A Playful New Monks Garden


The newly-redesigned Monks Garden just opened at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. At just 7,500 square feet, this intimate jewel of a garden shows how Michael Van Valkenburgh, FASLA, is both a master of the large park and small garden.

A tall brick wall encloses the space. Within, Van Valkenburgh maximizes circulation with a serpentine path of black brick, a play on Boston’s ubiquitous brick architecture. The winding trail, which also shines with mica schist, is the garden’s most striking feature.

And one can feel that it’s intentionally designed to be impractical. Instead of being a means to get from Point A to Point B, the path is designed for aimless wandering. Van Valkenburgh said “he thought of the garden as a place to get lost.”

Favoring whimsy over function is really a response to the museum itself, which was considered outlandish for its time and is still not organized around traditional themes. As Van Valkenburgh described, the museum isn’t practical, nor was Isabella Stewart Gardner a particularly practical woman. With his design, he wanted to “do something that lives up to the museum.”

In keeping with the unconventional approach, Van Valkenburgh wanted the space to appeal to children. Feeling that “kids hate museums,” he designed the garden as a place for them to run, hide, and play amid the 60-plus miniature Stewartia, Paperback Maple, and grey birch trees.

Van Valkenburgh emphasized that while the garden’s form is beautiful from an aerial perspective, it’s really about the sensory experience being in the space. To that end, the garden’s planting design stresses seasonal variation, making it appealing year-round. There are bulbs for the spring, late summer day lilies, winter-blooming Lenten roses, and four varieties of Camellias. There are nice places to sit and have those experiences, on basic grey chairs that are both there and not there.

Far from a rarefied courtyard, Monks Garden’s playful design enters a dialogue with the eccentric museum it inhabits. Appropriately, Van Valkenburgh declared, “I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun designing a garden.”

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, ASLA 2012 summer intern and master’s of landscape architecture graduate, Louisiana State University.

Image credits: Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Introducing The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Boston

From the Emerald Necklace to the Freedom Trail Sites, Boston’s green spaces are revered by tourists and locals alike. The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Boston, launched today by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), offers insider information about these designed landscapes and others you may not have heard of. This web site has been launched in advance of ASLA’s annual meeting in Boston, November 15-18.

Twelve million people visit Boston annually, but most of those visitors possess only a rudimentary knowledge of the city’s landscapes and restrict their travel to the well-established tourist routes. With a tap of their smartphones, people can deepen their knowledge through expert commentary and more than 1,100 photos provided by 28 landscape architects.

Thomas R. Tavella, FASLA, president of ASLA, says that the guide is the first-ever website that describes 100 historic, modern and contemporary landscapes in Boston, Cambridge and Brookline—and explains why they captivate. It highlights historic monuments and parks and examples of new sustainable works—including Raymond V. Mellone Park, a cutting-edge park that also manages stormwater, and Condor Street Urban Wild, which caps toxic soils to create a new wildlife habitat and urban respite.

“This guide will answer questions you didn’t know you had about your favorite neighborhood parks and other landscapes,” says Tavella. “Boston’s vibrant public realm didn’t just magically appear but was carefully designed over the years, and is continually evolving, through interactions among elected leaders, communities and landscape architects.”

Boston has long been a trendsetter when it comes to urban design and sustainability. Its landscape architects have played a crucial role in making the city a better place to live, starting in the late 19th century, when Frederick Law Olmsted designed the Emerald Necklace, to today’s generation of landscape architects who are creating waterfront parks and beloved green spaces. Boston ranks in the top 10 nationally for sustainability, park space, and quality of life, in large part because its designed landscapes are integral to its urban fabric.

The guide is divided into 26 distinct tours in diverse neighborhoods in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline. Each tour covers multiple neighborhoods, and includes a printable walking or biking map for easy exploration.

The guide was created by ASLA in partnership with 28 nationally recognized landscape architects, all of whom are designers of the public realm and leaders in sustainable design. The guides were asked to explain the sites from a landscape architect’s point of view and show how the design of these sites influences how people interact with or even feel about these places.

