Playground at the Boston Nature Center

The “Nature Nook” is a delightful natural play space on the grounds of the Boston Nature Center & Wildlife Sanctuary, located in the Mattapan neighborhood of the city. In about eight years since the playground’s construction, the vegetation has grown nicely to form a cozy play space consisting of several “rooms” of activity areas. The playground includes all the important elements of nature-based play: water, sand/dirt, wood, plants, rocks, and hills. Additional features include a stage with seating, planters for gardening, music and art spaces, a building construction area, a gathering (seating) space, and a boardwalk.


Pergola with vines at the playground entrance


Water pump and stone stream bed, with adjacent sand play area


Children exploring the woods


Musical play, grass hill, and stage with seating


Building construction area, including a permanent wooden frame that children can lean sticks against to form forts and other structures


Boardwalk through the woods


Climbing log


Bridge over the stream bed; near the sand play, dirt play, gardening, and art areas

Photos by Alice Webb
Project Design by StudioMLA Architects, Brookline, MA

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Tower Hill Botanic Garden


One of my favorite places to visit in New England is a hidden gem in central Massachusetts called Tower Hill Botanic Garden. It consists of a wide variety of beautiful garden areas, including both formal and informally-designed spaces, and ranging from large open sites to shady woodland trails. The visitor/education center is also very impressive, with tropical greenhouses, classrooms, a café, and gift shop.


Gazebo at the garden entrance


Bromeliads frame the gazebo archway


The Entry Garden


Approach to the visitor center


A colorful vertical garden was recently installed near the visitor center entrance.


Café terrace


The Winter Garden


Mist fountain at the entrance to the Systematic Garden


The Systematic Garden


Inviting seating areas are scattered throughout the property.


Outdoor fireplace surrounded by plants near the old farmhouse (administrative offices)


A pleasant, shady spot in the garden


Terraced entrance to the Lawn Garden


The Lawn Garden is surrounded by colorful plantings.


Pergola at the south end of the Lawn Garden


A seating area in the Secret Garden also provides a view to Tower Hill’s heirloom apple orchard to the south.


Heading back to the parking lot through the lovely Entry Garden

For views of Tower Hill (and its tropical greenhouses) during another season, check out Winter Garden Scenes — an earlier post in this blog.

Photos by Alice Webb

A Sustainable Campus Quad

During a recent trip to Salem, Massachusetts, I visited a well-designed quadrangle within a new residence hall complex at Salem State University. A linear bioswale runs along one side of a large lawn area, collecting runoff from the complex, and cleaning this water before it enters a tidal marsh adjacent to the development. Stepped stone-filled gabions line the walkway along the swale, and are intermittently capped with wooden bench seating. Wooden ramps bridge the swale from the walkway, providing access to the lawn area. I think the juxtaposition of the linear architectural elements and the free-form planting design of the swale work well. Even in winter (unusually without snow on this visit), the grasses and other plantings provide visual interest.
 

Bioswale with adjacent gabions
 

Wooden bench seating caps portions of the gabions. A green roof sits atop the single-story dining hall (in background).
 

A row of ornamental grasses visually reinforces yet softens the line of this concrete wall, and attractive pavers complement the building colors.
 

Plantings along this building remain colorful in winter.

Photos by Alice Webb

Boston’s Fan Pier Public Green

One of the newest parks in south Boston’s Seaport district is Fan Pier Public Green. It’s a privately-owned space, open to public use, which overlooks Boston Harbor. The park consists of a large open lawn area which is bounded by walkways on three sides. A wedge-shaped boardwalk runs along the northwest edge of the green, perpendicular to the waterfront – an enjoyable place to sit in the shade of trees and view the harbor on a warm summer day. Also, a boardwalk adjacent to the water connects the park to Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art.


Walkway on northwest side of green, approaching the harbor


The green, as viewed from the sidewalk along Northern Avenue


Institute of Contemporary Art, with the green in foreground


Nice view of Boston Harbor from raised section of boardwalk


Shady seating area near the harbor

Photos by Alice Webb

South Boston’s Parks and Plazas

There are several nicely-designed outdoor spaces in south Boston that are open to the public even though they are privately-owned. On a recent outing, I visited five of these spaces, located in the Seaport district of the city, and all within walking distance of one another. These include Eastport Park, South Boston Maritime Park, West Podium Park, The Fan Pier Public Green, and the entrance area of the Boston Children’s Museum (owned by a private, non-profit organization).

These spaces run the gamut from cozy gardens to active plazas and expansive lawns. A taste of each is included in the photos below. I will be writing more about some of these individual places in future posts.


Eastport Park – a sculpture garden with lush plantings and shady seating areas


An attractive bench is integrated with a building in South Boston Maritime Park. This park also includes a large lawn and a sculptural shade structure with tables and chairs.


West Podium Park is actually a roof garden, and includes several pleasant seating areas.


The Fan Pier Public Green includes this pedestrian walkway which leads to seating areas along the water. A large lawn space is adjacent to this.


Playful zig-zag pavement at the entrance to the Boston Children’s Museum

Photos by Alice Webb

Winter Garden Scenes

I recently spent a part of an afternoon at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, in Boylston, Massachusetts, which is a short 15-minute drive from my home. It’s always an inspiring place to visit, regardless of the season. In November they opened the second of two indoor winter plant spaces, called the Limonaia (Lemon House), primarily containing their Citrus and Camellia collections. The Orangerie is the original indoor plant wing, which is full of gorgeous tropical plants, including orange trees, of course. These two wings are delightful places to spend a cold winter day, where you can imagine yourself in a more southerly clime.

The outdoor spaces are still beautiful during winter, though. The walkway that meanders along the perimeter of the Lawn Garden has been cleared of snow, so I took a stroll down this path for some fresh air and photos. There are several other garden areas that aren’t currently accessible, but I plan to return during the spring or summer and write about these in a future post.



This is the new Winter Garden, situated between the Orangerie (building wing in background), and the Limonaia. An unusually deep snow cover hides most of the plantings.


View from the Limonaia toward the Winter Garden


One of several seating nooks in the Orangerie


Path along the perimeter of the Lawn Garden


Pergolas on the south side of the Lawn Garden


View toward the botanic garden buildings, including an old farm house with staff offices


Colorful winter scenery

For more information on Tower Hill Botanic Garden, visit http://www.towerhillbg.org/

Photos by Alice Webb