerated to write that Polly has done more than any private individual in this century to enhance the garden's botanical quality. Her success has derived not only from her dedication and knowledge but also from the ability to work effectively with city officials, both gardeners, and administrators, and to earn their universal respect. At city hall, it is now accepted practice before reaching a decision on planting to “ask Polly Wakefield.”
A 1988 photo taken by Polly Wakefield of the main pathway in the Public Garden. Plantings include impatiens, Browallia, and Lantana standards with a new post and chain fence.
Not only was Polly involved in the renovation of the Boston Public Garden, but she also had a clear understanding of the garden’s storied past. Like all good preservationists, Polly took the time to learn the history of the garden before making recommendations for its restoration.  In 1988, Polly published an article in the Arnold Arboretum's Arnoldia magazine entitled The Boston Public Garden - Showcase of the City 10 detailing the history of the garden and the efforts by the Friends to restore it.
Boston Public Garden in 1904
It is hard to imagine that the public garden we enjoy today was originally part of an area of Boston known as Round Marsh. Round Marsh was a tidal marsh inundated with water at high tides from the Charles River. In 1821, a dam was built that separated Round Marsh from the Charles River creating a large fetid mudflat. In 1828, the City began to fill in the marsh, intending the land to be sold for house lots. Fortunately, city residents banded together to keep the land open and in 1938 a group of Bostonians headed by Horace Gray obtained a lease from the city of Boston and incorporated the “Proprietors of the Botanic Garden in Boston” charged with creating the Public Garden on the filled land west of Charles Street. The city eventually granted ownership to the group and they appointed a board of trustees. Although the marsh was not completely filled at this time, gardeners began laying out the garden adding trees, roses, herbaceous plants and a boardwalk. The proprietors also imported hundreds of tulips from Europe and the garden slowly grew in popularity. An old circus building near the Charles and Beacon Street intersection was purchased and filled with tropical plants and rare birds. There was also a collection of more than one thousand camellias, which were a great attraction for Bostonians.
Over the next 150 years the garden went through many changes. Horace Gray and his organization went bankrupt and the city took over management. In 1860, the city of Boston hosted a contest to design a plan for the park’s extension and improvement. The contest was won by a young architect named Robert Meachem and many of the design elements he included were added to the design. Although he did not design Commonwealth Avenue Mall, the Public Garden, or the Boston Common, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. either modified already existing plans or implemented new plantings and pathways during the development of a series of linked parks, the “Boston’s Emerald Necklace” in the 1870s. In 1897, the first subway station was built changing the configuration and size of the garden. Finally, the Great Depression was the beginning of a slow decline that lasted into the 1970s. Trees and other plant material began to decline significantly. A quote from Polly’s article in Arnoldia stated: “…in the 1950’s and 60’s games of frisbee were played to disastrous effect on the tulips. Trees began dying and the staff shrunk in size. The wear and tear caused by hippies and others was 24 hours a day.” 
Anti-war demonstrators flowing into the Public Garden
By the 1970s, the Public Garden, Boston Common and Commonwealth Avenue Mall were all in serious disrepair. The Friends focused initially on the Public Garden, but attention soon turned to the Boston Common and Commonwealth Avenue Mall as well. These areas also suffered from crime, vandalism, and misuse and were ravaged by the effects of Dutch Elm disease, killing many of the majestic elms planted early in the century. The first report of the Friends group read: “…the successful restoration and maintenance of the Public Garden requires as a first step basic improvements, including a new perimeter fence, proper equipment, storage facilities and adequate number of trained gardeners, an underground sprinkling system, means of controlling circulation, preventing vandalism and providing safety during all hours the garden is open to the public.” In 1971, a comprehensive tree survey was completed and a management plan was put into place including spraying, pruning, guying and the removal of hazardous trees. A more comprehensive survey was completed that including infrared photography that revealed the poor condition of the soil: 

“It is known that much of the original fill contained muck and other kinds of organic matter which continually release carbon dioxide to the soil and atmosphere in addition to the normal amount released by plant roots. Examination of the topsoil reveals that it is extremely compacted which in turn prevents the high concentration of carbon dioxide gas from escaping and also prevents the entrance of oxygen to the soil, which the roots require.”  
The biggest threat occurred in the 1970s when The Park Plaza Urban Renewal Plan called for six million square feet of development in five to six towers 450 to 650 feet high along Boylston Street. These buildings would have created untenable levels of shade and wind on the Garden and Common. However, the Friends were able to stop the plan which gave them broad visibility and brought widespread attention to the condition of the parks. 

Polly's role as the Chairman of the Garden’s Horticultural Planning Committee could not have been better suited for her- the skills she had acquired as a horticulturalist and organizer were instrumental, giving her a special ability to bring the teams together, and assign tasks for taking care of the park. In her personal papers Polly writes of different experiments with plant material: “…we are experimenting with the area by Newbury Street. Five Chinese dogwoods hated it and regressed each winter, but the nearby Japanese maple loves it! Two cornelian cherries are placed there in fresh soil. Meanwhile, the dogwoods are thriving on Charles Street near the great poplar and nearby the Robin Hill Pink Shadblow blooms against backgrounds of dark purple leaved smoke bush.”
Another personal note by Polly provided a note of humor when dealing with many issues of a well-used public space: “The garden is not always as peaceful as it appears to be on the surface. Life in the garden is always full of surprises. I promised Henry (Henry Lee, then President of the Friends) not to go into all of them now but one must have definitely been a first!! At a meeting, one of our directors mentioned how pleasantly surprised she had been to see a nice-looking young man digging a hole for a young flowering tree. Wherefrom I announced that 3 of our recently planted crabapple trees on the bank near the bridge were missing-----Silence----then the awful truth dawned! …After some weeks of sleuthing a young man was identified and queried. He admitted he had done the deed because he thought they would look better near Arlington Street! He was sorry he caused an inconvenience and the gardeners returned the trees to their position near the bridge and watered them faithfully for the rest of the season." 
The Boston Public Garden in 1975 with the newly completed Hancock Tower in the background. Photo credit: Boston Globe
The Friends hard work ultimately paid off and Polly makes a clear note of this in an undated notebook: This is the first time I have felt that planting in the garden was nearing completion. The main lines are done and we can add touches here and there filling gaps somehow, it is a relief.  A schedule of pruning and feeding should be undertaken by skillful people. Emergency measures are not in the best interests of the trees nor is giving the job to the lowest bidders. Middle-aged trees in the garden whilst should have years of magnificence ahead of them show the results of this intermittent care.”
“Let us organize to re-establish the contact between the land and the people.” —Polly Wakefield 
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Entangled Life: How Fungi Make our Worlds, Change Our Minds & Shape Our Futures

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 zoom presentation will be given on the book and readers will be asked to participate in the conversation about the topic.
Merlin Sheldrake is a biologist and writer, with a PhD in tropical ecology from the University of Cambridge for his work on underground fungal networks in Panama. This book reminds us that mushrooms are only the fruiting bodies of fungi, in essence, "the fruit of the tree," and yet fungi comprise a massive and diverse kingdom unto themselves. These organisms support and sustain nearly all living systems. Sheldrake explores how fungi can "alter our minds, heal our bodies, and even help us remediate environmental disasters." He suggests that these organisms and our relationship with them, are transforming our understanding of how life works.

Join us in May for a zoom discussion about fungi and this book, considered "One of those rare books that can truly change the way you see the world around you." Date TBD.
Articles written and edited by Erica Max, Debbie Merriam, and Mark Smith.
Layout by Erica Max.
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