The guides are:

•    Cathy Baker-Eclipse, ASLA, Boston Parks and Recreation Department
•    Maria Bellalta, ASLA, Boston Architectural College
•    Deneen Crosby, ASLA, Crosby | Schlessinger | Smallridge
•    Melissa Desjardins, ASLA, Dan Gordon Associates
•    Joe Geller, FASLA, Stantec Consulting
•    Lynne Giesecke, ASLA, Studio2112 Landscape Architecture
•    John Haven, ASLA, Keith LeBlanc Landscape Architecture
•    Gary Hilderbrand, FASLA, Reed Hilderbrand
•    Carol Johnson, FASLA, Carol R. Johnson Associates
•    Cortney Kirk, ASLA, Copley Wolff Design Group
•    Mary Lydecker, ASLA, Hargreaves Associates
•    Bill Madden, ASLA, Mikyoung Kim Design
•    Jeremy Martin, ASLA, Hargreaves Associates
•    Kaki Martin, ASLA, Klopfer Martin Design Group
•    Grace Ng, Student ASLA, Olmsted Center for Landscape Preservation, National Park Service
•    Marion Pressley, FASLA, Pressley Associates Landscape Architects
•    Robyn Reed, ASLA, Landworks Studio
•    Susannah Ross, ASLA, Sasaki
•    James Royce, ASLA, Studio2112 Landscape Architecture
•    Michael Sadler, ASLA, Boston Architectural College
•    JP Shadley, FASLA, Shadley Associates Landscape Architects
•    Cynthia Smith, FASLA, Halvorson Design Partnership
•    Laura Solano, ASLA, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
•    Laura Tenny, ASLA, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
•    Kenya Thompson, ASLA, Boston Redevelopment Authority
•    Jennifer Toole, ASLA, Toole Design Group
•    Robert Uhlig, ASLA, Halvorson Design Partnership
•    Gabrielle Weiss, Copley Wolff Design Group

List of Sites Featured in the Guide

Back Bay
Copley Square
First Church

Boston / Cambridge Bike Network

Fairsted, Frederick Law Olmsted National Historic Site

Cambridge Commons
John F. Kennedy Memorial Park
Longfellow House
Mount Auburn Cemetery

Cambridge: Harvard University
Harvard Yard
The Plaza
Tanner Fountain
LISE and Science Center Courtyards
Northwest Laboratory Courtyard
Rockefeller Hall
Cabot Courtyard and Frisbie Place

Cambridge: MIT
Ray and Maria Stata Center Landscape
North Court and Main Street
MIT’s Public Art Collection
Killian Court

Bunker Hill Monument
John Harvard Mall
City Square Park
The Harborwalk
Charlestown Navy Yard
Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital

Charles River
Charles River Esplanade
Nashua Street Park
Lechmere Canal Park
North Point Park
Paul Revere Park

JFK Presidential Library and Museum
Pope John Paul II Park

East Boston
East Boston Greenway
Piers Park
Condor Street Urban Wild

Emerald Necklace
Boston Common
Boston Public Garden
Commonwealth Avenue Mall
Back Bay Fens
The Riverway
Olmsted Park
Jamaica Pond
Arnold Arboretum at Harvard University
Franklin Park

Fenway / Kenmore
Fenway Park and Yawkey Way
Fenway Victory Gardens
The Robert McBride House
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Courtyard
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Christian Science Center Plaza

Financial District / Government Center
Granary Burying Ground
King’s Chapel Burying Ground
City Hall Plaza
The Garden of Peace
Faneuil Hall Marketplace
Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park
Long Wharf
Central Wharf Plaza
Post Office Square Park

Harbor Islands
Georges Island
Little Brewster Island and Boston Light
Peddocks Island
Spectacle Island

Jamaica Plain
South Street Mall
Allandale Woods

Lower Alston
Raymond V. Mellone Park

Mission Hill
Levinson Plaza
Kevin W. Fitzgerald Park

North End
Paul Revere House Plaza and North Square
The Prado
Copp’s Hill Burying Ground and Terrace

Public Alleys Bicycle Tour

Rose F. Kennedy Greenway
Chinatown Park
Dewey Square
Fort Point Channel Parks and Urban Arboretum
Wharf District Parks
Armenian Heritage Park
North End Parks

Forest Hills Cemetery

Cedar Street Gardens
Highland Park and Fort Hill
Malcom X Park
Horatio Harris Park
Puddingstone Garden

Southwest Corridor Park

South Boston
Fort Point Channel and Boston Children’s Museum
South Boston Waterfront
Pleasure Bay and Castle Island
William Day Boulevard and Carson Beach Harborwalk

South End
Harriet Tubman Park
Berkeley Community Garden
Blackstone Square and Franklin Square

West Roxbury
Millennium Park
Brook Farm

The Boston guide is the second produced by ASLA. The Landscape Architect’s Guide to Washington, D.C. was launched last year and so far has received more than 100,000 page views.

Image credit: Wharf District Parks, Rose F. Kennedy Greenway / John Horner via Copley Wolff Design Group