The other day, while entering the Boston Public Garden, I passed a young woman carrying a bunch of flowers, looking a bit sheepish. They weren’t the tulips that are planted throughout the Garden this time of year – you’d really have to be a bold and brazen stump to start picking from the flower beds - but as I crossed the Garden and saw the flowering trees, I realized that she had likely helped herself to some branches.
At that moment, I was not an official Friend of the Public Garden. But I am now. And, while I don’t have proof positive that the young woman I saw with the cherry blossoms had clipped them from one of the park’s trees, next time I actually catch someone in the act of desecration, I will feel empowered to tell them to stop messing with my front lawn.
Not that I didn’t feel at least quasi-empowered in the past. A few weeks back, when I saw someone encouraging her granddaughter – who was about 12 years old – to bounce on a branch of fragile, rare tree while granny took pictures, I went into passive aggressive mode and commented while walking by. (Something along the lines of: that kid shouldn’t be sitting on that tree, or that’s how these beautiful trees get destroyed.)
But I didn’t say anything to the couple who had stretched their hammock between two fragile, rare trees and were canoodling. Is this allowed ? Is this okay? I mean, the Public Garden is quite literally my front yard. And it’s just gorgeous.
Boston’s Public Garden is the groomed and formal younger cousin to the more casual and boisterous Boston Common. The first public botanical garden in America, its form, plantings, and statuary evoke its Victorian heritage. This green and flowering oasis in the heart of a great metropolis has become a Boston icon. No visit would be complete without a stroll in the Garden and a voyage on one of its Swan Boats.
Anyway, now that I’ve become a Friend, I’m feeling sort of deputized. But before I start making any citizen’s arrests, I’ll stop by their HQ (which is two doors down from where I live) and find out the rules of what is or isn’t okay. And ask them how to approach people in a kindly, gently, refined-ly, Beacon Hill-y manner and tut-tut offenders.
Oh, I’ll be careful. If someone looks like a serial killer, or is muttering under their breath, carrying a machete, or using a blowtorch to unseat (unweb foot?) one of the statues of the Make Way for Ducklings ducklings, I will make note but not speak up.
And I won’t be correcting people I overhear giving wrong information. Like the guy who told his kids that baby geese are “gooslings”. (Nope: they’re goslings, but I didn’t want to show dad up.) Nor did I butt in when I heard a Scout troop leader mangling the Make Way for Ducklings story, conflating Robert McCloskey’s charming tale with the ducks who hang out at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis.
No, even though I am a know-it-all crank, I don’t want to publicly expose myself as one.
But I will, I believe, become a tut-tutter, and, when I see people messing with my lawn (flowering trees, tulip beds, etc.), I will let them know that they need to get off of it.
I have plenty of reason to appreciate the Public Garden. Not only do I walk through it at some point most days, but sometimes I just go over there and sit on a bench and soak it all up. It’s really hard to explain to someone who hasn’t seen it just how beautiful and tranquil it is.
Quite unlike the front yard of my early childhood, which featured a Sunoco Station and Trimble Motors Used Cars, which is what’s shown here.
Okay, this wasn’t our real front yard. Our real front yard really didn’t exist. Our quasi front yard was a steep bank (which ended at a retaining wall) covered with some sort of hayish grass, which my father cut with a scythe. We had a side lawn, where the bridal wreathe, irises, peonies, and lilacs lived and where, in the summer, on hot days, we cavorted around in our bathing suits while my father sprayed us with the house. Our back yard at Nanny’s was pretty gloomy: dark, cool, mossy, shaded. The only thing to do there was trail your hand through the birdbath, or toss a rubber ball against the back of our house, which had not windows. That white house to the left in the picture above is where I lived until I was 6 1/2 and we moved to the next street over, about 100 yards away. The house then was brown, but that was my grandmother’s house, the house my father grew up in, and the house that, in my psyche, will always be home.
When we moved we had a very nice front yard, with velvety grass that was my father’s pride and joy. It was our version of the Boston Public Garden, without the rare trees, statuary, fountains, and swan boats. But our grass was actually better than the grass in the Public Garden. My father almost groomed it with manicure scissors. And we didn’t play on it either. That’s what the “more casual and boisterous” back yard was for.
So, fair warning to anyone thinking about doing some harm to the Boston Public Garden: GET OFF OF MY LAWN!