The Beech/Central Avenues Corridor

August 8, 2016

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Good landscape design weighs the different functional and aesthetic variables in play, whether the challenge is an historic landscape or a rooftop garden. Mount Auburn’s stewardship of its historic landscape relies on a careful mix of guidelines, policies, and strategic initiatives. It also utilizes archival reports and correspondence held by our Historical Collections Department. Occasionally, something more is called for. A recent project to renovate the “Beech/Central Avenues Corridor” illustrates the kind of extra steps we sometimes take in the design process.

The project site, situated in the historic core of the Cemetery on a rise overlooking the front gates, is in a prominent location with a high volume of visitors. It is bracketed by landscapes of contrasting characters. To the east, dropping down to Narcissus Path, lies a steep ridge whose  slopes in 2012 were planted with protective native species to create a wildlife habitat corridor. To the west at Bigelow Chapel and along Cypress Avenue, by contrast, we find highly ornamental Victorian period plantings. One objective for the landscape renovation was to create a transition zone between these two contrasting areas. In addition, the renovation needed to address the overall goals of increasing biodiversity in the horticultural collections, reducing energy costs in landscape maintenance, and protecting our significant historic monuments.

One such monument commemorates Dr. Jacob Bigelow, one of Mount Auburn’s founders and a long-serving president. The Bigelow lot already conforms to the general parameters of the project’s conceptual plan—naturalistic woodland understory plants with an historically appropriate un-mowed turf, using Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica)—but we felt that something special should be done there.


Research helped us identify what sort of planting Dr. Bigelow might have liked. His book Florula Bostoniensis (1814), a seminal work on the plants found in eastern Massachusetts in the early 1800s, pointed the way. Although it is a scientific flora, the book occasionally betrays his feelings about certain plants. For instance, he calls attention to the Sweetbay Magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) growing in Gloucester, the only stand of this species north of New Jersey. In 2010, Mount Auburn’s Kelly Sullivan collected seed in the very swamp where it grew two hundred years ago. Two trees grown from this seed in our nursery are now ready to be planted.

Plant Records Manager Steve Jackson found other favorites as he combed through Bigelow’s book. Of one species, Bigelow writes, “We do not have a plant that surpasses this in elegance.” Another he describes as “A singular and beautiful plant, found upon dry hills.” Thus, our planting plan now includes American Holly (Ilex opaca), Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), Swamp Azalea (Rhododendron viscosum), Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia), Cranesbill (Geranium maculatum), and Lupine (Lupinus perrenis). These beautiful natives not only honor Dr. Bigelow’s sentiments but also make an elegant bridge between the Victorian and the rustic in the Beech/Central Avenues Corridor.

Below are photos taken before and during the planting process near the monument to Boston merchant and philanthropist Thomas Handasyd Perkins above. Perkins commissioned America’s first professional sculptor, Horatio Greenough to carve his Newfoundland dog. The monument was originally placed at Mount Auburn Cemetery in 1844, and is viewed by many as a symbol of loyalty and companionship, and a guide through the afterlife.


A list of the final plantings in the Beech Corridor area can be seen below.  Mount Auburn’s staff removed some declining hemlocks and other trees, and planted a dozen new trees in the fall of 2015. The final planting of 157 shrubs and 7,700 herbaceous perennials and groundcovers was completed in June 2016.

Botanical Name Common Name Qty
Acanthus ‘Summer Beauty’ Bear’s Breeches hybrid 5
Actaea racemosa Black Cohosh 9
Actaea simplex ‘Pink Spike’ Bugbane cultivar 14
Athyrium nipponicum Japanese Painted Fern 36
Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’ Pigsqueak cultivar 15
Carex morrowi ‘Ice Dance’ Sedge cultivar 32
Carex pensylvanica Pennsylvania Sedge 1,680
Caulophyllum thalictroides Blue Cohosh 3
Cornus canadensis Bunchberry 36
Diphylleia cymosa American Umbrella Leaf 10
Eupatorium rugosum ‘Chocolate’ Snakeroot cultivar 7
Geranium ×cantabridgiense ‘Biokovo’ Geranium cultivar 118
Geranium ‘Ingwersen’s Variety’ Bigroot Geranium cultivar 39
Geranium maculatum ‘Espresso’ Cranesbill cultivar 7
Gillenia trifoliata Bowman’s Root 20
Gillenia ‘Pink Profusion’ Bowman’s Root cultivar 12
Heuchera americana ‘Dale’s Strain’ Coral Bells cultivar 70
Heuchera americana Coral Bells 28
Heuchera villosa ‘Bronze Wave’ Hairy Alumroot 8
Ligularia dentata ‘Britt Marie Crawford’ Big-leaf Ligularia cultivar 21
Lupinus perenne ‘Gallery Blue’ Lupine 7
Pachysandra ‘Green Sheen’ Pachysandra cultivar 5,250
Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’ Fragrant Solomon’s Seal 56
Polystichum acrostichoides Christmas Fern 26
Rodgersia ‘Chocolate Wings’ Roger’s Flower cultivar 4
Waldsteinia ternata Barren Strawberry 190
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’ Japanese Plum Yew cultivar 75
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’ Japanese Plum Yew cultivar 1
Ilex crenata ‘Hoogendoorn’ Japanese Holly cultivar 11
Juniperus virginiana ‘Cupressifolia’ Eastern Red Cedar cultivar 2
Kalmia latifolia ‘Elf’ Dwarf Mountain Laurel 2
Magnolia virginiana Sweetbay Magnolia 2
Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’ Cherry Laurel cultivar 6
Prunus laurocerasus ‘Schipkaensis’ Cherry Laurel cultivar 2
Rhododendron viscosum ‘Pink Mist’ Swamp Azalea cultivar 15
Stephanandra incisa ‘Crispa’ Cut-leaf Stephanandra 41
Ilex opaca ‘Satyr Hill’ American Holly cultivar 6
Magnolia virginiana ‘Moonglow’ Sweetbay Magnolia cultivar 2

The Friends of Mount Auburn Cemetery is grateful for the grant from the Cabot Family Charitable Trust and donations from individuals which completely covered the cost of the plants for this project.


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