The Avon Hill Garden

The Avon Hill Garden embraces the owner’s 1887 house on three sides and is divided naturally into three main areas that progress from relatively public to more private and even rather hidden spots as the bluestone walkways draw the visitor inward from the entrance on the street. While it is apparent that an enormous amount of thinking and experience as well as a refined taste have informed the creation of this garden, one is hardly aware of design in a formal sense. This is partly the result of the use of materials and planting natural to the New England landscape and seasons. At the same time, it is obvious that the owners’ sensitivity to effects of texture, scent, and color result in an interesting layering of plants that makes each horticultural category seem to sing for itself. The wonderful variety of ground covers, the way certain flowering varieties seem almost hidden while others with a stronger palette reach for the sun, above all an underlying structure provided by repetition and contrast of leaf forms and greens, create a garden where detail and drama both have a place.

Avon Hill Garden Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens
Avon Hill Garden Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens

The Brattle Street Garden

This is a large urban garden with a dynamic sequence of spaces filled with a riot of colors and textures that reflect its architect owner’s keen sensitivity to design as well as his love and extensive knowledge of plants. The gardens are filled with a huge variety of specimen trees, shrubs, and herbaceous material tucked everywhere, along with sculptures, fountains, stonewalls, and wood fences. An undulating stone wall frames the lawn with plant beds above.

A pruned Japanese Maple dominates the bowed-out space. The subtle contouring of these plant beds related to the surrounding stone wall and wood fence creates the sense of a deep sunken garden that is extremely private. Low flower beds line two sides of this space and here bergenia, peonies, thalictrum rochebrunianum, lilies, digitalis and poppies grow in profusion. This is truly a beautiful garden with a dynamic sequence of spaces and rooms which link together.

Brattle Street Smithsonian Archive of American Gardens
Brattle Street Smithsonian Archive of American Gardens

The Brown Street Garden

The Brown Street Green Garden is the creation of an iconic Cambridge garden designer and has evolved over the last sixty-four years. A lovely informal, green and textured spot, it is the expression of the owner’s commitment to informal naturalistic design, her knowledge and love of plants especially trees and flowering shrubs, and her friendships with fellow gardeners and with contractors who helped her to build the garden and provided materials. Each paver, planter and sculpture has a story to tell. The garden is non-compartmentalized with three distinct areas: the entry borders, the terrace and lawn, and the wildflower garden.  The spirit of each works due to the artistic choice, height, massing, and type of plant material; the variety and punctuation of garden ornament; the salvage and design of garden furniture which suggest an indoor/outdoor life style; and the flowing transitions and changing views and vistas. Essentially this is a garden of a lost Cambridge when owners had a love of elegant understated gardens which they designed and maintained themselves unlike the gentrified designer driven houses and gardens of much of Cambridge today.

Brown Street Garden Smithsonian Archive of American Gardens
Brown Street Garden Smithsonian Archive of American Gardens

The Garden Street Garden

The Garden Street Garden is inspirational for its complexity and attention to form, history, and beauty.  It has been created by the combined talents of an American architect who spent his formative years in France and his wife, an Englishwoman of great horticultural experience. Drawing on French and Italian traditions of structure and formality and the English horticultural tradition of interconnected garden rooms and successive waves of abundant planting, they have created one of the most significant gardens in Cambridge.

Surrounding a beautifully sited colonial revival house, this garden is in a quiet cul-de-sac off a busy Cambridge street. Integral to the beauty and restraint of the garden is its use of fencing, all designed by the architect. Hedges of yew, lilac, viburnum, and hibiscus create “walls” for the series of garden rooms, which include a Circle Garden, the East and West Gardens, a Front Garden, and a Rose Garden.  White has been chosen as the overarching theme with two specific color palettes, white, blue and pink for the formal East Garden, with white, blue and yellow dominating in the spring.

Garden Street Garden Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens
Garden Street Garden Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens

Morse School Garden, Cambridge Public Schools

The Morse School Garden is a vibrant example of the schoolyard garden movement in a Massachusetts urban community. This movement, which began at the close of the twentieth century, introduced children to the world of agriculture. At the Morse School, the garden is incorporated into teachers’ lessons through CitySprouts, a school garden program in all the Cambridge Public Schools. A school garden helps children connect to this world through hands-on experience that encourages them to talk, ask questions, to make predictions, and to learn new vocabulary.

The Morse School Garden has always had a strong connection to the community and neighborhood: it is located adjacent to and completely within view of the surrounding neighborhood, set at street-level, with no raised walls and very accessible by parents and children. It essentially looks like a garden that children have created, with very simple layout and materials and signage, with plant beds and lawn areas that are informal in shape and appearance. The Morse School Garden is constantly evolving. It is a laboratory of experiments, always changing.

Morse School Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens

Muffin’s Garden

This intimate and secluded quarter acre property is located on a cul-de-sac in the heart of Cambridge. Muffin’s Garden is a hidden city garden, evolving over fifty years—the fruit of collaboration and work of many hands—and first glimpses come only after opening a gate.

The garden is shady, serene, and peaceful. Careful selection of the plant material, the arrangement of a series of rooms with natural flow from one to another, attention to stone (walls, terraces, paths) and water (pool, fountain), the blending of old trees (yew, pines, katsura) with new (Japanese maple, magnolia, stewartia) and the placement of intriguing sculptures are all special features of the garden. Ornamental pots, shallow steps, or the break in the wall gracefully mark the transitions between the areas. From the pool and fountain with quietly dripping water, a raked view guides the eye up to the woods and encourages exploration of the garden’s deeper reaches.

Muffin's Garden Smithsonian Archive of American Gardens
Muffins Garden Smithsonian Archives of American Gardens