This year’s South End Garden Tour in Boston is fast approaching. Last year I sampled the tour on a balmy summer afternoon with a friend. There will be different gardens to explore in the upcoming tour, but I thought revisiting last year’s highlights might inspire you to check out the event on Saturday, June 21.
I went on the tour in large part to get a better look at the pedestrian-friendly neighborhood of nineteenth century, brick, row houses, with their trademark stone stoops and wrought iron balustrades. I’d heard that it’s a diverse district populated by creative folks, so the varied and imaginative pocket gardens tucked within it, did not disappoint.
Many of the gardens are accessed from narrow, shared passageways leading from the street to the back of the row houses. This type of approach adds to the anticipation of what you might discover as the journey unfolds. One property’s fence or building wall shapes a portion of another property’s private retreat. It’s a shared community of inventive gardens carved out of dense urban living space. There seems to be an understanding between neighbors, a give and take, that together they can create something more engaging and intimate than they could without each other.
One of my favorite gardens was off an alley behind Union Park. It was organized around a circular bluestone patio bordered by brick, stone-edged raised beds at sitting height. Two large, rectangular, black, metal framed mirrors hung from the building exterior, elegantly reflecting back the garden greenery. A black, iron column and spiral stair, leading to a small upper deck, complemented both the circular patio plan and the frame material on the mirrors, while expanding the garden vertically. The broad canopy of a Japanese maple sheltered one portion of the garden and smaller specimen trees and hostas edged another area. I would have loved to linger there, but other secret gardens beckoned.
Not far away, off another alley, a smaller garden was designed to be entered through an unusual two-car garage. The cars were absent, so it was easy to imagine the pristine garage as a spillover entertaining space, offering cool relief from the heat of the day. A row of skylights washed the rear garage garden wall with daylight. Delicate, iron, casement windows, trimmed in clear-finished wood, provided a peek-a-boo glimpse into the adjacent courtyard garden. A heavy, clear-finished, wood passage door opened onto the brick patio, edged by dwarf English boxwoods, and softened by perimeter plantings of slim birch trees. Here, again, building boundaries and border treatment heightened the garden experience.
Of course, part of the fun of an urban garden tour is finding a lunch spot. We happily stumbled upon South End Formaggio where we picked up grilled baguette sandwiches with brie, pear jam, and some other fine ingredients that I’ve long since forgotten. We decided to have an impromptu picnic at Bradford Street Park, a pocket park defined on three sides by surrounding masonry buildings. We entered through its distinctive iron archway, and joined other garden fans on benches enjoying live cello music.
Then we were off for more touring. With 40 gardens to see, we had our work cut out for us. We probably ended up visiting around 20. I don’t know if there will be as many gardens on this year’s tour, but just in case, get there early so you have time to enjoy them. I’m sure it will be a treat.
by Katie Hutchison for the House Enthusiast