Best Gardens of Greater Boston

Daffodils at Tower Hill

Spring in New England is like Dustin Pedroia: short but powerful. As the sap rises in the veins of trees and New Englanders, my countrymen flock to open spaces in shorts and skirts freshly unpacked from winter storage, their Anglo-Saxon legs as white as Lamprey eels, their faces as rapturous as the Pope on Easter.

And then, two weeks later, we start complaining about how hot it is.

But I can think of no better way to spend the precious interlude between dismal winter and steamy summer than enjoying the flowers that will soon be scorched out of existence. So here is my incomplete, unscientific list of a few spots around Boston to take it all in. Please add your own suggestions in the comments!

The Arnold Arboretum, Jamaica Plain. But wait, isn’t an arboretum just full of trees? Yes, yes it is — all kinds of beautiful flowering, budding trees! The Arnold also contains one of my all-time top-ten favorite places in all of New England: a path through 375 lilac plants, covering 180 different species. When they’re in bloom, run, do not walk!. They’re always gone quicker than you think.

The Public Garden, Boston. Boston’s central, formal park isn’t large, but it punches above its weight with gardeners who rotate in new annuals as the season progresses. It’s also (if you didn’t know, and I didn’t) America’s first botanic garden. No spring is complete without a ride on one of the Swan Boats and a peak at the little kids visiting the ducklings.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, Watertown. This historic burying ground helped launch a new movement in America: “rural” cemeteries where the dead could find their final rest among beautifully landscaped grounds. The popularity of such cemeteries helped launch the movement, a few years later, for more public green spaces like the Public Garden and Central Park. However beautiful it is, it’s important to remember that this is a graveyard, so no running, cycling, or dogs are allowed. Be sure to grab a map at the entrance so you can find the graves of New England notables like Henry Wadsworth Longfelow, Winslow Homer, Isabella Stewart Gardner, Buckminster Fuller, and Julia Ward Howe, along with any number of Cabots, Lodges, and Lowells.

Beacon Hill, Boston. Some of the most stunning small gardens I have ever seen are tucked behind the gracious mansions of this gas-lamped hill. But the only way to see them is to cough up $30 for the Beacon Hill Garden Club’s annual “hidden gardens” tour. It’s worth it. It’s generally (always?) the third Thursday in May. Cambridge runs a rival event called the Secret Gardens of Cambridge, but apparently only on even-numbered years. Well, there’s always next year.

Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Boylston. This 132-acre plot is relatively new, as gardens go, having been founded by the Worcester County Horticultural Society in 1986. But it’s well worth a trip west to stretch your legs in their lovely (and well-labeled) grounds.

And one of my favorite “garden walks” is really just walking the Comm Ave/Marlborough Street loop in the Back Bay. On Marlborough, in front of each architectural extravaganza is a tiny postage stamp of a garden, a “bit of ivory, two inches wide,” on which Boston’s remaining brahmins paint their horticultural fantasies. And on Commonwealth, when the magnolias are in bloom, you can’t imagine a finer boulevard.

Please share your favorite gardens (or urban gardens) in the comments!

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