The Cambridge Common

Cambridge Common

The Cambridge Common is a central part of busy Harvard Square, and its 16 acres are traversed by an estimated 10,000 pedestrians and cyclists daily. This urban green space is a National Historic Landmark where George Washington took command of the Continental Army, and home to the famous “Washington Elm.” During World War I, the Common’s trees were removed to make way for army barracks. The post-war Common was left in shabby condition, and late in the 1920s, the Plant Club began a replanting project that continued for over twenty years. Work began in 1930, with the planting of three elm trees in honor of the Tercentenary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. By the end of the project, the club had planted a total of 3,500 border shrubs around the Common.

Black’s Nook in the Fresh Pond Reservation

Fresh Pond: Black's Nook

CP&GC’s history of engagement at the Fresh Pond Reservation–at 324 acres, the largest open space in Cambridge and home to the City of Cambridge drinking water supply–dates to the late 1950s, arising from increasing interest in conservation. Members of the Plant Club and The Garden Club met in 1962 to discuss how they could cooperate to revitalize the Reservation and create a more naturalized landscape. This goal was the impetus for the reclamation of Black’s Nook, a small pond that had once been connected to Fresh Pond. The City of Cambridge hauled away 93 truckloads of debris and the clubs contributed 40 pines and swamp maples, and many hours of sweat equity.

In 1980, CP&GC advocated for and was awarded the “Founders Fund” grant of The Garden Club of America to replant a long-neglected wetland meadow near the Reservation’s gold course. Decades-long advocacy for a comprehensive landscape design for the Reservation was brought to fruition in 2000 with the Fresh Pond Reservation Master Plan. One recommendation was the creation of the Fresh Pond Advisory Board on which several CP&GC members have served. The Cambridge Water Department’s Master Plan for Fresh Pond Reservation may be found here.

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CP&GC’s history of engagement at the Fresh Pond Reservation–at 324 acres, the largest open space in Cambridge–dates to the late 1950s, arising from the increasing interest of the then separate Plant Club and Garden Club in conservation. In the spring of 1962, members of the two clubs met to discuss how they could cooperate to revitalize the Reservation and create a more naturalized landscape. About half of the Reservation is Fresh Pond itself—part of the municipal water system, which enhances the beauty and importance of the surrounding open space. Working with the city, the initial focus was the reclamation of Black’s Nook, which had become an unofficial dumping site.

The clubs’ first project at Fresh Pond led the clubs to create a jointly managed Tree Fund, “to assist the City of Cambridge in the purchase of trees and plants for Black’s Nook and the surrounding area,” Two years later, this side-by-side work lead to the merger of the two clubs. The Tree Fund, used for civic projects throughout Cambridge, remains an essential element of CP&GC. Funds have been spent not only on projects at the Reservation, but at public schools and public parks, and historic sites, among many other locations. The most substantial gift was $25,000 toward the Water Department’s recent revitalization of Black’s Nook, a legacy project for the club.

Over the next decades, CP&GC undertook substantial projects at other sites within the Reservation. Other highlights include plantings at Neville Place (the former City Infirmary), re-grading and planting at Sozio Corner and the Lusitania field in the 1970s and1980s, and creation of a wetland boundary along the golf course (supported in part by a Garden Club of America Founders Fund grant, won in a national competition).

Of particular importance is the club’s decades-long advocacy for a comprehensive landscape design for the Reservation, not addressed since the 1897 plan of the Olmsted Brothers firm. Thanks to the work of many club members, the City Council approved the Fresh Pond Reservation Master Plan in 2000–it is still in the process of implementation.

Lower Longfellow Park

Lower Longfellow

Concerned about existing trees, the state of the planting around the poet’s monument, the crumbling stone steps between the upper and lower levels of the park, the lack of benches, mismatched or non-working light standards. CP&GC began advocating for this park in 2015, and the City responded quickly by replanting the area around the monument. Concurrently, the club funded the pruning of the park’s crabapples, planted two crabapples and added new lilacs to an existing grouping. Since 2016, the club’s advocacy has produced new benches, new lights, new drought-tolerant perennials around the monument, new trees near Mount Auburn Street and the renovated steps. During the winter of 2020, CP&GC funded additional tree pruning.

Craigie Street Park

On May 14, 2009, city officials join with West Cambridge neighbors and CP&GC to dedicate and reopen Craigie Street Park, a triangle pocket of land given in 1971 by a CP&GC member and her brother as a gift to the city of Cambridge. The park was refurbished in 2009 with Community Preservation Act funds and substantial assistance from CP&CC. Currently, the club keeps an eye on the park and funds professional pruning of the park’s yew hedge.

The Cambridge Committee on Public Planting

Early work at Fresh Pond Reservation led CP&GC members to think citywide. In the ’70s, two activist members proposed and established the Cambridge Committee on Public Planting to advise and support the city in improving public planting. Serving as the Committee’s first chairs, they advocated for a city arborist and a street-tree planting program. When the city’s first arborist was hired, the club was supportive by funding the DPW’s first water tank, providing contributions for street trees, and supplying hand-held computer (novel then) for a street-tree census. Since the creation of the Committee in 1979, a succession of club members have given their time serving members and as chairs. Today, the Committee has a diverse membership open to all interested Cambridge residents. The expertise of club members is a significant resource as the City maintains existing public plantings and considers new ones.